This is one of those games where you desperately want the Toronto Maple Leafs to lose, being tied for dead last in the NHL standings but also only four small points away behind the 25th-place Vancouver Canucks. This late in the season, it’s no longer about ‘auditioning for a job’ or ‘playing with dignity’ – with this year’s draft lottery setup, it could be almost detrimental to jump up the standings by a few spots in the dying moments of the season. The Leafs really, really need to lose.
But if they don’t… well, it would be pretty fun in a completely different way.
If you completely block out the potential longterm ramifications of a lower draft pick this summer, the Leafs could play spoilers in a big way tonight. They’re hosting the Detroit Red Wings tonight, and the Detroit Red Wings currently sit just outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Their 89 points actually tie the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the final Wild Card spot, but the Flyers have two games in hand and currently hold that playoff spot on a tie-breaking technicality. The Red Wings are also only two points behind the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. It’s an extremely close race.
With only four games left in Detroit’s regular season, a loss to the Leafs could be devastating. Detroit is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, and yeah, it would be hella fun if the Leafs had a hand in their misery.
Do I want the Leafs to draft as high as possible in this summer’s Draft? Absolutely. Would seeing the Red Wings miss the playoffs feel just as good? Not quite, but it’s close.
Milan Michalek is out for the rest of the year and Frederik Gauthier has been called up from the Marlies. Other than that, it’s a similar looking lineup to Thursday’s bout in Buffalo. Say what you will about Tyler Bozak (I know you will), but I’ll enjoy watching that third line closely for Tobias Lindberg and Kasperi Kapanen. Lindberg looked good in his NHL debut a couple days ago, and if he turns out to be an effective NHLer than that Phaneuf deal is going to look better and better for Toronto.
The Red Wings
Goddamn, look at all this underrated talent. It’s incredibly that Detroit isn’t even in a playoff spot right now, but I’m sure if they don’t succeed in reaching the postseason they’ll be really classy about it. Pretty shocking to see Anthony Mantha on that fourth line, though. Is he not that good? Maybe Detroit should have traded him for Phaneuf when they had the chance? Oh well. Hindsight is always 20-20.
Garret Sparks starts for the Leafs tonight. I wouldn’t say that he’s earned the start, but at this point Mike Babcock seems to simply be rotating his equally disappointing netminders. You can’t hang that loss in Buffalo on Sparks, but he didn’t exactly look sharp either. He has a 2.98 GAA and .898 SV% in 14 appearances this season.
For Detroit, it’s Jimmy Howard, who played just last night in a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. Howard hasn’t been great this season, but the phenom himself, Petr Mrazek, has been pretty awful in his own right over his past number of starts. I’d say we could be looking at a high-scoring game here, but neither of Detroit’s or Toronto’s offences are particularly good at, you know, offence.
What to Watch For
- Jeff Blashill being, in general, a worse coach than Mike Babcock
- 9.0B Dylan Larkin going up against 8.0C William Nylander – a big test for the young Swede
- Those fat cats at the NHL rolling around in actual money and laughing at those suckers who want to watch their favourite team chase for a playoff spot
- A very large goat