LGD: The biggest stage

There are going to be a lot of eyes on Toronto this evening. I’d go as far as saying tonight’s home opener is perhaps the most hyped Leafs game since the team’s brief 2013 playoff appearance. 

Why? Well, there a few reasons. 

For one, the team is going all out to celebrate their centennial, so for fans in the building the night is going to be packed with ceremonies and concerts and all that. The team is actually asking for people to show up an hour-and-a-half before puck drop to take it all in. 


Secondly, this is the first game for the rookie contingent, led by Matthews and Marner, in their own building. And then of course we have Matthews himself, who just set the record for goals scored in an NHL debut, looked like an absolute force against the Sens in Ottawa earlier this week, and now has so much ballyhoo around him that NBCSN in the States had to pick up this game to get in on the party. 

There’s a lot going on.


Make no mistake, even if Matthews doesn’t pot another four goals tonight, the ACC is in for a treat. I was fortunate enough to take in his debut in Ottawa, and it took no time to notice he’s just a presence out there. Stars usually stand out more when you can take the game in up close, and there’s no doubt ‘Papi’ fits that bill. There’s potential for a highlight-reel play nearly every shift, and it’s fun to watch defencemen struggle so much against him one-on-one. He’ll be the focus in his first appearance on Hockey Night.

THE LEAFS

William Nylander – Auston Matthews – Zach Hyman

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitch Marner

Milan Michalek – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov

Matt Martin – Peter Holland – Connor Brown

Martin Marincin – Morgan Rielly

Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick

Matt Hunwick – Nikita Zaitsev

Nothing has really changed lineup-wise, other than the Matthews line now commonly being listed as the top trio. We’re assuming Griffith sits again tonight from the forward group. Looks like Hunwick slots back in after recovering from being turned to rubble by Chris Neil.

THE BRUINS

Brad Marchand – David Backes – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – Danton Heinen

Matt Beleskey – Austin Czarnik – Jimmy Hayes

Dominic Moore – Riley Nash – Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Rob O’Gara

John-Michael Liles – Colin Miller

[I’m pretty sure at least ten of those names are made up.]

With Bergeron out, Marchand is far-and-away the Bruins’ best forward, and given he’s already surpassed Matthews in the Art Ross race by putting five on the Jackets, I’m guessing Babcock and the Leafs will look to shut him down with last change in hand. Beyond that, I don’t know what this Boston lineup is supposed to be. This is a very winnable game even for a Toronto team leaning heavily on some raw rookies.

STARTING GOALTENDERS

Andersen will go again for the Leafs, and hopefully be able to tighten things up after a poor showing in Ottawa. Rask will get the nod for Boston.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The Leafs absolutely caved in the Senators at five-on-five in the season opener, out-attempting them 81-51 and really taking advantage of Ottawa’s slower d-pairings. I’m curious to see how that carries over to this game, given a Bergeron-less Bruins team obviously takes a hit in the possession game, and that defence corps is dicey as hell. 

Obviously we can’t expect Matthews to completely carry the load again offensively, so hopefully other lines can fire home a goal or two. The Kadri line looked particularly good with their cycle game on Wednesday but I think they could use a better offensive player on that line in place of Michalek, who’s a bit too slow to really contribute. It’ll be interesting to see if Babcock decides to scramble that line with the Bozak trio to get some different looks. Kadri and Marner could do damage, for example.

Lastly, Andersen needs to have a solid outing or the idea that he’s rushing back from that shoulder injury is going to gain more traction. I’m in no way losing confidence in him in the big picture, but it’s fair to say the Leafs win that Ottawa game, which they controlled from the outset, if he’s on. He wasn’t. 

Game goes at 7:00pm EST on Hockey Night in Canada and NBCSN, but as mentioned above, the team is asking those attending to get there at around 5:30 for all the pre-game fun. 

Lineups and starting goalies via Daily Faceoff.

  • Getrdone

    By the lineup shown here, Toronto features 7, yes 7 rookies in their lineup. That in itself is a big hurdle to overcome. Learning to play in the NHL on the fly can not be easy. Hope they put on a fast paced show, that will help against the D of Boston.

  • Brent Wisken

    What bothers me is when the mainstream media refers to Auston Matthews as Toronto’s “saviour”. This is a mainstream media driven word, and not thrown around by the fans. In my conversations and while reading comment boards i have not heard any fans using the word “saviour”. Fans are extremely happy to have Matthews, but aren’t applying that word, which puts a lot of pressure on the 19 year old. Most fans are smart enough to realize it’s a team game, and hence their huge interest in other prospects/young players as well such as Marner, Nylander, etc. Moreover, it was a mainstream media member that asked Matthews the other day about planning a parade route for the Stanley Cup. The fans haven’t been mentioning that, fully understanding that the rebuild doesn’t happen overnight. The next time the mainstream media claims it takes its cues from the fans, you can point to these examples when arguing otherwise.