LGD: Make it Matter

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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Ottawa Senators tonight. We’re still at the stage of the season where a hiccup can be mended with the time remaining, but there’s not a ton of that time left and you better believe that making this a statement win would matter much, much more.

The Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs lines courtesy of Daily Faceoff

So Mitch Marner is out tonight, thanks to that injury he suffered after crashing into Boone Jenner and subsequentially crashing into the boards. He’ll also be out on Sunday, and the whole thing has everyone in a panic.

You know what? Good. Well, not good that he’s out. But if you can’t put up a good showing without your top players, you’re not a complete team. Good teams compete in the face of adversity. I’d rather have Marner in the lineup than not, but I’m curious to see how they do without him this weekend. He’ll be back soon enough, anyway.

The Senators

Ottawa Senators lines courtesy of Daily Faceoff

Have you ever noticed that the only time you hear anyone talk about Mark Stone is when Senators fans complain about Leafs fans talking about Auston Matthews?

Let it sink in.

Starting Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen returns to the pipes tonight, looking to build on his 33 save de-facto shutout (I’m not letting that penalty shot go) against the Islanders this week. He’s been hit and miss against the Senators this season; a performance like his 25 of 27 outing last month, if not better, would be ideal.

Craig Anderson likely starts for the Senators in his third game since coming back from personal leave to tend to his sick wife. His shutout against the Islanders last Saturday was an awesome feel-good story, but he wasn’t overly great against the Sabres four days ago. Goaltending has saved the Senators on many occasions this year; the Leafs need to make him feel uncomfortable tonight.

What To Look Out For

This might be the most important Leafs/Senators game since the Battle of Ontario era. Win it, and Toronto jumps back to being within a point of them with equal games played. Lose, at the Atlantic gets much more interesting. The Panthers are rising, the Bruins have been good of late, and if Claude Julien is as good as we believe him to be, it’s probably not that likely that the Habs can be caught up to.

There’s a lot of ways the Atlantic can still go. Toronto can win the whole thing, or they could end up missing the playoffs entirely in a 5th or 6th seed. I’m still leaning towards second or third, but boy, they have to show they want it tonight.

Puck drop is at 7:00 PM on Hockey Night in Canada. You’d be best suited to not miss it.

  • STAN

    Senators Schmenators. Let’s talk trade, by way of opinion. I’d like to read opinions about these d-men and whether the Leafs brass would be wise to go after them, at reasonable prices.

    Brett Pesce (Carolina). Shoots R, taken 66th overall in 2013.
    Shea Theodore (Anaheim). Taken 25th overall in 2013.
    Damon Severson (New Jersey). Shoots R, taken 60th overall in 2012.
    Colton Parayko (St. Louis). Shoots R. 6’5”, 225 lbs.Taken 86th overall in 2012.
    Jonas Brodin (Minnesota). Shoots L, 10th overall in 2011, Swede (which = A1 hockey IQ)
    Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim). Shoots L, 6th overall in 2012
    Tyson Barrie (Colorado). Turns 26 this year.
    Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo). Shoots R. 6’4”, 210 lbs. 8th overall 2013, (Finnish = smart).

    • Brent Wisken

      I’d love for the Leafs to get Parayko and Ristolainen, but i would be surprised if their teams traded them. Same thing with Lindholm, although i prefer the other two. As for the others, i would trade JVR for them, and would consider trading the first overall pick this year as well, if a package is done, given that the draft isn’t that deep this year and it won’t be a very high pick for the Leafs. If Brodin isn’t available, perhaps Matt Dumba?

    • LukeWarmWater

      Stan I’ve always felt that the battle of Ontario in reality implied the futility of these two teams over the years. That so called fake news battle is indeed Schmenators as the leafs are now aiming for much bigger game than the Senators, who will continue to remain a middling team with their great ownership.

      • STAN

        LukeWW – I pretty much agree with all your points. (How boring is that? No juvenile insults in ALL CAPS, that we used to find on this Board) The one D-man I neglected to mention as a possible Leafs target is Anaheim’s right-shot Brandon Montour. I think I read somewhere that the Ducks brass considers him untouchable, but then…. Gretzky.

  • Brent Wisken

    Brown and Hyman have been great, and I understand the importance of getting the puck to Matthews. With this said, Nylander and Matthews played amazing together before that line was put together. They went into a small slump, and then Babcock gave up on it too quickly. I wouldn’t short-change Nylander’s play-making skills to get the puck to Matthews, nor his shooting ability. It’s a fictitious claim to state that Nylander does not compete. Big fan of Brown as well, who can move up and down the line-up. He has played well with Kadri in the past.

    I understand the benefit of having a grinder on a line with a shooter, but there is a benefit as well to periodically loading up on offence, particularly when lines aren’t working. Yet, Babcock will only do this for a short period of time, and then reverts back to his habitual approach, sometimes after only experimenting for a maximum two shifts. For example, Babcock’s cautious overtime approach is questionable. Komarov plays well during five-on-five and the penalty kill, but having him with Kadri during 3-on-3 overtime is odd given that a grinder’s ability to check during overtime is negated with so much ice available. Komarov doesn’t have much offence to his game, is not the same as he was last year, and his line-mates during odd-man rushes are increasingly not passing to him but instead elect to shoot the puck, knowing Komarov has diminishing ability to bury the puck. Obviously Babcock’s overtime strategy isn’t working well since they typically go to shootouts and then subsequently lose. If you know you are going to lose in the shootout, then it’s just another reason to load up on offence during overtime. Komarov gets double the amount of ice time than Nylander does during overtime.

    The other night, both JVR and Nylander didn’t have the greatest game. Babcock’s approach was typical, dropping them to the lower lines with very little ice-time, and moving up the grinders in the line-up, including Matt Martin. Yet, he could have tried lining up JVR, Matthews, and Nylander to see if the offence would kick in. Other coaches do it, and it often works. During that game, Matthews was playing great, but his line-mates weren’t having much of an effect. Sometimes that line goes cold, although Matthews plays great, and some experimentation for a period of time would be beneficial to get things going. Leivo could look good with Matthews as well.

    • Stan Smith

      I personally like Matthews and Nylander together, but can understand Babcock separating them for two reasons, one, to spread the scoring out over three lines, and two, the Matthews line is better defensively with Brown on it as opposed to Nylander, at least is was. Lets see what happens this time.

      I wonder about Komarov seeing ice time in OT as well. I wonder if it because Babcock feels he needs a player out there that can get the puck. It would be interesting to be able to ask him questions like this to see what his thinking is.

      As for players getting less ice time I believe it is more Babcock letting those players know he isn’t happy with them as opposed to having an immediate positive effect on the team.

      As for experimenting, I prefer Babcock’s approach of mixing the lines as little as possible. Over the years I can honestly say it seldomly works anyway.

    • LukeWarmWater

      Brent indeed well said. I too couldn’t believe the leafs staring uncle Leo and thus going into a defensive role. Well it only took the Blues big sniper 20 seconds to score in o.t. in a recent game. It is even more paramount for the leafs to go strictly offense in o.t. as we all know how horrendous Andersen is in shoot outs with his average now down to around 50%.

      If you recall even in the Olympics especially the last couple of games, Babcock seems to emphasise defence. You can’t blame forwards on a two on one to want to shoot rather than have Uncle Leo flub a shot. The analogy is DeRozan and Lowry refusing to move the ball inside when either big Jonas or Lucas have trouble holding on to the ball. Babcock can indeed be stubborn at times. But heh we are just arm chair quarterbacks he is the one making $7 million a year.

      • Stan Smith

        In Komarov’s defense he was the only player on the ice that actually tried to knock Tarasenko off the puck. Mind you, he did bounce right off of him though. LOL.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        In fairness Kadri’s line had shut down the Blues big sniper for the whole game. When he showed up for OT if Babcock goes with Matthews, Nylander Gardiner and he scores most would say why was Kadri’s line not out there against him like he was for the rest of the game.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    One thing I will note here. Instead of someone simply replacing Marner on JVR/Bozak line, Babcock is moving Brown up. We end up with 4 new line combinations from our recent games. When Babcock tried that with Rielly injured it did not work and he quickly had to put Gardiner and Carrick back together. I understand there is some past history with some of the lines playing together before but those were mixed results.