Air Canada Centre; Toronto, ON
4:00 p.m. PT (a.k.a. the best time for hockey!); CBC (National)
SBN Swedish Twin Aficionados: Nucks Misconduct
The Leafs beat Nashville 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday after beating Dallas 3-2 on Tuesday. In the words of Lou Brown, that's two in a row. Win one tonight, and that's what we call a winning streak. It has happened before.
And it wouldn't happen without the superb play of James Reimer, up to a .920 SV% on the season and a .940 in November. With a Sunday game against the red-hot Rangers in New York, it is unclear whether he will play tonight (UPDATE: he will). In any event, he's the big reason the Leafs have gone 3-1-2 in the month of November.
Tonight's opponent is the Vancouver Canucks, who with 7 wins and 10 losses, look primed to clinch the AFC South. Luckily for them, they play in the hockey equivalent known as the Pacific Division, and could reclaim first in said division with a win tonight.
The Canucks are 8th in offense, but they're doing it in a way different from how you remember. A team once known for being lethal on the powerplay is getting results at even strength, which is good because their PP is only at 14.8%. While the Sedin twins still drive the offense, the Canucks have a balanced attack, with eight players notching 3 or more goals and ten with 7 or more points. Defensively, this is a middling possession team (49.5% CF, 51.3% FF) getting decent goaltending from familiar foe Ryan Miller, who has a .913 SV% this season. Yessir, these aren't your slightly older brother's Canucks! Or something like that.
This game, of course, is a big deal in the Vancouver area, because they hate us. They really hate us. And I get why: they don't understand us, because we are just so different. No Canuck fan could ever understand what it's like to have lived through the bygone years of Leaf management: the highs of the late Pat Quinn, the idiocy of Dave Nonis, the blustering press conferences of Brian Burke. They just can't understand the heartbreak of a playoff loss to the hated Boston Bruins. Or the joy of watching Leafs greats like Mats Sundin, Tiger Williams, Rick Vaive, and Felix Potvin. Or suffering that disappointing collapse in the 2013-14 season because your coach sucked. Or having to endure the contempt that the rest of Canada has for your team. Or the awful feeling of running their best player out of town for pennies on the dollar because he was continually the scapegoat for his team's failure to meet expectations. No, there's no way that Canucks fans could ever understand any of it. We are just too different from them.
Probable Leaf Lines
With two straight wins, it's unlikely we'll see much change from Thursday in Nashville. The only two questions: (1) will Reimer get his seventh straight start, or will they play Jonathan Bernier to rest him for tomorrow? (2) Will Frank Corrado finally make his Leaf debut, given that this is his former team and all? (UPDATE: the answers to these questions; (1) yes; (2) no)
van Riemsdyk - Kadri - Komarov
Matthias - Bozak - Parenteau
Winnik - Spaling - Lupul
Grabner - Froese - Holland
Gardiner - Phaneuf
Hunwick - Rielly
Harrington - Polak
Probable Vancouver Lines
Per Jon Abbott of Vancouver's TSN 1040, here were the lines at Canucks practice in Toronto on Friday. Strangely, new acquisition Brandon Sutter is not in the lineup. Ryan Miller- who often had the Leafs number in his Buffalo days- is the probable starter:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Jake Virtanen
Chris Higgins - Jared McCann - Radim Vrbata
Alexandre Burrows - Adam Cracknell - Derek Dorsett
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis - Ben Hutton
Matt Bartkowski - Yannick Weber
Key to the Game
Shut down the balanced attack, and get to the D/goaltending. It is likely Babcock will match the Spaling line and Vancouver native Morgan Rielly against the Sedins and the Canucks' top pair. This will give the Kadri line a decent matchup against the Canucks' young second line. The Leafs' top two lines may also see a lot of the Canucks' second and third pairings, which really aren't that great. Miller has been decent this season, but is not impermeable. If the Leafs can shut down the Sedins, dominate the 2nd/3rd lines, and get the better goaltending, they can win.
Of course, this would involve the Leafs winning three straight games, which would be a strange occurrence.
The Leafs are 1-4 in OT, while the Canucks are 1-5. So, this game is definitely going to OT, and the universe will collapse into itself before a winner can be decided.