Game Preview: They are the champions, my friend

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Both James Reimer and James van Riemsdyk practiced in full yesterday and both are expected (though not confirmed) to be available for the Leafs‘ toughest test of the young season tonight in Chicago.

Jonathan Bernier seems the more likely choice to start in net if the Leafs choose to err on the safer side with Reimer’s injury knowing his history, plus there’s Bernier’s familiarity with Western Conference shooters. Not to say Bernier has played much against Chicago – he’s faced thirty nine shots against the Blackhawks in his career between 9 shots in a game Quick was pulled from late last season, and a 25-save, 3-1 loss in October, 2011 – but he has had years to develop a book having watched some of Chicago’s offensive stars from the bench, most recently in the Western Conference Finals last June.

Whether Reimer or Bernier, the Leaf goalie can expect a busy night; Chicago owns the lion’s share of the puck against most of their opponents, and they fire a lot of rubber at the net. The Leafs have routinely spent long spells without the puck and have withstood a lot of shots against, so strap yourselves in for some pretty lopsided shot figures unless something unforeseen goes down in Chicago tonight.

JvR’s return comes as a big relief, as the top line was ineffectual on Thursday night without van Riemsdyk’s influence, and going into Chicago without him would’ve made the task all the more daunting. The Leafs will need their big line to make some inroads tonight.

Chicago hasn’t been lighting the league on fire this early season, at least by comparison to their start last January. They’re 4-1-2, but have beat generally weak Eastern competition in the early going while losing both of their tougher matchups against St. Louis.

Dave Bolland will play the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time as a member of the rival team. Bolland is the type of player you love to have on your team but hate to play against, and if he is on his game tonight he’ll make his ex-teammates forget, for the 60 minutes at least, that they once enjoyed winning one or two Stanley Cups alongside him.

The Leafs are coming off a loss and will be facing theoretically their toughest matchup so far this season; the hope is the Leafs can find a way to elevate their play from what we’ve seen from them since the Edmonton game, otherwise they could be in some trouble.

The Leafs seem to be getting into some bad habits as of late in terms of details like leaving the zone early seeking out the lengthy stretch pass rather than breaking out with proper support and activating their speed that way.

With Komarov gone, Clarkson, Kulemin, Fraser and McLaren all out injured, the other thing noticeably lacking for the Leafs in the early season has been the edge they played with last season. While it was most definitely a quick strike team last season that relied on its rush offense, the Leafs were tough to play against in a number of different facets of the game, one of which was their chippy-ness; the physical toll the Leafs could exact on their opponents in addition to the speed at which they attacked them throughout the 60 minutes. Throughout the summer we talked about this now being officially “Carlyle’s team” given the off-season shuffling and the various moves befitting his M.O, but we haven’t really seen that part of its identity yet. This is mostly understandable, I suppose, given who, specifically, the Leafs have lost to injury.

One chink in the Chicago armor in the early season has been their penalty kill, which sits right near the bottom of the league at 71.4%. The Leafs’ PP has dazzled early, so this could be an area where Toronto can find an edge. There is no doubting the puck moving ability of the Hawks’ defence and the weapons up front, however. This will be an interesting measuring stick game for the Leafs tonight on Hockey Night in Canada.

 LeafsHawks
Record6-2-04-1-2
GF/G3.5 (6th)2.71 (14th)
GA/G2.38 (11th)2.29 (7th)
SF/G28.1 (25th)33.4 (4th)
SA/G35.0 (28th)27.4 (5th)
PP29.0% (2nd)18.5% (15th)
PK87.1% (4th)71.4% (28th)
5 on 5 F/A1.14 (13th)1.30 (9th)
Sh%12.4% (2nd)8.1% (19th)
Sv%93.2% (4th)91.7 (13th)
FO%45.5 (25th)50% (16th)

Last Meeting

Ugh, the 2012 Leaf collapse.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]
  • Tommy Cat

    It would be nice to see the Leafs come out and not only win but out shoot them and have the higher % of puck possession.  I wonder what kind if BS the nay-sayers would come up with then.

  • Lonsmos2

    I’m sure Hughson Simpson and Healy will point out every mistake the leafs make while drooling over every play the Hawks make
    after all it is Hockey Night in the USA on CBC

  • Jay31

    The Hawks are apparently splitting Kane and Toews tonight, so the top 6 will be:
    Saad – Toews – Hossa  
    Sharp – Handzus – Kane

  • Biltmore

    I’m travelling one hour out of town tonight to watch this game at a friend’s place. Therefore, I will require a four goal lead by the Leafs at the end of the first to ensure a leisurely evening and value for the journey taken. Don’t disappoint me…

  • Mattmark

    Tommy Cat It certainly doesn’t sound like a scenario the nay-sayers would have to contend with any time soon.

  • TuckerForPunishment

    4-3 Leafs.  Bolland in OT.

  • PEIleafnation

    lets go leafs…I read jvr and reims travelled with the team

  • wiski

    Going to a friends for din din and he has videotron probably gonna be stuck with the hab game on cbc

  • lieffan

    Measuring stick game for sure, and could not agree more on the points about physical play and lack of discipline at time. Carlyle had these guys playing a tighter game toward the end of last season, need to get back to it.

  • TheColborneUltimatum

    Any word on when Kulemin is due back?

  • TuckerForPunishment

    wiski Bring your own food and confiscate the remote.  If he doesn’t like it leave.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    TuckerForPunishment wiski lol, tips for making friends with TFP.

    seriously though, do this

  • vinoa

    ” JvR’s return comes as a big relief, as the top line was ineffectual on Thursday night” = Bozak sucks

  • TheColborneUltimatum

    Gilbey93 TheColborneUltimatum So around the same Clarkson is due in. Good, then Mclaren right after.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    vinoa Kessel’s easier to key in on without JvR opposite him, that’s for sure.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    TheColborneUltimatum At least another week, some reports were implying that he could be a little longer than anticipated initially.

  • Optimustic

    Sens down 2 men for 2 minutes.  Go Oilers.

  • wiski

    TuckerForPunishment wiski Leafs are gonna be Ontario and west today, not a national broadcast tonight. On bell I can pick the T.O cbc he can’t.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    wiski TuckerForPunishment How good of a friend is he really, though?

  • TheColborneUltimatum

    Optimustic As much as I love seeing the sens lose, I have a really hard time cheering for the oilers. A good buddy of mine loves them and keeps telling me they are Ryan Miller away from winning the cup. They are so blind.

  • vinoa

    Optimustic Is Hall back in the game?

  • Optimustic

    TheColborneUltimatum Optimustic I’m not an oiler fan, but I really dislike Niel and the Sens.  The Oiler PP isn’t doing anything to put the game away here.

  • Cameron19

    TheColborneUltimatum Optimustic Tell him they could also use a Brent Seabrook, a Niklas Hjalmarsson, a Patrice Bergeron and a pair of Rich Peverley’s.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    TheColborneUltimatum Optimustic I can’t stand the Oilers, so I’ll agree here.  I have no respect for the way they’re building their team

  • wiski

    Alec Brownscombe wiski TuckerForPunishment wife’s cousin, I guess I could eat and run 😉

  • TheColborneUltimatum

    Gilbey93 TheColborneUltimatum Optimustic I agree, but they need some leadership in their top 6 too. Can’t just keep drafting kids.

  • Belfour20

    Gilbey93 TheColborneUltimatum Optimustic Honestly, i dont think they would be far off with a solid goaler, they have the offense, just missing a good shut down dman pairing and a solid goalie.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    wiski Alec Brownscombe TuckerForPunishment Do the old “my stomach’s not feeling right” routine.

  • Cameron19

    What a terrible 5 on 3. I don’t think they had a shot.

  • TheColborneUltimatum

    Alec Brownscombe TheColborneUltimatum Optimustic Oh I tell him that stuff all the time. And I know he is secretly livid the leafs have become active in the playoffs.

  • Optimustic

    5 on 3 is over and right after that an Oiler penalty.

  • Ensign

    Afternoon folks

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Ensign We miss you and your recipes. How’s it going?

  • Optimustic

    Ensign Good afternoon and hopefully a better evening.  At least if the Leafs do what we know they can do.

  • TheColborneUltimatum

    Ensign What’s for dinner?

  • Ensign

    Alec Brownscombe Ensign Good! New job makes it hard to be around during the day. Waiting for my wife to have a baby any day now!

  • vinoa

    Gilbey93 vinoa Optimustic Dammit! lost Kronwall this week too. There goes 2nd place.

  • Ensign

    TheColborneUltimatum Ensign Mexican casserole here 😛

  • Ensign

    Optimustic Ensign It’ll be a good game. Can’t discount the Hawks..

  • Belfour20

    Ensign Alec Brownscombe congrats!

  • Ensign

    Belfour20 Ensign Alec Brownscombe Thanks! Pretty excited!

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Ensign Alec Brownscombe Awesome, congrats. Sounds like you’re doing well.

  • Belfour20

    Ensign Belfour20 Alec Brownscombe yeah i remember my first, it was very exciting, especially since we didnt know what we were having.

  • Ensign

    Alec Brownscombe Ensign Yup… got me a sweet government job! Hows things on your end?

  • Ensign

    Belfour20 Ensign Ya we are keeping it as a surprise as well.

  • Optimustic

    Ensign Optimustic No, it’ll be a well deserved win if we do win it.

  • Ensign

    Optimustic Ensign I’m glad Bernier is starting..Reimer’s done well but his rebound control still causes me angst.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Ensign Alec Brownscombe Pretty good. Finishing up a degree this semester, then facing big life decisions.

  • Ensign

    Alec Brownscombe Ensign Whats the degree in?

  • wiski

    Ensign Alec Brownscombe Do you know why government worker never look out the window in the morning? They wouldn’t have anything to do in the afternoon. 😉 welcome back buddy