clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Preview: Last day of work before vacation or first win of the stretch-drive streak?

New, comments

As the Leafs take on the Stanley Cup Champions on the last game of January, they have another opportunity for a statement game.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs
This was the losing Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals: Game 49

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: The house that Auston built.

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN, TVAS, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360

Opponent SBNation Site: Japers’ Rink

Look up, look way up at that photo of the Leafs saluting the fans after they’d lost to the Washington Capitals in the first round of playoffs in 2017. Everyone was so philosophical then that the Leafs had done a thing they hadn’t done in years: made the playoffs in a way that didn’t seem like a fluke and acquitted themselves where there.

Those days are gone. The world moves fast, and when you want to do the rapid-method rebuild, which the Leafs have done to a T (or maybe that should be to a JT), you have to put that kind of thinking right behind you. The Capitals aren’t thinking about the year they didn’t win the cup, they’re thinking about winning it again.

There’s a lot of clichés flying around the Leafs right now. Both Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock have talked about the adversity the team and various players are facing, and how that’s not a bad thing to learn how to power through.

That’s true. Ask the Capitals how many times you actually can get beat in the first round, but you still have to go out the next season and play like you’re the real deal who can win it all.

Are the Leafs slumping, though? Well, no. But yes. Some of the time. Not always. No one likes a wishy-washy answer! I have no future in sports radio, obviously. We need to know which one thing is “just” the cause of all of this! So we’ll know what one thing will just fix it. It’s just that simple.

The Leafs turned their last two games against Tampa into statement games, and they were terrifying in both of them. Any Western Conference teams watching those two games should be worrying about the age of their legs heading into the trade deadline, and not much else. So should the Capitals.

But when the competition was easier, the team as a whole made enough mistakes and had enough bad luck that they looked like they weren’t really powering through. Perhaps we’ve been wrong all along, and that a team like the Leafs built for offence first doesn’t just need to outscore their weaknesses (and ironically, their defending has been good by Leafs standards lately) but they need to outscore the swings of luck.

After all, that’s all a contender is: A team good enough to absorb the times when luck turns bad.

There’s the narrative, now it’s a simple matter to take each player and cast them in the role that keeps that story going. Auston Matthews just needs a good winger. Babcock is finally giving him his due, and playing with Mitch Marner will totally revitalize his game. Now, never you mind that Kasperi Kapanen is moving up not down to play with John Tavares, and that this Matthews line isn’t a better line that the Johnsson-Tavares-Marner line, it’s a worse one with Patrick Marleau having to find the aspects of his game (shooting from in tight) that will succeed at five-on-five. Nope, this is the change that just needed to happen.

Truth is, it likely will be fun because the Leafs have a heady mix of talent you can dole out in many ways. Even with some injuries reducing the options, it’s hard to make a bad line out of the Leafs forwards. But considering the long list of players that are struggling in one way or another, it is tricky to find a place for William Nylander and Auston Matthews both to play without someone else who isn’t feeling like they never get a puck to go in.

There is no one neat trick that will “fix the Leafs” because they aren’t broken, and the individuals who are struggling to score are all different people doing different things, with different possible solutions.

Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

from the skate this morning, and subject to change at a moment’s notice

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Kasperi Kapanen
Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Connor Brown - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Par Lindholm - Frederik Gauthier - Trevor Moore

Defence Pairings

The version from this morning with Jake Gardiner back.

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen - starter
Garret Sparks

However:

Marincin would bump Dermott up to Gardiner’s place, and like the PP unit as well.

Washington Capitals

Forward Lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Dmitrij Jaskin - Lars Eller - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Travis Boyd - Andre “currently for sale” Burakovsky

Defence Pairings

Dmitry Orlov - John Carlson
Michal Kempny - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Jonas Siegenthaler

Goaltenders

Pheonix Copley
Braden Holtby


The Capitals played last night to an overtime loss against the Sharks, and they are not a tired team. No team is tired and half-assing it against the Leafs, not now. Alex Ovechkin is playing tonight, opting to take his silly punishment game for skipping the All-Star Game after the break. The best the Leafs get out of this scheduling is the chance that Washington will ice the backup goalie.

You see, the Caps have been struggling a bit lately, and they’ve been hearing about their recent win-loss record, and how they’re in a slump.

Oh, Lars, have you considered blogging?

Instead of the Leafs lack of emotionalism which has disconcerted some watchers, the Capitals have had two “closed-door” meetings. That seems very dramatic, but will it get you a goal in overtime? Seems like it didn’t.

Tonight we have two teams in similar circumstances playing their last game until February 1. They both really want to win it as a statement game.

I know who I’m betting on.

.

.

.

.

.

(Tom Wilson to provide at least one power play.)

Update: no backup for us.