Maple Leafs week ahead: The Panthers test, the quarter mark, and the always fun Bruins

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
As we approach the quarter mark of the year we are going to try and do something a little different at TLN and take a bit of time on Sundays or Mondays to preview the week ahead. It’s probably no coincidence that we are test driving this post on a week that has plenty going on with it.

Tuesday Night vs. the Panthers

Another matchup against the team that easily disposed of the Maple Leafs during the second round of the playoffs really doesn’t need much explanation of why there is some hype around it, and it is a game that is going to feed into a number of narratives depending on the outcome of it.
If the Leafs win, they are at the 20-game mark of the season tied for second in the Atlantic with games at hand (depending on how things shake out with the Florida and Tampa games on Monday), and the Maple Leafs will have a .625 points percentage that puts them very much in playoff team territory. We’ll know they could be better, but they’ll be trending up and they will have proven they can beat the Panthers.
If the Maple Leafs lose that will be their third loss since returning from Sweden. They will still be struggling against a potential first round opponent and a team that has also dropped their last couple of games. The Maple Leafs will have a .575 points percentage and when you look strictly at wins and losses (including non-regulation) the Maple Leafs will have a .500 winning percentage. That makes them look like much more of a bubble team and there will likely be another round of panic, if there isn’t panic already after the weekend.

Thursday Night vs. the Kraken

After a strong breakout year last year, the Kraken have come back down to earth. The balanced attack that served them so well last year hasn’t produced the same results and the success might have been due to a number of players punching above their weight class.
Still, balanced attacks give Toronto a lot of trouble and it means that the Domi line is going to be playing against a line that can exploit their defensive shortcomings and the fourth line could face similar challenges as well, especially if the Leafs once again put Ryan Reaves in the lineup or opt for an 11F/7D lineup card. It’s the kind of game where the Maple Leafs top line of Matthews and Marner showing up can make a ton of difference and the game could be a gauge for whether the duo should stay together at 5v5.

Saturday Night vs. the Bruins

Saturday night against the Bruins doesn’t really need an explanation when it comes to importance. After the Brad Marchand/Timothy Liljegren incident this game feels like an opportunity for the Maple Leafs to make a statement about who they are as a team and that they can not only respond to dirty plays or physical play, but they can bring some intimidation to their opponents from the initial puck drop. I don’t expect we’ll see Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews putting on the foil, but finishing hits and being more aggressive on puck retrievals would be enough.
The Bruins are not invincible, the Leafs just treat them that way. Toronto can beat that group on talent just not structure.

Around the NHL

This week could see a decision made by Patrick Kane on his landing spot. Both Florida and Detroit are rumoured favourites when it comes to his landing spot and that has the potential to further complicate the landscape of a tough Atlantic Division.
While Patrick Kane is by no means the right fit for the Maple Leafs and there is a good chance that the team that acquires him will have buyer’s remorse, there is still a chance that Kane can find a fit that works and for teams like Florida or Detroit that have a bit more room to accommodate an offence only playmaker they could be getting exactly what they need.

Narratives of the week

Given that it is the 20-game mark/quarter season mark/end of November, there will be plenty of opportunity to reflect on what has gone right and what has gone wrong for the Maple Leafs this season, that said recency bias always rules the day and after 17 games of being on the scoresheet it will be interesting to see if William Nylander can get back there. It took 17 games to get to where pundits were saying he deserves David Pastrnak money, how many games without scoring does it take before he’s back to being in every trade rumour for defensive help?
The other narrative to watch this week will be the Maple Leafs top line. Now that Nylander has gone without points in the past couple of games it doesn’t seem impossible to flip Marner and Nylander as an easy adjustment to see what the Leafs can do to get their top six going again. It’s far from a perfect plan as it has taken a while to get Bertuzzi going and putting him back with Marner, who he seemed to have next to no chemistry with could be a setback.
Still, it seems like something has to be done from a message standpoint to hold Marner and to a lesser extent, Matthews accountable. The 26-minute night for Nylander on Saturday was probably a good start as Sheldon Keefe made sure the core forward who was earning icetime actually got it.
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