Skip to main content

Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There is an eerie symmetry to the Toronto Maple Leafs drop-offs experienced last season and again this year.

They have come at roughly the same time. And they have been almost as severe.

From early January to mid-February in 2015, the free-falling Leafs recorded just two wins in 19 games (2-15-2) to drop into the NHL’s basement. By June, they were picking fourth overall, high enough to draft London Knights star Mitch Marner.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Sens: A look at his hockey career in numbers (CP Video)

This year, after a 7-2 implosion in Chicago on Monday night, the Leafs are 4-11-2 in their past 17 games, and fading fast. If the draft lottery were held today, they would have the best chance of picking first overall (20 per cent) for the first time since taking Wendel Clark in the top spot in 1985.

The biggest difference between this year and last is that an incredible run of injuries have played a starring role. Between trading captain Dion Phaneuf away to Ottawa last week and the loss of up to eight players at a time to injuries, the Leafs have had a skeletal roster of late.

In Monday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Roman Polak had the most minutes among defencemen (24). Colin Greening, recently acquired from the Senators, had the most minutes among forwards (17), despite the fact he has spent most of the year in the American Hockey League with Binghamton.

That arrangement didn’t work out so well against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“We weren’t in the game basically from the start,” coach Mike Babcock lamented, before later adding: “They were just better than us. Period.”

That could be the postgame tale for a while. The Maple Leafs are about to face a run of good teams, with games against the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and first-place Washington Capitals in the next two weeks. There is also the trade deadline looming on Feb. 29, when even more talent will be traded away.

So yes, things can get worse.

This isn’t new. Other teams have pulled their rosters apart midway through the year en route to a good draft pick. Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt the other day that he did as much last season, explaining that “if we were going to be bad, my attitude was, let’s be real bad.”

He then called Connor McDavid, the eventual No. 1 pick, “a pretty big prize for being really bad.”

What’s made the Leafs’ situation unique is the organization has steadfastly refused to recall its best players from the minors. The Marlies are currently the top team in the AHL, with only nine regulation losses in 51 games, and young players such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov and Stuart Percy are better than some of those playing for the Leafs.

Brendan Leipsic showed as much on Saturday against Vancouver, when he was granted his first NHL game and promptly scored his first NHL goal (the winner, no less).

He hardly looked out of place. But he was promptly demoted before their next game.

That’s because Leafs management sees little point in sacrificing development in order to prop up a makeshift NHL roster that was never going to contend this year. Most of the recalls all season have been older non-prospects – Rich Clune, Mark Arcobello and Byron Froese – to the detriment of the NHL roster, and the benefit of Toronto’s lottery chances.

Is that tanking? In the strictest sense of the word, sure. But the Leafs were also only five points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 6 after 38 games, and before all the injuries. They’re still on pace for 73 points, five better than a year ago.

If that’s tanking, it’s Tanking Lite compared with what teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Coyotes pulled off last season in failed attempts to get McDavid.

In fact, 73 points would be the best finish ever for a last-place NHL team. So if that was Leafs management’s sole intention with the season, they went about it in a curious way.

The way that their year has gone is, in many ways, the best possible outcome. There have been obvious improvements thanks to Babcock. The work ethic is there. And the Marlies have played like world-beaters.

Finishing 30th, thanks to injuries, trades and an insistence on protecting the kids, won’t be a black eye for anyone.

But it does leave the Leafs with their biggest hurdle still to come: beating the Edmonton Oilers in the draft lottery.

Good luck with that.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

Amid season's struggles, Solar Bears still trying to do it all

From Pension Puppets

After their fifth loss in a row, the Solar Bears bring on veterans to help mentor prospects and win games.

Last week, I watched a tense, hopeful Solar Bears game at Amway Center. It had everything — the Solar Bears falling behind, only to surge ahead, driven by the scrappy, physical efforts of F Zach Bell. Ahead by a seemingly impossible-to-defeat margin, the Solar Bears suffered defensive breakdowns that gave up goal after goal to the Swamp Rabbits in the third, until they finally lost in the last three seconds of the game.

The game revealed tendencies that the team has been showing all season — the ability to play excellent hockey when fully engaged, and mental lapses when the team plays with a lead. The Swamp Rabbits won, 6-5, handing Orlando their fifth loss in a row.

“We’re upset, all of us,” Coach Anthony Noreen said about the game, “It’s a little bit of a surreal thing when something like that happens. You feel like you’ve got everything going, you’re OK, you calm the mood on the bench when they fight back to make it 5-5. I thought at the point it was 5-5, did we give some chances up? Yeah, but we generated some too. We were pretty even keeled on the bench, you give one up late like that in a game you knew you needed pretty badly, I think it’s human nature to feel down about it.”

Bell, whose fight off the opening face-off of the second period helped to spur the Solar Bears offense, found the game a tough one to swallow. “I noticed that we came out a little flat there in the first,” Bell said. “So I thought I’d give the guys a little buzz. It worked out. Unfortunately we got a bad bounce there right at the last shift of the game. I’m proud of the boys the way we battle back, though, but we’ve got to cut out the one or two shifts that we take off, and just seal down the two points.”

The home crowd of loyal hockey fans left looking reasonably satisfied. The Solar Bears mustered up a sound offensive night — many goals were scored by both teams, and the game, while not a winning one, was entertaining hockey.

But the game also highlighted some issues that rest at the heart of a continued affiliation with Toronto, and revealed the hard decisions that a first-year pro coach has to make to play in a league that values wins above all. The affiliation is up for negotiation at the end of this season.

Striking the Balance

The Orlando sports market, once relatively free from competition for fans (the Orlando Magic use the same arena as the Solar Bears, alternating nights), is now home to the Orlando City Soccer Team, and will soon also have a women’s soccer team, the Orlando Pride. It is a long-understood fact in hockey, and maybe all professional sports, that the best antidote to an emptying arena is to win games.

What does an ECHL team get for a losing season? There are 30 games remaining for the Solar Bears to right the ship. If they end up not making the playoffs, unlike their parent club, the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is no prize of a draft pick awaiting them in July. They get nothing but the summer off to rehash the season and plan anew. In order to be relevant to the Orlando hockey market, the team has to start winning now, drawing from the benefits of an affiliation with Toronto, and overcoming the drawbacks.

The benefits are obvious. The Solar Bears gain a nurturing mentor in the Leafs organization, which is more dedicated than most to every part of the minors system, and give hope to prospects in the ECHL that they can rise.

From the players’ perspective, this dedication to development is a never a bad thing. Players thrive on their aspirations of climbing the ranks of the minors and getting a shot at the NHL, and a development league is dedicated to keeping this hope alive — Byron Froese is this year’s best example, as is Solar Bears’ alumnus Garret Sparks.

What is the correct balance of young prospects from Toronto to veteran players? One of the drawbacks of the affiliation is a constantly changing lineup, from the loss of high-scoring players as they rise to the next rung up, to shifting in goal to account for injuries. But an ever-revolving lineup of young prospects probably makes it hard to win hockey games.

Lately, the Solar Bears have let go of youth (Lindsay Sparks was recently traded to the Rapid City Rush for futures), and brought on veterans. One, Niklas Lindberg, 35, is already making a difference in the ten games he’s played for the Bears, with 2G/6A, and a calming presence behind the bench. Another, Rory Rawlyk, 32, just arrived, but the team hopes he will contribute a solid on-ice work ethic and mentoring to the younger members of the team.

I asked Coach Anthony Noreen about this move toward signing veterans, and he was frank about their worth to the team, as players who can win games as well as help mentor the players in the Leafs system.

“I mean, the bottom line is that it’s a move because we have to win,” Noreen said. “You just take a look and I see what a guy like Eric Baier, or Denver Manderson, or Carl Nielsen, guys that have been around a little bit, how important they are to the younger guys, but the fact is they’re in the minority in our room. Most of the guys are younger guys.

“We feel like any time we can bring in the right older guy who’s got the right character, who wants to teach, who wants to help the younger guys get better to kind of balance that out in our room a little bit, it helps.”

At this point in the season, the Solar Bears are still trying to do it all — they’re a hard-fighting club still dedicated to finding a way to win hockey games, while keeping the dream alive for Toronto prospects.

Source: Amid season's struggles, Solar Bears still trying to do it all

Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

From Pension Puppets

Christian Bonin | TSGphoto.com

The top-10 is… unchanged.

At the end of August, when our staff’s collective Top 25 Under 25 ranking began to wrap up, I chose to release my individual ranking and explain my reasoning.

With the All-Star Game come to a close, and February starting, I thought it would be prudent to update that ranking and justify the movement that has occurred.

In order to get a better understanding of how I ranked the players, here’s an updated version of the criteria I included in my August ranking:

My Criteria

There were several ways in which I approached the ranking, but due to the age and established nature of some of the players, it was a decidedly different approach than the one I take when evaluating a draft class or pool of non-NHL prospects.

Not all voters used the organization’s status as a criterion. I did. The Leafs rebuild factors into the value each player has to the organization moving forward. The present isn’t nearly as important as the future, and that gives huge value to a Mitch Marner or a William Nylander over an established Nazem Kadri. Future star power will make or break the end result of this Leafs rebuild, and Kadri may well factor into it as a key player (he already is), but he’s not a piece that changes a franchise.

I didn’t approach the ranking as one that was strictly a meritocracy. As evidenced through my non-ranking of Byron Froese, a player’s NHL status doesn’t guarantee him value. Byron Froese is replaceable. The Marlies roster this season includes several players who could play a fourth line role in the NHL.

The lottery tickets that the players I ranked near the bottom of the T25U25 represent hold more value than a Byron Froese does. The chance that Martins Dzierkals can be more than a replacement level NHLer holds considerable value to a team like the Leafs. Nothing plagues NHL franchises more than the idea that picks are expendable. If you draft for upside, you will find real value, not Byron Froese value.

Dzierkals’ footwork and skating ability, as well as the low kick to his release and his knack for getting it off in stride is a real, identifiable stylistic trait that translates well at the next level. And there’s a very good chance he never becomes an NHL player, but the value in acquiring players like him is worth more than any value Byron Froese holds to the Leafs, at least for a rebuilding team.

The top 11 players remain unchanged. The prospects within the group have progressed as expected, Jake Gardiner has blossomed (yes, he’s 26 but for continuity’s sake I re-included him in the ranking), and after faltering out of the gate Peter Holland and Nazem Kadri have returned to form. I nearly moved Jeremy Bracco back a spot in favour of Dmytro Timashov (who has risen more than anyone except Garret Sparks) but Bracco elevated his play after being snubbed by Team USA and he’s really beginning to find his game after leaving the NCAA for the OHL.

Sparks wasn’t ranked in August in part because I regarded Chris Gibson as the Marlies starter, which would have limited Sparks’ ability to get the starter’s load he needs to really progress. Both were narrowly left off of my August list, though Gibson was ranked 25th on the overall PPP ranking.

Travis Dermott also rose substantially thanks to some impressive play as one of the OHL’s best defensemen this year, though I still worry about his skating limiting his upside when he becomes a pro.

Rinat Valiyev also moves into the top 25 — his skating has held up more than I expected it too as an AHL rookie — and is joined by two players who weren’t available to be ranked in August in AHL scorer Jeremy Morin and Frank Corrado (who should play more than he does).

Stuart Percy and Frederik Gauthier have fallen the furthest, but not because they haven’t had good seasons. Gauthier has played really well defensively — as expected — and his results are the dividends. For Percy, it’s just a matter of timing. The clock is ticking and despite up-ticks in his offensive production, Percy’s window for establishing himself in the Leafs organization will come to a close before we know it. Mostly, for both Gauthier and Percy, the dip in their ranking speaks to some strong seasons and new faces.

Despite an excellent (surprisingly so) season from Andrew Nielsen, he remained unranked. Like with Dermott, I worry about how Nielsen’s skating will translate as a pro (his shot and physicality aren’t a problem). Still, his season has been extremely impressive and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down as the WHL’s highest-scoring defensemen. There’s a good chance, if he keeps it up, that he climbs into next summer’s ranking (though the Leafs could have 5+ picks in the first three rounds this summer that will factor into that discussion).

My February Ranking

Just missed: Andrew Nielsen, Zach Hyman, Jesper Lindgren, Nikita Korostelev.

Remember: Neither of these rankings are the overall, conglomerated PPP ranking but simply my personal list. Morgan Rielly finished first on the overall list.

Source: Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

From Pension Puppets

The Leafs go into the All-Star break not quite last in the league. Last night they took their show on the road to Tampa and fell for Steven Stamkos all over again.

Any time a game is 1-0, it’s likely either team could have won it. I think that’s true about Toronto vs. Tampa last night.

The graph shows the ebb and flow of all situations play. The ebb tide went Tampa’s way hard for most of the first, but the rest of the game was the Leafs, catching up, coming even, taking control.

Through all that Jonathan Bernier had one of the best nights of his wildly up and down season, so that’s a huge positive for him. He looked as dialled in as Reimer on his best day.

The Leafs looked outclassed by a better team at first, and they were doing that thing where bad positioning and bad decisions led to bad penalties. And Steven Stamkos knows how to take advantage of a penalty kill that isn’t on 100%.

But a funny thing happened as the game came more and more into focus for the Leafs. They stopped taking so many penalties, passes connected, the offensive players got to play where they’re good, and the Leafs got their game back. It’s been gone for a while, and that was good to see.

The best part of the game though had to be Frank Corrado playing a smooth set of shifts, mostly with Dion Phaneuf. He played just over five minutes of 5-on-5, and was good for all of it.

Dion Phaneuf was excellent all night, maybe his best game in a while, and he also drew a couple of penalties instead of taking any.

Morgan Rielly led the team in individual shots (all shots, not shots on goal), and he came on more and more as the tide turned and the play moved to Tampa’s end of the ice.

Roman Polak had a very bad, no good night, but considering he was the only guy who showed up to play in Sunrise the night before, I’ll give him a pass.

Top forward was, as always, Nazem Kadri. He and Michael Grabner had lots of chances.

Not really a factor offensively was Nick Spaling’s line. They were matched up primarily against Stamkos and held the line to nearly even with him, so they got their job done, but Joffrey Lupul is not going to score much when he’s busy tying up guys in the neutral zone. He still managed two shots though, when he wasn’t busy elsewhere. So did Peter Holland.

The fourth line was solid all night, even in the first period when no one else was. Byron Froese, Rich Clune and Frank Corrado led the way in CF%.

One curious thing stands out: Tyler Bozak and P.-A. Parenteau each had two shots, and I think two and two are still four. But their Corsi For was 14 and 10 respectively. Who was shooting? It sure wasn’t Shawn Mathias. I guess the D were getting busy and taking care of things. I don’t think that’s a recipe for success.

Again though, Jonathan Bernier, 29 saves, was the player of the game. Unfortunately for him Andrei Vasilevskiy managed 30 and got his first career shutout.

Acha’s notes

– I attended the game last night. I had a side-angle view of the Leafs’ bench, so I spent a large portion of the night staring in fascination at Babcock to see how he coached. He always looked 100% intent and involved in the play, but did not always just stare at the puck-carrier. He looked all over the ice to see positioning. He also maintained the most professional demeanor I’ve ever seen on the bench, never actually showing emotion other than a calm interest in what was going on.

– Moments when Babcock looked up at the jumbotron: before the anthem to see the starting lineup, for replays of certain things, like penalties or saves, for the announcements of Amalie’s community activism things like “standing salute” and “community hero.”

– Moments when Babcock talked to players: He generally did not talk much to his players, except for during the one time-out called before the last minute of play. It was almost like he expected them to know his system already without a lot of talk. He occasionally leaned down and talked to a player after they did something “coachable” that he didn’t really like, but I felt that was rare.

– I had playoff series flashbacks to the Red Wings – Bolts because of Babcock’s coaching style and how the teams interacted with each other. Leafs’ backcheck was tough for Bolts to fight through. Had Bernier made the save on Stamkos during the power play, the game would’ve been very different. I felt that the teams were evenly matched (discounting the first, for the Leafs, and the third, for the Bolts). If Vasilevskiy’s parents hadn’t been in the stands watching him play in the NHL for the first time ever, I think the score would’ve been more like 3-1, Leafs.

– The two loud PINGS from Leafs’ pucks on Vasy’s crossbars made the Leafs-fan-filled audience groan.

– It was really hard to tell who was rooting for whom, mostly because the jerseys are so similar. But the arena was at around 90% capacity, and I’d say a good 40% were Leafs fans down for a visit.

– Pirates? What? Yesterday was the start of Tampa Bay’s pirate/music celebration, Gasparilla.

– During first intermission, I met a PPP reader wearing a Rielly jersey. It was fun to hang out with a Tampa Bay-area Leafs fan and reader of the site! Nice to meet you, Mr. Bertrand. (He got to listen to me school a guy in a Marlies sweater about what a “Solar Bear” is.)

Source: Maple Leafs fall under the sway of Steven Stamkos

Steven Stamkos, Lightning blank Leafs

From CBC Sports

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 30 saves, Steven Stamkos scored his 21st goal and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 1-0 on Wednesday night.

Tampa Bay entered the All-Star break by winning eight of its last nine games.

Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots for the Maple Leafs, who have lost nine of 10 (1-7-2). Toronto has been outscored 31-11 during that stretch.

Stamkos put the Lightning up 1-0 at 4:38 of the first with a shot from the left circle during a power play. The Tampa Bay captain can become a free agent July 1 and there has been ongoing speculation about the possibility of the Toronto area native joining the Maple Leafs next season.

Bernier kept the Maple Leafs close with several nice saves, including one on Alex Killorn’s power-play breakaway, as Toronto was outshot 13-0 during the game’s first 12 1/2 minutes, and 17-6 in the first period

Toronto had the final five shots of the first, and Byron Froese hit the crossbar in the final minute.

Vasilevskiy turned aside a breakaway shot by Michael Grabner early in the second. Toronto had seven of the first nine shots during the opening eight minutes of the second.

After Morgan Rielly had a shot go off the crossbar 2 minutes into the third, Dion Phaneuf’s in-close power-play shot four minutes later was stopped by Vasilevskiy.

It was Vasilevskiy’s first shutout this season and second overall. He got the start in place of Ben Bishop, who will take part in this weekend’s All-Star game.

Source: Steven Stamkos, Lightning blank Leafs

Leafs Get Shut Out, Drop Fourth Straight

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Wednesday, 01.27.2016 / 10:01 PM ET / News

The Canadian Press

TAMPA, Fla. – Andrei Vasilevskiy made 30 saves, Steven Stamkos scored his 21st goal and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 1-0 on Wednesday night.

Tampa Bay entered the All-Star break by winning eight of its last nine games.

Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 shots for the Maple Leafs, who have lost nine of 10 (1-7-2). Toronto has been outscored 31-11 during that stretch.

Stamkos put the Lightning up 1-0 at 4:38 of the first with a shot from the left circle during a power play. The Tampa Bay captain can become a free agent July 1 and there has been ongoing speculation about the possibility of the Toronto area native joining the Maple Leafs next season.

Bernier kept the Maple Leafs close with several nice saves, including one on Alex Killorn’s power-play breakaway, as Toronto was outshot 13-0 during the game’s first 12 1/2 minutes, and 17-6 in the first period

Toronto had the final five shots of the first, and Byron Froese hit the crossbar in the final minute.

Vasilevskiy turned aside a breakaway shot by Michael Grabner early in the second. Toronto had seven of the first nine shots during the opening eight minutes of the second.

After Morgan Rielly had a shot go off the crossbar 2 minutes into the third, Dion Phaneuf‘s in-close power-play shot four minutes later was stopped by Vasilevskiy.

It was Vasilevskiy’s first shutout this season and second overall. He got the start in place of Ben Bishop, who will take part in this weekend’s All-Star game.

NOTES: Toronto is 0-7-6 in Atlantic Division games this season… Stamkos stopped a five-game goal drought… Stamkos has 16 goals and 32 points in 27 games against Toronto… Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov had his eight-game point streak end.

Source: Leafs Get Shut Out, Drop Fourth Straight

Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers

From Pension Puppets

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

In which the Leafs hopefully keep Aleksander Barkov from justifying his big new contract.

MAPLE LEAFS (17-20-9) at PANTHERS (28-15-5)

7:30 PM – BB&T CENTER

TV: FS-F, TSN4; RADIO: SPORTSNET 590

SPANISH BROADCAST AVAILABLE

SBN: Litterboxcats

Some teams have draft busts from the 2013 draft, and other teams don’t. Yesterday, the Florida Panthers signed 20-year-old Aleksander Barkov to a six-year extension worth an average of $5.9 million per season. Drafted second overall (in the same class in which Jonathan Drouin was drafted third), Barkov has met Panthers’ expectations with 12G/18A this season, good for third on the team in scoring. With any luck, this means he partied hard last night and will play like crap, right?

James Reimer will get his fourth start in a row, and Roberto Luongo will get his third in a row. Luongo is fresh from defeating the two Stanley Cup Finals teams on back-to-back nights in ridiculous blow-out games. He completely shut out the Blackhawks 4-0, and his team chased Tampa Bay backup Andrei Vasilevskiy from the net to end the Bolts 5-2.

The Cats snapped a four-game skid that somehow coincided exactly with star Aaron Ekblad’s absence from the lineup (out with an upper-body injury that looked a lot like a concussion for four games). How different were the Florida Panthers with Ekblad out of the game? Their Seashells/60 took an enormous hit, let me tell you.

Comparing the two teams:

Toronto Florida
Record 17-20-9 28-15-5
Division Rank 7th Atlantic 1st Atlantic
Conference 14th East 2nd East
League 27th overall 6th overall
Top Scorer Leo Komarov 16G Jaromir Jagr 15G
Top Points Leo Komarov 31pts Jonathan Huberdeau 34pts
Top Goalie James Reimer .937sv% Roberto Luongo .930sv%

Are the Florida Panthers riding PDO?

Yes. But. A writer at Litterboxcats explains that maybe there’s more to the Cats’ success than their looks:

Let’s start with this- the major concern the analytics folks have with the Panthers is that the differential in shots-for and shots-against is large. As of this writing, the Panthers are 15th in the league in shots-against and 28th in the league in shots-for. That results in terrible Corsi and Fenwick ratings (which at their root are shot differential measurements). Stanley Cup contenders normally have very good Corsi and Fenwick ratings. (…)

The Cats did boast the league’s top save percentage after the Vancouver game, with a .928 shared between Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. That high save percentage leads to an above average PDO (102.6), good for 2nd best in the league. High PDO’s can not normally be maintained and fall back to the average.

What it looks like on a few stats is that the Panthers give up a league average number of shots-against, have tops in the league goaltending, barely ever possess the puck on offense- which results in no shots-for, and get lucky on the few shots they do take to score their goals. The reality is a lot more complicated than that.

The Panthers are 3rd in the league in goal differential, having scored 113 goals, while only giving up 91 (+22 differential for those weak in math). The company they are keeping in that category is excellent, as they are surrounded by Dallas, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

[You can go argue with the author over here.]

Are Panthers riding their goaltenders?

Probably. But. Another author at Litterboxcats explains that a lot of teams needs elite goaltending to get ahead in standings. Case in point, Habs without Price. [Er, what?] You can go argue with that person over here.

Will the Leafs players be tougher than Andrew Shaw?

I mean, the guy swallowed two of his own teeth last time he faced the Panthers.

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen – Vincent Trocheck – Reilly Smith
Quinton Howden – Nick Bjugstad – Logan Shaw
Shawn Thornton – Derek MacKenzie – Corban Knight

Brian Campbell – Aaron Ekblad
Dmitry Kulikov – Erik Gudbranson
Steve Kampfer – Alex Petrovic

George Richards@GeorgeRichards
Brandon Pirri out of #FlaPanthers lineup for third consecutive night

MAPLE LEAFS

Nick Spaling draws back into the lineup, and Leivo sits.

Shawn MatthiasTyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael GrabnerNazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Joffrey LupulPeter Holland – Nick Spaling
Daniel WinnikByron FroeseRich Clune

Matt HunwickMorgan Rielly
Jake GardinerDion Phaneuf
Martin MarincinRoman Polak

James Reimer
Jonathan Bernier

Injured: James van Riemsdyk (foot), Stephane Robidas (lower body), Nathan Horton (nack/back)
Scratched: Frank Corrado, Brad Boyes, Josh Leivo

Yesterday’s PP units:

Matthias-Bozak-Parenteau-Rielly-Phaneuf, Lupul-Kadri-Holland-Komarov-Gardiner

Bromance Alert

Aleksander Barkov@Barkovsasha95
@KevinSpacey thanks 4 the good luck I’m in for 6 more years noon presser tomorrow @LKomarov your invited…Thanks @FlaPanthers @Dougielarge

Leo Komarov@LKomarov
@Barkovsasha95 @KevinSpacey can’t make it i will congratulate you komarov style 2morrow, congrats buddy:facepunch: #headsup #seeyouinmyhockeyschool

Source: Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers

Leafs overcome slow start to salvage a point

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Not every game in an NHL team’s regular season can be a spirited, emotional affair. But on Saturday at Air Canada Centre, there was no absence of passion between the Maple Leafs and their arch-rivals from Montreal – and with Leafs legend Dave Keon in the building for a pre-game ceremony in front of a raucous crowd, the Buds rebounded from a 2-0 deficit to earn a point in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canadiens.

“It was really good,” Leafs goalie James Reimer said of the overall vibe in the ACC. “The fans got into it and that always makes it a lot more fun, gets us energized, gets us going. When the barn’s rockin’ like it was tonight, that’s fun hockey to play.”

“The atmosphere was great, the pre-game stuff was awesome, I was glad to be a part of that,” added winger Joffrey Lupul, whose 11th goal of the year evened the score early in the third period. “The crowd was great the whole game, their fans and ours, it was just a fun atmosphere out there.

That said, the Leafs had to overcome one of their worst starts of the season – the Habs out-shot them 14-3, and Toronto’s first official shot on net didn’t come until nearly 12 minutes into the game – to earn a point. After being given Friday off to conserve energy, their flat beginning to Saturday’s contest left a bitter taste in the mouth of head coach Mike Babcock.

“I thought (Reimer) was good, I thought we were poor,” Babcock said. “We gave them yesterday off, we won’t be doing that again. We weren’t ready to go, we didn’t compete hard.”

The Canadiens built their two-goal lead on markers from David Desharnais and Tomas Fleischmann, but a much more resilient Leafs team emerged for the second and third periods, and Toronto finished with 19 shots on net. It was the type of rebound that the Buds had become known for under Babcock’s tenure, until a five-game losing skid earlier in January saw them abandon their structure and dig holes they couldn’t climb out from.

“I think we showed a lot of character, playing much better in the second and third,” said winger P-A Parenteau. “I think for five games there, we got a little bit unlucky, but we didn’t have the same resilience. It’s nice to have that fight-back, that attitude, that’s going to get us wins down the road.”

“We didn’t do as good of a job as we would’ve liked today (in the first),” added Lupul. “You have to give credit to them, too; they played like a desperate team right at the start, and came out and they put a ton of pressure on us in our own end, and we were unable to break out clean. But we had a chat in here after the first, and we really turned it around, so that’s a good thing.”

Prior to the game between the two Original Six teams, Keon and the families of fellow icons Tim Horton and Turk Broda appeared at centre ice to be honored as part of the players’ induction into Legends Row outside Air Canada Centre. In addition, Keon made an appearance in the Leafs dressing room and interacted with the squad earlier in the morning. That nod to history was welcomed by Leafs players.

“The whole thing was really cool,” Lupul said. “I know a little bit of the backstory about how (Keon) hasn’t been around here, and for him to come in here this morning and say hi to all the guys and then have the great ceremony for all three of them, that was a cool day.”

Still, if Toronto is intent on getting back into the win column, they’ll need to reverse their habit of allowing the first goal of the night. Babcock pointed to the fact the team’s best line was their fourth line of Rich Clune, Daniel Winnik and Byron Froese as an indictment of the effort of the rest of the forwards.

“You get embarrassed when you’re getting outworked that bad and you’re not competing hard,” Babcock said. “Froese and Clune, that line was the best line, they’re not supposed to be the best line. They’re allowed to be the hardest-working line; they’re not allowed to be the best line.”

Source: Leafs overcome slow start to salvage a point

Canadiens hang on to defeat Leafs

From CBC Sports

On a night where they celebrated a distinguished past, the Toronto Maple Leafs paid for a passage of modern-day mediocrity.

Down 2-0 to the Montreal Canadiens after a dire first period Saturday, Toronto pushed back in the second and tied it in the third. But despite the best efforts of goalie James Reimer, the Leafs could not complete the comeback and lost 3-2 via shootout.

“We weren’t ready to go and didn’t compete hard,” said Leafs coach Mike Babock, who rued giving his team a day off Friday.

It was a badly needed victory for the Canadiens, ending a five-game winless stretch.

“We’re in a playoff race, those two points are crucial and we reacted the right way tonight,” said Montreal coach Michel Therrien. “I liked the way we were engaged when we started the game and we were dictating the game. There’s a lot of times when we got good starts, but finally [we] got rewarded.”

Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller, with the coup de grace, scored for the Habs in the five-round shootout. Peter Holland had the lone Toronto success following an action-packed overtime.

David Desharnais and Tomas Fleischmann scored in regulation for Montreal (24-20-4). Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul replied for Toronto (17-20-9). Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly had two assists in his 200th NHL game before an Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,807.

Legends honoured in pre-game ceremony

The Original Six matchup was enhanced by a pre-game ceremony honouring Dave Keon and the late Turk Broda and Tim Horton for their induction into the Leafs’ Legends Row.

But it took the Habs just 1:41 to end the festivities with Desharnais beating Reimer on the Habs’ first shot after the Leafs failed to clear their zone and Dale Weise, attracting three Toronto players in the slot, found Desharnais alone in the face-off circle to the right of Reimer.

The Canadiens had 12 shots on Reimer before Mike Condon faced a shot at the other end, a dribbler with 8:30 left in the first period. Fleischmann scored with shot No 14 late in the period, beating Reimer with a shot from the slot after a nifty drop pass by Eller.

“They played like a desperate team right at the start,” said Lupul. “They came out and were putting a ton of pressure on us in our own end.”

Montreal outshot Toronto 14-3 in the period.

“You get embarrassed when you’re getting outworked that bad and you’re not competing hard,” said Babcock.

The Toronto coach lamented that his fourth line of Rich Clune, Byron Froese and Danniel Winnik was his best unit “by a mile” in the opening period.

“They’re allowed to be the hardest-working line. They’re not allowed to be the best line,” he said.

The Leafs rallied to start the second and got some reward midway through the period when Rielly, flying down the flank, found Kadri charging to the front of goal. The Leafs centre redirected the puck past Condon.

The Leafs tied it up early in the third when Lupul put away a rebound off a Holland shot that Condon could not hang onto.

Reimer made a big stop on Brendan Gallagher midway through the third to preserve the tie. And he got some help when a Canadiens shot hit one post, trickled along the goalline, hitting the other post but staying out.

The Habs outshot Toronto 29-19.

“They came out in the second and kind of took it to us and they started chipping away at our lead, but we stuck with it and very happy with the outcome,” said Condon.

A much-needed win for Montreal

Montreal arrived just eight points ahead of Toronto, which has two games in hand. The Canadiens were winless in five (0-4-1) and had won just two of their previous nine (2-6-1).

The Leafs weren’t much better with a 1-5-1 run coming into the game.

The Canadiens won their first nine games of the season and had a 19-4-3 record on Dec. 1. But coming into Saturday’s game, they had gone 4-16-1 since and dropped out of a post-season position.

Star goalie Carey Price has been out since suffering a lower-body injury Oct. 29. The Habs were 9-2-0 at the time.

Thawing out the previously icy relationship between Keon and the Leafs marks another step in the franchise’s ongoing bid to rectify past mistakes.

The compact centre who wore No. 14 remains a Leaf icon, albeit for those with likely more than a touch of grey in their hair. Keon, who could score goals and stop them, won four Cups with the Leafs and left the team in 1975 as its all-time leading scorer with 365 goals. He still stands third in team goal-scoring behind Mats Sundin (420) and Darryl Sittler (389).

Lupul, for one, enjoyed both the festivities and having Keon visit the dressing room.

“I’m a hockey fan too … It’s pretty cool to have Dave Keon in here and to watch stuff about Turk Broda and Tim Horton. It’s cool.”

Source: Canadiens hang on to defeat Leafs

Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs

From Pension Puppets

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take three different views on the game tonight.

MONTREAL CANADIENS AT MAPLE LEAFS
7:00 PM – AIR CANADA CENTRE
TV: CBC – RADIO: SPORTSNET 590
SBN: EYES ON THE PRIZE

The Maple Leafs host the Canadiens tonight and before the game the Leafs will honour the newest members of Legends Row. Representatives of Tim Horton and Turk Broda’s families will be on hand as well as Dave Keon.

Comparing the two teams:

Toronto Montreal
Record 17-20-8 23-20-4
Division Rank 7th Atlantic 5th Atlantic
Conference 10th East 14th East
League 28th overall 18th overall
Goals +/- 111/125 = -14 129/122 = +7
Top Scorer Leo Komarov 16G Max Pacioretty 19G
Top Points Leo Komarov 30pts Max Pacioretty 36pts
Top Goalie James Reimer .937sv% Carey Price .934sv%
Historical vs 293-349-88 349-293-88

There are multiple takes on tonight so let’s get into it:

The Homer:

WOOOOOOOO! Alright boys let’s kick these puke city kids all the way back to re-Habs! HAHAHAHAHAHA! They don’t have their pretty boy Price in net tonight, just some schlub who wasn’t good enough for our Leafs! We don’t have JVR but thats okay, Uncle Leo will take of the scoring. Jake and Riels will make sure no filthy divers get to Optimus Reim to elbow him in the head again like that fucker Gionta did. Ruined our season! That sonfofabitch is rotting in Buffalo now but thats too good for him. I wonder how that showoff Subban is going to get all flashy tonight. Maybe he’ll have to donate another hospital to Montreal to make up for how he acts on the ice. I hope Babs is ready tonight, but we could have a chimpanzee behind the bench since the Habs have French Carlyle behind theirs, haha!

The Cynic:

Oh great, these guys again. When was the last time we could beat them? It’s been like 10 games since the Leafs beat the Habs. Those guys have our number thats for sure. Who do we have on our top line? A guy deemed not good enough for them, and they’ve only won like 4 games since Price went down! To top things off they have ex-Leaf Ben Scrivens in net, so you know what that means, shutout for the Habs! Man, ex-Leafs always destroy Toronto when they come to town. What? He’s not starting? He’ll find a way.

My take:

It’s a great night tonight! I love Leafs/Habs games. They haven’t played each other since opening night when the Habs won 3-1. Both these teams suck. The Habs can’t win without Price and the Leafs just can’t score enough. Hopefully it’s entertaining and everyone makes it out alive.

Potential Lines:

CANADIENS

Max Pacioretty – Tomas Plekanec – Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk – David Desharnais – Dale Weise
Tomas Fleischmann – Lars Eller – Daniel Carr
Brian Flynn – Torrey Mitchell – Devante Smith-Pelly

Andrei Markov – P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin – Jeff Petry
Nathan Beaulieu – Mark Barberio

Mike Condon
Ben Scrivens

Injured: Carey Price (lower body), Tom Gilbert (lower body), Paul Byron (lower body)
Scratched: Greg Pateryn, Victor Bartley, Jacob De La Rose

MAPLE LEAFS

Shawn MatthiasTyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael GrabnerNazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Joffrey LupulPeter HollandJosh Leivo
Daniel WinnikByron FroeseRich Clune

Matt HunwickMorgan Rielly
Jake GardinerDion Phaneuf
Martin MarincinRoman Polak

James Reimer
Jonathan Bernier

Injured: James van Riemsdyk (foot), Nick Spaling (upper body), Stephane Robidas (lower body), Nathan Horton (nack/back)
Scratched: Frank Corrado, Brad Boyes

Morning News:

Source: Game Preview: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs