Air Canada Centre; Toronto, ON
7:00 p.m.; CBC (National), NHL.TV Free Game
SBN Views From the 6(04): Nucks Misconduct
The Leafs have won two in a row! Everybody ride the wave!
The reason the Leafs have won their last two games is the same reason they blew so many early on: Frederik Andersen. In particular, the Leafs won a 2-1 game against the Sabres they almost certainly could have lost, and would have were it not for Andersen making two highlight reel saves (and several more moderately difficult, but necessary, ones).
The Leafs have one recurring theme of late: one line steals the show, while the others remain relatively quiet. The Matthews line has had such games that need no introduction. Against Edmonton, the Kadri line shut down Connor McDavid while potting two goals of their own. Against Buffalo, the JVR-Bozak-Marner line had a great night. Mitch Marner- who is a Very Good Hockey Boy in my estimation- scored two goals, which is as many as.......you know what? We'll get to that.
The entire Canucks roster has just two goals in their last five games. I told you we'd get to it.
Wait; it gets worse. They've been shutout four of those five games, and the only goalie whom they have scored on is Capitals backup Phillip Grubauer. Granted, they (much like the Leafs) dominated Montreal and came up empty-handed because of Carey Price. And yes, they also were shut out by Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, who has been off to a hot start this season. Nonetheless, two goals in five games (and shutouts in four of five) is exactly that.
Did I also mention they got shutout by the Ottawa Senators....twice? Yeah. Auston Matthews already has 4 more goals against the Sens than the entire Canucks roster will this season. They made Mike Condon look unbeatable.
Now, Leaf fans: I really don't want to toy with fate, so this is the part where I will remind you that while the Canucks are not exactly an offensive powerhouse, they aren't this bad. No team is this bad. The Leafs have also been excellent at being one of the league's premier slumpbusters over the years. Finally, Andersen may be a lot better, but the saves he's made are indicative of the fact the Leafs' defensive breakdowns- which he wasn't stopping before- are still a thing.
The Canucks may not score a lot, but they also don't give up a lot. They boast a team SV% of .926 and give up the sixth-least shots in the entire NHL. They rank dead last in shot attempts per game, but are respectable in shot attempts against per game. They're as low event a team as you can find, a stark contrast to the young, free-wheeling Leafs team. They'd be a very stingy team to play with a lead, if they ever got one.
Good players of note: the Sedin twins remain lethal ageless wonders. Bo Horvat is also good. It's likely the Canucks will break their goal drought with one of those three players.
Also of note is how their fans never shut up about how much they hate the Leafs. Isn't that adorable? I think it's adorable. We're, like, top five in this fanbase's list of rivals, behind all the teams that beat them in the postseason and were too busy actually winning stuff to care. My god, give Seattle a team already so these poor souls that a real rivalry to care about. I live here, but your games are on past almost every other Leaf fan's bedtime. Sorry.
Key to the Game
Puck possession, plain and simple. The Leafs are decent at it (52.5 score adjusted CF%, 8th in the NHL), while the Canucks very much aren't (46.6%, last). The Leafs may be piss poor defensively, but the Canucks defense is banged up with their best player- Chris Tanev- likely injured. The Kadri line will probably have their hands full with the Sedins, but this is the kind of team you'd expect the Matthews line to absolutely shred. I think if the Leafs win, it'll be because of their contributions.
Storyline of the Game
William Nylander. As recent as five years ago, you would've expected the Leafs to be the team to pass on a skilled Swede for a gritty local boy. You also would've expected the Canucks- then behind only IKEA and Ace of Base in contribution to Sweden's GDP- to be the beneficiaries of that decision.
In case you haven't heard (you have), the exact opposite happened, when the Canucks opted to draft Abbotsford native Jake Virtanen 6th overall in 2014, leaving Nylander available when the Leafs drafted 8th. As expected, Canucks fans have been less than happy with the decision, to the point it's reached meme status in Canucks Twitter:
Jake Virtanen is from Abbotsford. https://t.co/XIcptfnp2Z— who even cares (@HockeyDipshit) October 27, 2016
As I alluded to above, I expect big things from the Matthews line in this game. If that prediction holds true, Nylander could be giving Vancouver fans some fits.