The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone 5-7-3 in the last month, skidding their way to the finish line on the regular season as only the Toronto Maple Leafs can.
They’ll face the recently-eliminated Montreal Canadiens for their last game of the season, resting pretty much their entire defensive corps and playing for little more than pride, enjoyment, and to give Bob Cole a proper send-off. The legendary broadcaster will make one final call on Saturday evening, giving fans their last opportunity to enjoy what he brings to the game before he turns off his microphone for good.
The Bruins hold an eight-point lead on Toronto, guaranteeing that the match-up is set, so there isn’t a whole lot to play for. But as Andersen gets his final regular season nod, it could be fun to upend the Canadiens one last time before they turn to the postseason ahead.
The story of the game is the complete exodus from the lineup seen on the team’s blue line, as Mike Babcock will hold four of the club’s defenders out of the game for the finale. Ron Hainsey, Jake Muzzin, Travis Dermott and Nikita Zaitsev will all sit, leaving Calle Rosen, Justin Holl, Martin Marincin and Igor Ozhiganov to join Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner for game 82.
It’s a surprising move to see Babcock willing to rest his blue line but not his starting goaltender, who has played more this season than all but seven of the league’s netminders in a barely-discernible drop over last season. Hopefully, though, the extra rest to the defense corps will help Andersen out more than sitting him for the final game.
Montreal saw Max Domi come up big in the final games of the season leading up to Saturday, putting up four points in his last five games as the team desperately chased down a final Wild Card spot. He’s been their most threatening player over the course of the season, leading the Canadiens in scoring by a whopping 13 points despite going through a lull in the middle of the year.
He won’t be the only player Toronto will have to keep an eye on, though. Tomas Tatar, who arrived in Montreal as a part of the deal for former captain Max Pacioretty, boasts 25 goals and 58 points of his own – and Brendan Gallagher, who rivals perhaps only Brad Marchand across the league in terms of combining skill with antagonism, has been good for 33 goals so far.
Leafs Nation got a bit of a shock on Friday morning, when the team revealed that former Jets backup Michael Hutchinson had been brought up from the AHL’s Marlies to serve as Andersen’s number two for the next 10 days. Garret Sparks, who has backed up for Andersen so far this year, will spend time away from the team to “rediscover his confidence and technique”, which is one hell of an indictment for the defending Calder Cup champion.
The news got far more airtime than it probably needed, but will ultimately be irrelevant in the last game of the year as Andersen gets his 60th start. In his last five games, he’s been excellent when the team allows fewer than 30 shots and struggled when the team went above that threshold – so keep an eye on his performance to see how he handles whatever shot volume Montreal throws his way. The Canadiens may be out of the playoffs, but they’ve been a high shot volume team all year.
Across the ice, the Canadiens are giving the last game of the year to Charlie Lindgren in a respectful nod to the prospect. It’s hardly a controversial move in a meaningless game, but could be a nice advantage for Toronto if they want to end the year on a high note. Lindgren, who signed with Montreal in 2016 as an undrafted free agent, has spent the year in the AHL with the Laval Rocket.