It’s game day in Toronto, and it’s a doozy of a game day at that.
The Leafs have been using this season as a bit of a litmus test; they aren’t far enough along in their rebuild to really go all-in on winning, but do want to see if it’s possible to sustain true playoff presence with their current roster (and if not, where the holes are).
One of the biggest issues for the Leafs is their defense, which makes tonight almost a cruel test as they face one of the league’s deepest blue line corps. They’ll host the Nashville Predators at home in the good old GTA, hoping to see just how well the team does against last year’s WC Stanley Cup Finalist.
Mike Babcock seemed to be looking at tonight’s game versus Cup finalist and top team in Nashville as a bit of a measuring test for the Leafs. “…you have a chance to see where you’re at, see if you’re any good or not. We think we are, but we gotta show it on a nightly basis.”
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) February 7, 2018
Roman Polak is officially back, and Andreas Borgman is officially back down with the Marlies in a corresponding move.
Matt Martin is still out of the lineup and Leo Komarov is still on the fourth line; we know that’s not what was expected coming into this season (and, frankly, looking at Martin’s contract), but it’s been the best thing for the team from a scoring standpoint so it’s best not to mess with that.
I really have nothing to say about Polak being in the lineup other than that Dermott has looked good, so maybe he’s going to be able to help drag his partner along.
The Predators got significantly weaker this offseason with the loss of James Neal, and they’re even weaker now with Filip Forsberg out for a suspension that former captain (and maybe current NHL returnee?) Mike Fisher strongly disagrees with.
That being said, they’re one of the league’s most effective teams in all areas of the ice, and the expectation is that even without Forsberg, they’ll still do well with P.K. Subban (remember him?) and the duo of Kevin Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson, who boast 17 goals apiece. Oh… and Kyle Turris only has 23 points for them this year, but that’s in 36 games. I’d say he’s doing all right.
The Leafs have confirmed that Andersen is indeed back, following what was viewed as a potential concussion scare in their game against Anaheim. He’s still one of the league’s most consistent in-net presences, so nothing to see here, really.
No confirmation yet, but it looks like Pekka Rinne will get the nod on the other end of the ice.
After a few seasons where I thought that maybe age was catching up to Rinne, the Finnish starter is back with a vengeance. He has a .926 save percentage in all situations, and his five shutouts are the most he’s recorded since the 2012-13 season.
- Frederik Andersen’s continued presence in the lineup is hopefully a very good thing; as long as he’s absolutely clear to go, it’s obviously a relief to know that there’s no head injury involved after all. If the Leafs are just trying to avoid deviating from their starting schedule as much as possible, though, that’s a terrible plan – and if Andersen is anywhere less than 100% and they continue to give him every single start, that could mean bad news when the playoffs roll around. As I’ve mentioned before, Andersen is facing as many as 10 to 15 more shots a night than Martin Brodeur did back in the days when goaltenders could still play 70-plus games and win a cup;
- It’s been reported that there may be interest in Tyler Bozak floating around out there. No official word on how true that is, but there may be a fit somewhere else; in the next few weeks, watch his performances closely to see just how much the team may fetch for him.
- Similarly, it sounds like the Leafs are still possibly linked to Tyson Barrie. Now that he’s back from injury in Colorado, he’s a top candidate to add to their defensive corps – but without a huge shot suppression side to his game, it’s a move that may polarize people.
- Nashville is in an ultra-tight battle with the Winnipeg Jets for the top of the Central Division standings, and two points tonight would push them back ahead of their rivals. Don’t underestimate how motivated Nashville will be to keep their current win streak rolling; they’ve picked up three straight and are 8-1-1 in their last 10.
LGD BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE PINT