Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins
The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action tonight after Wednesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators was postponed for obvious reasons.
More from Toronto Maple Leafs
- Maple Leafs Rumours: Half of NHL teams interested in Ilya Mikheyev
- Toronto Maple Leafs: How to address the goaltender position
- Leafs reward Timothy Liljegren with extension after breakout season
- Maple Leafs: Jack Campbell situation becoming increasingly uncertain
- Jason Spezza retires, joins Toronto Maple Leafs front office
Toronto host a Boston Bruins team that has haunted them in recent years, but one that now finds itself in a vulnerable position. The Bruins are 4-5-0 to start the new season and they’ll be playing without captain Zdeno Chara, who could miss up to six weeks of action due to a knee injury.
This spells opportunity for the Leafs and could put them in position to climb above .500 for the first time this season. The Leafs have been playing inconsistent hockey since the season opened on Oct. 8 and if they hope to contend down the stretch, there’s nothing more impactful right now than taking two points away from a key divisional rival.
Below are some of the key questions facing the Leafs tonight.
1) Will the Leafs be ready?
We shouldn’t overstate the fact the Leafs haven’t played since Tuesday night’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders. If sanity and common decency prevailed, there wouldn’t have been a terrorist attack on Wednesday, leaving the Leafs free to play (and beat) the Senators that night. Of course, this would’ve meant a two-day break, not a three-day break, for the Leafs, which is only marginally shorter.
The length of the break, however, isn’t the real concern. It’s the general mindset of the Leafs heading into tonight’s game.
Hockey was understandably pushed out of the Leafs’ minds on Wednesday morning as they were in sight of the terrorist attack from their hotel in downtown Ottawa. The chaos and sorrow of this day can be hard to shake, and it may linger with the Leafs for some time.
Toronto will honour the two soldiers who lost their lives this past week in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa by holding a coordinated tribute with the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.
This is why terrorism can’t break us.
2) Can the Leafs take advantage of a suddenly vulnerable Boston team?
As mentioned, the Bruins enter tonight’s game with a rare show of vulnerability.
Apr 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk (21) and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) battle for position at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
They’ll be playing without Chara, who’s anchored the team’s defence for nine years now, while the offence continues to fire blanks: Boston currently boosts a goal differential of -1 on the new season (22 GF, 23 GA).
The off-season departure of Johnny Boychuk has also hurt the Bruins.
Boychuk was traded to the Islanders prior to the start of the season and has thrived in his new home. Enjoying greater ice time and responsibility, the Edmonton native has six points (two goals, five assists) in seven games (he recorded a career-high 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) last season) to start things off.
Right now the Bruins are probably regretting the loss of defensive depth that he provided.
Aside from their defensive woes, the Bruins haven’t been able to find the back of the net with any sense of regularity. I’m sure it doesn’t help that Jarome Iginla, a 30-goal scorer for the Bruins last season, left for the Colorado Avalanche this off-season.
All of this presents an incredible opportunity for the Leafs to finally turn the table on Boston, but there’s one important thing to remember here: the two teams have almost identical numbers to start the new season. This means the game could go either way and work as a catalyst for either team.
3) How will Phil Kessel play against his former team?
It’s always interesting to see how Phil Kessel plays against Boston.
May 12, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) scores on Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the third period in game six of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Since joining the Leafs in 2009, the Bruins have proved a unique challenge for Kessel. In the early days, he could simply find no luck against them, but following the 2013 playoffs, Kessel has brought a whole new level of hurt to his former team.
In 26 career games against the Bruins, Kessel has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists).
His performance to date this season, however, has been inconsistent. He went scoreless in two games against the Detroit Red Wings last week, then hit the Islanders for three points (two goals, one assist) on Tuesday. Kessel needs to find some consistency.
The Leafs will want to see (and they’ll need to have) another big game from Kessel if they want to blow past the Bruins tonight.
What are your thoughts on the game? Let us know in the comments section below.
It should be a good one!
Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson