Maple Leafs vs Blackhawks: Game # 50

Time: 8:00PM EDT

Location: United Centre, Chicago

Broadcast/Streaming: Sportsnet (national game)

Opponent SBNation Site: Second City Hockey

The Maple Leafs are taking a quick spin through the NHL Central Division this week before the start of the NHL ALL-Star Game break later this week. First up today are the Chicago Blackhawks. Tomorrow they will face the Dallas Stars.

The Leafs their first match against the Blackhawks this season was way back in October. They won 4-3 in overtime on a goal by Auston Matthews, and it was a very Auston Matthews goal.

Will the Hawks yield the game to the Leafs again tonight?

First, lets look at the projected lineups. The Leafs made a few roster changes yesterday, and shuffled some players around at practice.

Kasperi Kapenen is up and Frederik Gauthier is down

Toronto Maple Leafs (from practice yesterday)

Forward Lines
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Leo Komarov - Dominic Moore - Kasperi Kapanen

Scratched: Josh Leivo, Matt Martin

Defence Pairings
Jake Gardiner - Ron Hainsey
Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick
Andreas Borgman - Roman Polak

Injured: Morgan Rielly
Scratched: Rinat Valiev

Starting: Frederik Andersen
Backup: Curtis McElhinney

Chicago Blackhawks (recent game)

Forward Lines
Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Anthony Duclair
Patrick Sharp - Nick Schmaltz - Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat - Artem Anisimov - Ryan Hartman
Tomas Jurco - David Kampf - Vinnie Hinostroza

Defence Pairings
Duncan Keith - Jordan Oesterle
Erik Gustaffson - Brent Seabrook
Michal Kempny - Connor Murphy

Jeff Glass
Anton Forsberg

The Blackhawks starting goalie Corey Crawford is still out with a head injury, though he is expected to start practising again soon. Journeyman Jeff Glass was called up from the AHL for the first time ever at 32 years-old.

The Blackhawks are not having a great season. As of last night they sit at 12th place in the Western Conference. They are coming in to tonight’s game after losing their past three games.

That only explains a part of the problem faced by the Hawks. They are scoring goals. Unique for a team so low in the standings is that they still have a positive goal differential of +7. Per Natural Stat Trick, their CF% is second in the league at 53.54%, behind only the Hurricanes who have a very slightly higher rate. The drop off in SV% from Crawford to Glass, compounded with a team of slowly but steadily declining stars like Jonathan Toews is an explanation for the recent slide.

You have to wonder if they team is in need of a total blow up, but they have managed their way through a mess like this before, and come back to win the Stanley Cup. The projected fat rise in the salary cap could help them resolve some contract issues and do it all over again. Still, questions are starting to be asked about whether immediate changes are needed.

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The Hawks recently picked up Anthony Duclair from the Arizona Coyotes. He wanted out of Arizona because who wouldn’t? He could be a physical presence tonight and it will be interesting to see who he chases around if he is indeed again on their top line. Perhaps he can be a foil to Zach Hyman? Perhaps he is their Zach Hyman?

These teams don’t meet very often, so it’s hard to peg what dynamic will be at work. There isn’t a ‘rivalry’ here per se, but both badly want the points — the Leafs to bank them to survive greater challenges to come after the All-Star break, and the Hawks simply to stay in the race and make the last wild card playoff slot.