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Photo Credit: © Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs Pre-Game #19: 5 Things to Watch for in the Windy City

The Maple Leafs lost last night. Then again, you probably forgot all about it, what with the barrage of bigotry and discrimination spewed from the mouth of a notoriously unsuccessful former coach/executive who continues to preach his agenda of exclusion upon the nationally-televised pulpit given to him by Canada’s Public Broadcaster overshadowing it.

#HockeyIsForEveryone, though. Whatever sells those t-shirts.

To those who were affected by last night’s events, please know that you are valued, cherished and accepted, just as everyone in the greater hockey community should be. No one — especially not the Don Cherrys of the world — can ever change that. The Leafs Nation stands with you. We always will.

Here’s who the Leafs are set to ice tonight as they take on the Blackhawks.

The total has gone OVER in 4 of Toronto’s last 5 games on the road. – From OddsShark.com

Forwards:

Defence: 

Michael Hutchinson is expected to draw the start in goal.

1) Moving Forward Without Marner

Regardless of what you think of Mitch Marner, losing him for what might be the foreseeable future is a crushing blow, particularly to a Leafs team that seems to be hitting their stride. If you watched the game, you’ll know that Marner was forced to leave the ice last night with an ankle injury he suffered from an awkward fall at centre ice. As of now, the extent of the ailment is uncertain.

So, who steps up in his absence? That’s the million-dollar question.

According to the pre-game depth chart, Kasperi Kapanen is expected to slot into Marner’s now-vacant role alongside John Tavares and Trevor Moore. However, we all saw how poorly that experiment worked out earlier this season, so it’s entirely possible the coaching staff goes in a different direction.

Either way, some players who are fighting for their professional lives will be given a chance at redemption.

2) Jason Spezza’s Last Shot

Speaking of which…

Jason Spezza will now slide back into Toronto’s lineup after watching from the press box for the last two games, and no one participating in tonight’s game has more on the line than he does. At the moment, talk radio is discussing whether Spezza would accept an AHL demotion. Yeah, that’s where he’s at right now. The 36-year-old has looked pretty decent in spurts, but it’s abundantly clear that his playing style doesn’t fit what Mike Babcock is looking for.

For Spezza to keep living out his childhood dream, he’s going to need to put on a show so impressive that it forces Babcock to go against his better judgement and keep him around. For perhaps the most notoriously stubborn coach in the league, that’s a tall task.

3) Get Hutch a Win

C’mon, guys. Just let him have one.

Michael Hutchinson has yet to record a win this season, something which is mostly a product of him only seeing action on the second half of back-to-backs. Tonight, however, presents Hutch with his best opportunity yet to erase that pesky zero littering his win column.

The Blackhawks are by far the weakest opponent he’s faced, and although the Maple Leafs did indeed play four periods of hockey less than 24 hours ago, the mediocre attack Chicago is ready to throw against him might make Hutchinson at least look like the best goalie on the ice.

The guy clearly needs it. #WinItForHutch.

4) Will Tyson Barrie Show Up?

Five points in 18 games just isn’t good enough for a player of Tyson Barrie’s calibre. And while the source of his struggles to this point is still up for debate — is it on Barrie to produce regardless of usage, or should the Leafs use him to the best of his abilities? — a strong performance tonight go a long way in quelling the slowly-growing fervour.

Barrie is an immensely talented player. Too talented, in fact, to continue along like this. At some point, the breakthrough will come. Why not now?

5) Power Play Problems

In a surprising twist of good fortune, the Blackhawks are, in fact, one of the few NHL teams with a worse power play than the Leafs. Their man-advantage attack ranks 25th league-wide compared to Toronto’s 21st-place effort, which might just present an opportunity for the visiting squad to bust out of their slump.

Marner is out. You know that. But his absence also means that the PP could now run directly through Auston Matthews, emphasizing his wicked shot and one-timer ability that was otherwise muted with Marner at the helm. Hockey is a weird sport. It’s not entirely unlikely that losing one of their best players gives the Leafs’ the PP spark they so desperately need.

Puck drop is at 7 PM.

Stats courtesy of HockeyReference.com