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From the Branches: Matthews Faces Hometown Team At Home

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Women's Olympic qualifiers, Marlies lose to the Amerks, and the Panthers aren't actually changing anything

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Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Arizona Coyotes at 7:30pm. In case you've been living under a rock for the past year and have just emerged into the sun, blinking and confused, tonight is the first game Our Papi And Savior Auston Matthews will play against his hometown team. Is he excited? Probably. Is he cold? Also probably, because he has been claimed by Toronto and his days of 65 F winters are over.

Last night, the Marlies lost to the Rochester Amerks 5-2. Katya's recap is here, but at a glance:

Perhaps it's time to look at a plan B. Or, at this point, plan E.

In women's hockey, the next round of Olympic qualifications start today! Here's the schedule for Group E (China, Italy, France, Latvia), and Group F (Hungary, Kazakhstan, Norway, Slovakia). The winners of each group will move on to the final qualifications in February. CWHL fans might be interested to note that Marion Allemoz of Les Canadiennes will be representing France in the tournament. It's unclear if there will be streams, but in the last round, they were available on the linked pages during game time.

On to the links!

ICYMI

What if I don’t want to believe in Antoine Bibeau? - Pension Plan Puppets

He’s the hero we didn’t know was right here all along. All you have to do is believe in Bibeau.

Three of the top four rookie scorers are Maple Leafs - Pension Plan Puppets
Read this and feel good about the future.

Maple Leafs News

Maple Leafs vs. Coyotes will be special milestone for Matthews - Sportsnet.ca
Auston Matthews' Arizona hockey roots run deep. He is, in some ways, the first true offspring of the organization. And he'll face his childhood team for the first time on Thursday night.

For Toronto Maple Leafs’ Star Young Forwards, a Reality Check - The New York Times
Toronto, led by the 19-year-olds Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, is showing patience as they and others develop their game.

Frederik Andersen finding his groove as the Maple Leafs No. 1 goalie - The Globe and Mail
The Leafs’ busy first-year starter from Denmark is playing a lot and playing well these days, the club wants to ensure he gets his rest so that continues.

Maple Leafs looking for answers after another blown third period lead - Article - TSN
News and notes from Wednesday's practice.

Mike Babcock on shootouts, lost leads, Peter Holland & more | Maple Leafs Hotstove
Mike Babcock met with the media after practice on Wednesday, discussing the team’s shootout struggles, lost leads, the decision to part ways with Peter Holland, and more.

Around the League

Panthers owner says nothing has changed in Dale Tallon's role - Sportsnet.ca
Despite a mixed set of messages coming out of south Florida, other NHL GMs are operating under the assumption Dale Tallon is once again the Panthers’ essential decision-maker. (Warning for autoplay)

Former Ducks and U.S. coach Ron Wilson is recovering from a stroke - LA Times
Former Ducks and U.S. national team coach Ron Wilson is in rehabilitation following a recent stroke, according to several friends.

NHL, players running out of time to decide on 2018 Olympics - The Globe and Mail
Players’ Association rejects participating in sixth consecutive games in exchange for labour-pact extension

Hometown rookie Troy Stecher makes a splash with the Vancouver Canucks - The Globe and Mail
I guess there are some good rookies on other teams. Maybe.

Down Goes Brown: The five most entertaining destinations for Jarome Iginla's inevitable trade deadline deal
The Avalanche are awful this year, and while a struggling Iginla hasn't helped much, he deserves better. So let's figure out a way to set him free.

His future uncertain, Scott Darling living in the moment | Chicago Sun-Times
Blackhawks backup wants to stay in Chicago, but the pending free agent could be a No. 1 if he signs elsewhere.

Nikita Kucherov will not play tonight, likely due to injury - Raw Charge
This is the darkest timeline. (Achariya, please accept our deepest sympathies)

This Week In Hockey And Also Potatoes

Preps Plus: Potato-related penalty in Moorhead boys hockey game | INFORUM
Are potatoes better or worse fan projectiles than waffles? Discuss.