Game Preview: They are the champions, my friend

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.

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]
124 comments
rustynail
rustynail

both teams wearing whites, weird

wendelsway1
wendelsway1

Evening Gents.....Leafs Win 3-2....GO LEAFS GO!!!

peterbleafs
peterbleafs

I am going to be watching Rielly and Kadri tonight.  Kadri has been checked pretty hard, but he gets really going against top competiton.  Will be fun!

JWaterdrager
JWaterdrager

They are the champions,but we have their champions maker

Waiting4LSC
Waiting4LSC

Good test for Rielly tonight. Hope he plays lights out and scores on the PP.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

Hall out with a knee injury today, don't know how serious, if at all. Edmonton fans starting to chirp him on Edmonton website:

1 hour ago

Hate to say it but the Oilers might be better without Hall. Sure he has 8 points but he has been a giveaway machine this year with his terrible passes through the neutral zone that lead to chances against. Leads all forwards in the league in giveaways.

DeclanK
DeclanK moderator

is it game time yet? 

Jay31
Jay31

Jonas Siegel ‏@jonasTSN1050

2m

Joffrey Lupul on facing the defending champs tonight: "It’s the type of team you measure yourself against. We should be excited about that."

ConnorCrisp
ConnorCrisp

Glad Dallas could keep the turds down!

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

Shit I just noticed New Jersey still hasn't won a game yet and they have more points than Philly.

docyqx
docyqx

@rustynail home team should be white, like it always was, IMHO... but yeah, both teams white is strange, maybe some sort of auction of jerseys...

PeterZeroOne
PeterZeroOne

Yeah, I'd rather our games be on a regional network with a "£homer" announcer. Screw the cbc

peterbleafs
peterbleafs

@Shift_Disturber1 What does head to head mean? If they are playing each other it could just as well be butt to butt or nose to nose, then could mean tongue to tongue.

JWaterdrager
JWaterdrager

First time they play in Chicago being a play off team since that game. 

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

I just want him to stay between the puck and Leafs net in his own end. The rest will follow.

Uncle Otis
Uncle Otis

@Doorman 

Haha...Ill take the less optimistic 4-3 Leafers but prefer yours.

Bolland and Lups will have the boys fired up tonight and JVR is back baby!

Alec Brownscombe
Alec Brownscombe moderator

@Pent_House lol, I had a soft spot for Kostka. Thought he was solid more often than not. He was slow and got beat outside some times, but pretty good positionally, boxed forwards out well, and he had a knack for coming out of a crowd with the puck.

Not gonna go as far as saying I miss him though.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

AND they don't have a first round pick next summer!

Waiting4LSC
Waiting4LSC

Phook: IMO the test is playing against Toews, Kane and Sharp. They have the skill and smarts to capitalize on any offensive drive. Rielly will need to have strong positioning and be able to hold them way to the side. Other teams have stars, yes, but for me, these guys are the benchmark against which to grade Rielly and his NHL readiness.

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

I appreciated him holding the fort in the early prt of last season. He was in mid-season shape from the Marlies and was able to play effectively maybe up to around game 20 when the NHL vets started to get their legs. I consider those early games as crucial for the Leafs finally breaking the playoff barrier, and he was part of that, and I can't bring myself to crap on the guy just because in the long run he's probably closer to the AHL than the NHL in terms of talent.

newkb
newkb

Alec - Glacial with his decision making....

JWaterdrager
JWaterdrager

What if they win the draft lottery? Everyone in the league should get a shot then P

Waiting4LSC
Waiting4LSC

Phook: understand your point. It is a process and I see this as an indicator at a sort of first marker for him. If he does well, great, but this is a learning experience. We are a number of years away from seeing him at the top of his game, but for me, there is great interest in his progression. I have mentioned a number of times I was an avid fan of Vinny D and Gary Nylund. Naz, Gards, Rielly, Reims, and even Bernier have rekindled that level of player support. Appreciate the post. Enjoyment will only come if the playoff Leafs turn up tonight, otherwise it's going to be a sloppy and disappointing outing. They have to be psyched. Gotta give Bolland the opportunity to leave a winner.

mattobv
mattobv

@Xxxxxnew why isnt kostka playing on the top line in chicago? isnt that what your supposed to do with your ahl callups?


i did like him tho, etobes boy!

JWaterdrager
JWaterdrager

Sure they can win it. They still have their draft pick. They will have to forfeit it at the draft. So if NJ wins the draft lottery, there would be no #1. First team to draft will be the team with the #2 draft pick. 

Xxxxxnew
Xxxxxnew

They can't. They don't have a pick.