Well, it’s a probably a good thing it’s not a regular year because right now would be playoff time and something like this would sting a lot more…
No Matthews isn’t a good thing, even if the results so far have been encouraging, but it should be noted that there is a very big difference between Connor Hellebucyk, and the Oilers nonsensical tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. The Leafs could probably use the best goal scorer of this generation against the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, but all the wishing in the world doesn’t change the fact that we’re getting Adam Brooks instead.
In addition to the absence of Matthews, we are still waiting on the return of William Nylander, and the arrival of Nick Foligno. The update on Nylander would put him on track for this weekend, but that doesn’t really help the Leafs situation tonight.
The new look Leafs lines are as follows:
As much as I’m okay with that first line, and kinda intrigued by the fourth line, I have to say that the second and third lines seem like personal attacks on fun, and tonight seems to be about treading water and hoping for the best.
That also raises some interesting questions about what the second powerplay unit would look like, and frankly we should just hope for the Jets playing a clean game tonight.
The Leafs blueline remains intact, and that’s a silver lining, as the Leafs will need to play much more of a team defense type of game tonight with the cards they’ve been dealt rather than attempting to completely run over their opponent offensively.
As for the Jets, well, outside of a very strong top six forward group, and an elite goaltender, this isn’t a particularly intimidating opponent, even if they do see to be establishing themselves as the clear number two team in the division.
The Jets don’t yet have Jordie Benn, who needs the same clearance to play that all the Canucks players do in order to join his new team, but that still leaves Winnipeg with a very underwhelming blueline. The kind of blueline that players like Auston Matthews and William Nylander are particularly good at exploiting.
Outside of special teams, things generally lean in the Leafs favour, but again, that’s a Leafs team that usually has Matthews and Nylander in the lineup, and it’s probably hard to consider the Leafs a favourite heading into tonight, especially with Jack Campbell also coming back down to earth is his last couple of starts. The Campbell vs. Hellebucyk matchup is back to feeling lopsided in favour of Winnipeg as well.
All of this being said, the 2021 Leafs have done well when their back is against the wall. In previous years, the Leafs would look at a game like this and acknowledge that no one expects them to win it and then go out and prove everyone right. The newer version of the Leafs seem to pride themselves on finding ways to win without their stars, and tonight is another opportunity to show it’s not just talent that stirs the pot, and this team puts in the effort as well. Even if it doesn’t go their way, it’s a chance to see some wonky new lines, and get a look at Robertson and Brooks, so that will be fun.
Tonight’s game starts at 7pm and can be found on TSN 4.