The Toronto Maple Leafs have been the league’s most confusing team for the last handful of games.
They’ve started out horrendously slow in all three of their most recent games, allowing a combined 17 goals to boast a horrendous 5.67 goals against average as a team since March 11th.
While they all but flatlined against the absurdly good Tampa Bay Lightning in a 6-2 loss, though, they stormed back against Chicago to nearly erase a 5-0 deficit earned early in the game. They put up a whopping 29 shots against a hapless Collin Delia in the third period, scoring three of their four goals in the third alone to nearly squeeze out an overtime point. Then they did the same against Philadelphia on Friday; after going down 5-2 in the first period-and a half of play, they flipped the script and skated away with a 7-6 win in regulation.
Fans have been equal parts frustrated and fascinated watching the Leafs and their inconsistency, but they’ll have a chance for some easy dominance on Saturday evening as they face the consensus worst team of the year on the road in Ottawa.
The Leafs had a two-goal game from Auston Matthews on Friday, but more importantly had a two-goal game from noted sniper (lmao) Jake Muzzin in the process. The team has a whopping four players with 20 or more goals and two more with 19 tallies and counting, so it’s hard to imagine that the game will be anything but a high-scoring affair.
The real question, of course, is how long the defense can survive without Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott. And now that Kasperi Kapanen is out, one of the team’s most promising two-way forwards is missing in action as well; while they may score a handful of goals every night, the team certainly could stand to make things a little easier on their goaltenders as well.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the Senators lineup that doesn’t involve mild awe and horror. They sold off arguably every top-flight piece they had in the lineup, shipping out Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Ryan Dzingel, and Erik Karlsson all in the last nine months alone. Three of the team’s top four in scoring are gone after the trade deadline – and yes, all three are still in the top four despite the fact that they haven’t suited up for Ottawa in over two weeks now – and their current leading scorer, Thomas Chabot, is week-to-week with a broken toe suffered earlier this week. Colin White is out with a neck injury, to boot, so their three most effective players on Saturday night will be Brady Tkachuk, Chris Tierney (!) and… Bobby Ryan. What a team!
The Senators are on pace to finish the year with 62 points using their full season projection, but they’ve gone a combined 5-15-1 since February 1st – which, at that pace, has them finishing the year with under 60 points. They’re horrendous.
Still, they shut out the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night, and hell hath no fury like a tanking franchise looking to win a few upsets. On paper, this game is Toronto’s to lose, but don’t count out a surprising performance from the home team.
Both teams are playing their backups on Saturday, with Anders Nilsson facing off against Garret Sparks for the goaltending showdown of the century.
Nilsson was tossed from the frying pan right into the fire when he was dealt from the floundering Vancouver Canucks in January, brought on in an attempt to save a sinking ship in Ottawa. He’s done his best, going 9-9-0 and putting up two shutouts for a .915 save percentage, but his game has never been Vezina-caliber and he’s got exploitable lateral inefficiencies. Sparks, on the other hand, has finally put up one league-average performance with a .913 showing against Tampa Bay on the 11th. The rest of his games are a shocking and hilarious spread of excellence and complete incompetence; he’s posted eight games with a .929 save percentage or better and seven with an .897 or worse. There’s really no accurate way to explain how that happens.