Toronto Maple Leafs Game Preview: Off to the Windy City to Face the Chicago Blackhawks
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 the 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.
Nov 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a goal by Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (not pictured) in front of Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford (50) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Leafs beat the Blackhawks 3-2 earlier in the season.
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Leafs Injury Report
Leo Komarov is doubtful with a concussion.
Projected Line Combinations (Leafs) from last night.
Blackhawks Injury Report
Trevor van Riemsdyk out with a lower-body injury
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) celebrates his goal in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs went into Saturday’s game in desperate need of a response after they played terribly against the Carolina Hurricanes. Against the Philadelphia Flyers they got out to a hot start with a 2-0 and from there it all came crashing down. The Flyers simply took control of the game and by the end of it the Leafs were left scratching there heads after a 7-4 loss. Really, Toronto fans should not be surprised with how the team fared because they have played like this all season. The issue that Leafs fans should have is the fact that the players are referring to how they played in the 10 games prior, but they also forget about how they started the season terribly.
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center R.J. Umberger (18) celebrates his goal in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
It should not take terrible losses to the Buffalo Sabres, the Nashville Predators, the Hurricanes and the Flyers to make this team realize they have not played well enough. Forget the fact the team was undefeated when they scored first, because they did it yesterday and still lost – hopefully the team did not expect to win just because they scored first. I think the reason why Leafs management like Dion Phaneuf as captain is because even at their lowest he is still calm, even though he has been reading from a script in every interview with reporters.
How many times have Leafs fans heard Phaneuf say that? It has been said since last season. So why has nothing been done? At this point it does not look like this team can figure out how to fix their issues and when they do it happens for one game then they revert back to their old ways.
Line changes midway through the game are not going to change anything. Benching Jake Gardiner did not do anything. It was the same old story and the worst part was that they played terribly at home against a Flyers team that was supposed to be struggling.
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) chases the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
David Alter wrote in his analysis of the game last night that the Leafs have a 5-8-1 this season against clubs that have a .500 record or lower, but a 14-3-2 record against above .500 opponents.. Wouldn’t this team try to take advantage of playing against terrible team? This is what Alter quoted Peter Holland saying after the game last night;
“Clearly we took our foot off the gas pedal and we were outworked for the rest of the game,” said Peter Holland. “What we need to realize is in that streak where we were winning, we were working for the full 60 minutes. It wasn’t happening by fluke. We just need to get back to winning a full 60 minute game.”
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) goes after the puck into the corner against Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
How many times during that winning streak were the Leafs out shot and had to lean on their goaltender for the win. The Leafs have relied on their defence to win games and the only time they totally dominated their opponent had to be when they beat the Sabres 4-0. Other than that the Leafs have not played with the same consistency every game and it has left many people scratching their heads. Simply put, Toronto do not have an elite player like a Claude Giroux who can take over a game with his skill. They also do not have an elite defenceman like a Drew Doughty that can be an intimidating force at both ends of the ice. It comes with the fact that the Leafs refuses to be patient with the way they managed this team and unless they decide which path they want to go it might not change.
Nov 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Smith (28) outraces Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner (51) to the puck at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
They now travel to Chicago where the Blackhawks have put aside their struggles from the beginning of the season and have now won 10 out of their last 12 games. Even when they lose they dominate their opponent. When the Leafs played the Blackhawks earlier in the season they allowed them to have 27 shots on goal in the third period alone – last night the Blackhawks out shot the Columbus Blue Jackets 41-19 but lost in a shootout. They have won eight straight games at home and look to add to their lead in the Central Division against a Leafs team that will try to put together a solid 60 minute game.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Dec 14, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) and Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa (81) battle for the puck during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 7-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Kessel career vs CHI: 8 GP – 6 goals – 2 assists – 8 PTS
Nazem Kadri career vs CHI: 3 GP – 2 goals – 1 assists – 3 PTS
Joffrey Lupul career vs CHI: 18 GP – 11 goals – 7 assists – 18 PTS
James van Riemsdyk career vs CHI: 5 GP- 3 goals-0 assists- 3 PTS
Peter Holland career vs CHI: 4 GP – 4 goals – 1 assists – 5 PTS
Jonathan Bernier career vs CHI: 3 GP- Record: 1-2, 3.04 GAA- .906 SV%
James Reimer career vs CHI: 2 GP- Record: 1-1, 4.20 GAA- .894 SV% **2 GA, and a .957 SV% in his last start against the Blackhawks.
Nov 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) checks Toronto Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson (71) during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Toews career vs TOR: 7 GP- 1 goal- 2 assists- 3 PTS
Patrick Kane career vs TOR: 8 GP- 5 goals- 5 assists- 10 PTS
Marian Hossa career vs TOR: 46 GP- 17 goals- 24 assists- 41 PTS
Duncan Keith career vs TOR: 9 GP- 2 goals- 6 assists- 8 PTS
Brad Richards career vs TOR: 41 GP- 19 goals- 18 assists- 37 PTS
Brent Seabrook career vs TOR: 9 GP- 2 goals- 3 assists- 5 PTS
Antti Raanta career vs TOR: 1 GP- Record: 0-1, 7.50 GAA- .800 SV%
Corey Crawford career vs TOR: 4 GP- Record: 2-1, 3.02 GAA, .889 SV%
Keys to Victory
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) faces off against Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) at Air Canada Centre. The Flyers beat the Maple Leafs 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
I guess the only positive thing the Leafs can take from night’s game was the first 10 minutes, because it looked like they had a chance to actually play with a decent effort. Against the Blackhawks the Leafs have to avoid letting them establish their dominance early. The last time Toronto played against them they were able to match up well against them for the first two periods, but after that the Leafs basically fell asleep.
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) reacts as he is led away to the penalty box against the Philadelphia Flyers at Air Canada Centre. The Flyers beat the Maple Leafs 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
It should be coming to a point where Randy Carlyle should start feeling nervous, because no matter what he tried to do to change this team it simply has not worked out for him. By what it sounds like when reporters talk to the players, they have not given up. However, on the ice it does not look the team can execute his game plan. The same for Dave Nonis, who has committed a lot of term and money to players like Kessel, Phaneuf, Bozak, Lupul and David Clarkson and nothing has really improved. It will be up to those players to try and carry this team because they cannot rely on the bottom six players to do that.
Nov 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk (21) scores a goal on a shot as Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) looks on during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Blackhawks the Leafs need to pay attention to every part of their game. They were beat many times by the Flyers off of broken plays in the defensive zone, they were not aggressive enough in the neutral zone and they were unable to keep pressure in the offensive zone. That cannot happen against the Blackhawks because like many good teams do they try be aware of their play without the puck.
Nov 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (34) looks up as the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs pile into his crease during the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Chicago 3-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Knowing how the Leafs have played and what their record indicates they will probably play a better game against the Blackhawks. However, win or lose this team has to start changing their play because they are a team that has a reputation of being too easy to play against, because they are too predictable. This is a team that has some skill but they lack discipline – it simply comes down to them trying to be harder to play against defensively, because their speed makes them a good offensive team. All the Leafs can hope for is that they do not get blown out of the Windy City and make things worse for them before Christmas.