Toronto Maple Leafs vs. St. Louis Blues
Game Time: 8:00 PM
Location: Scottrade Centre
Opponent SBNation Site: St. Louis Game Time
Before this year, I thought the Blues were going to be quite a good team in the Central, thanks to a deep forward group and a couple of stud defencemen. Then they came out and were garbage for a couple of months and fired their coach.
Apparently Mike Yeo really was holding them back (along with failed starter Jake Allen), because the Blues have exploded in 2019. Their underlying numbers show a meteoric rise, and having been left for dead earlier, they now have an eight-point safety net on a playoff spot with games in hand. Oh, and they’ve won their last ten games straight.
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Par Lindholm - Frederik Gauthier - Connor Brown
Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Muzzin - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Travis Dermott
As far as we know, Andreas Johnsson is back and ready to rumble. If that’s the case, Tyler Ennis seems to be the odd man out at forward. The defence is still in what I am calling the Weirdo Balanced Triangle structure, but see how it develops as the game plays out.
St. Louis Blues
Brayden Schenn - Ryan O’Reilly - Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz - Tyler Bozak - Robby Fabbri
Zach Sanford - Oskar Sundqvist - Patrick Maroon
MacKenzie MacEachern - Ivan Barbashev - Robert Thomas
Joel Edmundson - Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester - Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn - Robert Bortuzzo
The Blues are missing some pretty decent players right now: forwards David Perron and Alex Steen (sigh) along with popular ex-Leaf stalwart Carl Gunnarsson. This does not appear to have bothered them very much, because their top line in particular is bananas. Brayden Schenn is an elite offensive forward, Ryan O’Reilly is one of the game’s very best two-way centres, and Vladimir Tarasenko has an obscenely deadly shot. (Remember a few months back when Tarasenko was supposedly on the trade block because he had a shooting percentage slump? Good times. Anyway, he has 20 points in his last ten games.)
Perhaps worse for the Leafs, the Blues are just one of those teams that seems to play the Leafs tough, with a grinding cycle that we can’t seem to crack and a stifling defensive game. A couple of the most frustrating losses of the New Leafs Era came at the hands of St. Louis, so...uh...let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.
As usual, the Leafs’ best apparent advantage is that our third line ought to clobber the opponent’s, more so now with Steen and Perron out. With Johnsson back and Kadri/Nylander almost the only two players who performed well Saturday night, the road to victory would seem to go most directly through them. So now that I’ve jinxed it, look out for the inevitable Pat Maroon hat trick.
Go Leafs Go!
Update: Binnington will get the start, Alex Steen is in for Fabbri and Andreas Johnsson is almost certainly good to go.