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.

 
Leafs
Hawks
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]