This is a big of a test as there is in game #8 of the season for Carlyle’s team. How the Leafs look against the 5-1-1 Boston Bruins tonight is going to be an early measuring stick when it comes to the team’s level of improvement this season over last.
In the process of losing all six games to the Bruins last season, the Leafs never allowed less than four and were lit up by scores of 7-0, 8-0, 6-3 and 6-2 throughout the season series. The way in which the Leafs were roundly outplayed in all facets of the game, and at times physically outmatched to an extent hard to imagine of an NHL team, in those blowouts was an embarrassment to all wearing Blue and White; the types of performances against a hated division rival the Leafs must avoid if, as Carlyle pledged, his team isn’t going to be a laughingstock.
The player exchanges between the teams in terms of trades has really added to the heated nature of the rivalry. With Dougie Hamilton making his debut in the ACC for the Bruins tonight, Tyler Seguin in the building and Phil Kessel yet to break his goose egg for the season, you’ve been warned ahead of time to mute the HNIC broadcast (Rask will also be in net). There couldn’t be a better time to break out of it than tonight for Kessel.
I would imagine little will change in the way of the lineup that has won two straight. One of Mike Komisarek or Mark Fraser may draw back in if Carlyle feels the need for some added snarl on the backend.
Speaking of which, the Leafs’ waiver claimee Frazer McLaren is expected to debut on the fourth line tonight.
McLaren will likely serve a role similar to Jay Rosehill when he was here, spending significant time with the Marlies but able step in when Orr and/or Brown is banged up.
Randy Carlyle obviously feels there’s still an important role in the league for the enforcer, with Dave Nonis moving quickly once Brown went down to add McLaren in time for the Bruins game tonight.
The fact that the Leafs’ skill is well spread out throughout the top nine, plus his strict line matching scheme (particularly at home), seems to make Carlyle comfortable with a fourth line playing south of five minutes a night. It makes sense against a team you’re expecting to engage in some punch ups, like tonight, but in some circumstances, like the back-to-back Isles game last week, there are benefits to being able to roll your lines a little more.
Go Leafs and Go Kessel. For the love of God, Leafs, don’t get blown out.