Fresh off their first lengthy break of 2019-20, the Maple Leafs are heading to Philadelphia tonight to take on a Flyers team that is, well, not very good. On paper, at least, this should be a terrific opportunity — a chance to forget the struggles of the past and forge a new, dominant path ahead.
Before the puck drops, here is who the Leafs will be going with, per DailyFaceoff.
Andersen is expected to start.
1) JVR is Scoring
You know it. I know it. Your mom knows it. This is just how these things go.
Look, if Par Lindholm can exit the shadow realm, sign with the Bruins, and proceed to score the dagger goal against the Leafs on TD Garden ice, then James van Riemsdyk is ready to hit us all with the four like…uh, who was it, again?
2) Let’s See if Back-to-Backs Hit Other Teams as Hard as They Hit the Leafs
The Philadelphia Flyers are not a very good hockey team. In fact, they happen to be on the second half of a back-to-back tonight, went all the way to a shootout the night before, and are now facing a Leafs team that hasn’t played since Tuesday. Sounds like a gimme, right? Well, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Sure, the circumstances are in Toronto’s favour, but you better believe that these Flyers are prepared to channel the spirit of the Broad Street Bullies and ride the #GRIT to a victory.
Nice things? Never heard of ’em.
3) No Muzzin? Mo Problems
Jake Muzzin has expectedly been ruled out ahead of tonight’s contest, albeit not due to the leg injury he suffered versus Washington that forced him to exit the game. Speculation as to what “personal reasons” means aside, Muzzin’s absence is HUGE to a floundering Leafs roster, and has thrust their D corps into chaos. What’s left is a bonafide mish-mash of pairings.
Dermott-Holl? Actually…not that bad.
What am I even looking at here? Those pairings are a lot like when you simulate way too many midseason games in NHL20 GM Mode with “assistant coach” set to Auto. Sure, you tried to skip a few forgettable contests against bottom-barrel teams to save you some time, but now David Clarkson is your second-line winger because he’s technically on the Leafs’ roster and computers don’t understand LTIR.
Enjoy tonight’s chaos. At the very least, it’ll be fun.
4) How Much Will Dermott Play?
Tuesday night featured the long-awaited return of Travis Dermott from the shoulder injury that robbed him of a healthy postseason and the first 12 games of 2019-20. It was great! And while not much was expected of a 22-year-old playing what was essentially his first true hockey game in over six months, Dermott saw the ice for only 12:56 and was stapled to the bench for a large chunk of the third period.
Will that change tonight? Keep in mind, the Leafs are without Jake Muzzin. If they don’t want to ride Dermott, Mike Babcock’s next best option for a number two LD is Martin Marincin. You tell me which player is better.
Dermott won’t log 30+ minutes tonight against a tired Flyers team, but he should end up flirting with the 20-minute mark most fans initially thought he would.
5) Statement Game
Is that a little too dramatic? Probably.
Then again, the Leafs very much peed the bed on Tuesday night and were left to sit in that pee for the next three days. Sound gross? It should. Because it was. Tonight, the Leafs have a chance to clean it up. Will they take advantage of a weak opponent on national television and right the ship? Or, will the Leafs fall into the same bad habits that have plagued them all season, throw away a golden opportunity at two easy points, and finish it off with the tired “we need to be better” soliloquies that have filled post-game scrums all season long?
The choice is theirs. While this might not be your grandpappy’s version of a “statement game”, the Leafs can make a much-needed statement nonetheless.