Toronto Maple Leafs Game Preview: Original Six Rivals Clash on Saturday Night
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We have all waited patiently and now it is time to drop the puck on a new season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here at Tip of the Tower we strive to give you as much content on your Toronto sports teams as humanly possible. This series will preview every single Toronto Maple Leafs game and what you should know for the game that night.
The Leafs were 1-1-0 last season against the Blackhawks.
Leafs Injury Report
Joffrey Lupul is out with a broken hand
Blackhawks Injury Report
Dan Carcillo is out with a lower body injury
Corey Crawford is probable with a lower body injury
Oct 31, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Daniel Winnik (26) celebrates his first goal of the season with teammates along the boards in the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Leafs won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs and Blackhawks face-off at the Air Canada Centre in a battle of old original six rivals. The Leafs are fresh off a 4-1 victory in Columbus last night, where the trio of Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Daniel Winnik came alive for the Buds, combining for three of the team’s four goals.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks continue on with their four-game set of Canadian teams when they take on the Leafs. Good news for Chicago and their fans is the status of Corey Crawford. The starting goalie has been out for the past couple weeks with a lower body injury, but is probable to return on Saturday night.
Although the return of Crawford is a promising development for the Blackhawks, the team has been inconsistent at times this season and has struggled to find the back of the net. Prior to Thursday’s four goal outburst in Ottawa, the Blackhawks scored only 13 goals in their last seven games. With a bevy of talented players, it’s only a matter of time before this team has a breakout performance offensively.
Oct 31, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Daniel Winnik (26) celebrates his first goal of the season on a shot against Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney (30) in the third period at Nationwide Arena. The Leafs won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
On the other side of the ice, the Maple Leafs were dealt a tough hand by the schedule makers. Toronto just played last night in Columbus and now must travel back home to host Chicago. Although Columbus is just over a two hour flight away, it is still a quick, less than 24-hour turnaround for the Leafs.
After climbing over the .500 mark for the first time this season last night – in dominating fashion I might add – the team’s confidence should be rather high. Head coach Randy Carlyle continued to juggle the lines a bit last night, as we saw the trio of Kessel, Kadri and Winnik emerge. Given their success last night, one would assume that the trio stays together tonight. However, playing a top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa is a little different than taking on a depleted Blue Jackets lineup that is dependent upon their top line.
Editor In Leaf
The top line battle will be an interesting one to watch, but the way the Leafs backend defends the Hawks possession oriented forwards will be a more interesting one in my opinion.
After dominating the Blackhawks to the tune of a 7-3 score last year in the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs will look for a similar result this evening.
One side story to tonight’s game will be the rare “brother vs. brother” story when JVR faces off against TVR. James will take on brother Trevor tonight, as the two van Riemsdyk’s story will surely draw discussion from the media.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Phil Kessel career vs CHI: 8 GP – 6 goals – 1 assist – 7 PTS
James Van Riemsdyk career vs CHI: 4 GP – 2 goals – 0 assists – 2 PTS
Nazem Kadri career vs CHI: 2 GP – 1 goal – 1 assist – 2 PTS
Doin Phaneuf career vs CHI: 23 GP – 3 goals – 11 assists – 14 PTS
James Reimer career vs CHI: 1 GS – Record: 0-1-0 – 7.50 GAA – .737 SV%
Jonathan Bernier career vs CHI: 3 GS – Record: 1-2-0 – 3.04 GAA – .906 SV%
Jonathan Toews career vs TOR: 6 GP – 1 goals – 2 assist – 3 PTS
Patrick Kane career vs TOR: 7 GP – 5 goals – 4 assists – 9 PTS
Patrick Sharp career vs TOR: 12 GP – 4 goals – 1 assists – 5 PTS
Marian Hossa career vs TOR: 43 GP – 17 goals – 24 assists – 41 PTS
Andrew Shaw career vs TOR: 3 GP – 1 goals – 1 assists – 2 PTS
Duncan Keith career vs TOR: 8 GP – 2 goals – 6 assists – 8 PTS
Brent Seabrook career vs TOR: 8 GP – 1 goals – 2 assists – 3 PTS
Corey Crawford career vs TOR: 3 GP – Record: 2-0-0 – 3.00 GAA – .889 SV%
Keys to Victory for Toronto
– This seems to be a recurring theme with the game previews, but the Leafs need to get off to a strong start. The Leafs are 5-0 this season when scoring the first goal. With Crawford set to make his first start in weeks, getting rubber to the net, and maybe even an early goal, would help the Leafs immensely against the talented Blackhawks.
– The Leafs must create traffic in front of Crawford. As already mentioned, this will be Crawford’s first start in weeks. It wouldn’t hurt if the Leafs got in his blue paint a bit and made life uncomfortable for the 29-year-old Quebec native.
Oct 31, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) follows the puck in play during the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Leafs won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
– Win the face-off battle. The Blackhawks rank sixth in the league for team face-offs, posting a 52.9% mark. The Leafs don’t rank too far behind though, as the Buds check in at 13th overall, posting a 50.2% mark. While the difference between the two teams is not substantial, the Leafs must do a good job of winning defensive face-offs, as Chicago rolls three centre men that are very smart in the offensive zone. Kadri struggled with Red Wings centre Henrik Zetterberg earlier this year, and tonight won’t get any easier when he goes up against Toews. But if the Leafs are going to have success tonight, both Kadri and Bozak will have to perform in the circle.
– The Leafs must win the special teams battle. The Hawks power play is struggling this year, scoring on only 16.3% of their power plays this season. However, their penalty kill ranks among the league’s very best, as the Hawks have killed off 90.6% of their penalties. While the Leafs aren’t too shabby on the penalty kill themselves (killing off 84.2% of their penalties), they must stay out of the box. Last year, Chicago was a top-10 power play unit, scoring on 19.5% of their power plays last season. Yes, they are struggling to score now, but with talent all over the power play unit, the Leafs can’t afford to give the Hawks’ an opportunity to score on the man-advantage.
Dec 14, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg (23) and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) battle for a puck at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 7-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
– The Leafs must find a way to not be drastically outshot. While that is easier said than done, the Leafs notorious habit of being outshot has the potential to get ugly tonight. The Hawks are averaging a league best 38.1 shots per game, while allowing only 27.5 against. That’s a whopping 10.6 shot difference, indicating to us that the Hawks are controlling the pace of play more often than not. Although the Leafs have improved their shot differential from last year, posting a differential of only -0.03 this season, they will have their hands full tonight with the Hawks. Regardless of whether Bernier or Reimer is between the pipes tonight, both goalies will more than likely see a ton of shots.
What is your prediction for tonight’s game? Should the Leafs stick with the same lines as last game? Let us know in the comments section below.