Time: 10:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: SAP Center, San Jose, CA
Broadcast/Streaming: Sportsnet Ontario (blackouts in effect), CSN-CA
Opponent SBNation Site: Fear the Fin
It’s time for the Maple Leafs’ annual California Road Trip! It kicks off tonight in San Jose. I hope you have caught up on your sleep, because there are a lot of late night games coming up.
The Leafs have had quite varied success on the California trip in recent seasons. Most memorable was the trip in early March 2014 under Randy Carlyle. The Leafs had good months and bad months up to that point, and we were told by Tim Leiweke that the success in “October was not a fluke”. That California trip would be a litmus test; whether they were the real deal or not, and could make it to the playoffs as they had in the previous post-lockout season.
They made it through with two wins and a loss. Remember that this was a point in time where the Western Conference was seen as absolutely dominant over the east. The Kings and Blackhawks were trading Cups between each other. Getting through California with two convincing wins was a big deal.
But then they lost the next seven games in a row. It was the “eighteen-wheeler off a cliff” moment.
Least season the road trip started out well with a 4-0 shutout of the Ducks. It ended horribly with the Sharks humiliating the Leafs, winning 7-0. The Leafs then went on a solid downward trajectory to finish last place in the league.
This time around it feels like we are back to the litmus test again. The West is no longer so dominant, but the teams are still good, and the Leafs are in a very tight race for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
The California adventure starts tonight against the Sharks. A team which made it all the way to last season’s Stanley Cup Final. The Shark’s Brent Burns is a contender for the Hart Trophy this season. He would be only the ninth ever defenceman to win, should he get enough votes. He presently has 65 points in 61 games. Pretty much their entire team has both a score and venue adjusted CF% and FF% above 50%. The Leafs will have 6-8 players under that 50% mark.
It’s not going to be an easy start to the California trip, but, should they win tonight, it will set a high benchmark for the performance in the next two games.
These lines will be updated as further news becomes available in the afternoon.
Boyle arrival this afternoon. Rielly paired with Zaitsev today, Gardiner with Marchenko. #tmltalk— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) February 28, 2017
The Leafs have sent Freddy Gauthier to the Marlies and taken Mitch Marner off injured reserve. Brian Boyle is a go.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 28, 2017
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Josh Leivo
Matt Martin - Brian Boyle(?) - Nikita Soshnikov
Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Alexey Marchenko
Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak
Kevin Leblanc - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Mikkel Boedker
Tomas Hertl - Chris Tierney - Joel Ward
Marcus Sorensen - Michael Haley - Melker Karlsson
Paul Martin - Brent Burns
Marc-Edourad Vlasic - Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon - David Schlemko
Tonight may be the debut of Brian Boyle with the Maple Leafs. After yesterday’s trade he confirmed he would be there in time for the game, but it’s possible Babcock will want to give him this one game off after a very hectic 24-hours and unexpectedly having to jump across four time zones with no notice.
The Sharks have so far been quiet on the approach to this deadline. Their roster should be as it was in the prior game. Joonas Donskoi is still out with an injury. Their team is well rested. Their last game was Saturday, a 4-1 win over the Canucks.
Martin Jones has an all-situations sv% of 0.915 in 51 games played so far this season. He’s a good goalie, and the Leafs offence will have to look sharp to get one past him.
I hope you’re ready for a late night!