November 02 2013 02:02PM
In keeping with tradition, the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs will start at 4:00 p.m. local time to necessitate the CBC's mandate of having a pre-game ceremony before puck drop of the national game. For once, it will be non-Leafs related, and the Canucks will get to play a highlight reel of Pavel Bure's Hall of Fame career in front of a national audience in prime time. That's good, yes? Bure's number retirement is probably long overdue, and owing to him being enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame makes him the first of the Canucks numbers retirees with that honour
And then they will play a hockey game, and why bother? The Toronto Maple Leafs are an unstoppable juggernaut. They are the Lernaean Hydra of sports. Dominate a period of play against them, and they'll get out of it with red-hot goaltending, and catch a lucky break at the end of the period and take a lead. They cannot be killed, and the more you outplay them, the stronger they get.
Puck Drop: 4:00 p.m. Pacific
There are many angles we can focus on. Mason Raymond's return to Vancouver! David Bolland's return to, uh, play against a team he's played against several times already in his career! Morgan Rielly's first career game in his hometown! The Canucks being forced to bend over backwards to accommodate Torontonians that hate staying up late to watch sports!
(Although in the six months I lived in Toronto, I can say with reasonable confidence that nobody there actually watched many sports. Sports are on at odd hours there and I don't explicitly blame them, and the work of some of the national writers based in Toronto makes me think none of them actually watch the games they cover.)
I don't particularly know what to focus on. I cover both teams, and am probably a little more aware of the Leafs than the Canucks at this point because I'm usually about six beers deep by the time the Canucks even come on TV. The Leafs continued success is almost driving me to drink, because it allows me to make some sense of their success in the early part of this season as well as last year. Statistically, they get outplayed and win. Visually, they get outplayed and win. All Randy Carlyle has done this year is tell the press that the team is essentially living on borrowed time. The goaltending, as well as their first line, has been fantastic.
Here are their projected lines for tonight:
James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - David Bolland - David Clarkson
Nik Kulemin - Jay McClement - Joffrey Lupul
Frazer McLaren - Trevor Smith - Colton Orr
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Morgan Rielly - Cody Franson
Paul Ranger - Jake Gardiner
David Bolland's play has been pretty surprising this season, especially alongside Mason Raymond. He's one of the team's Corsi leaders despite playing against his traditional top competition, despite Carlyle, generally known as a line-matcher, straying away from playing his checking line against opponent first lines. He's preferred to play a power-on-power game that John Tortorella should be fine with.
Due to injuries and suspensions, the Leafs still have yet to skate to their projected summer lineup, but tonight should be fairly close to what they had in mind. Tyler Bozak is out, but Tyler Bozak is a mediocre third line centreman that was inexplicably playing with the team's best offensive players and didn't have any actual chemistry with them, so replacing him with Kadri is actually advantageous for Toronto. The team is loaded down the middle as long as Bolland continues to play well, and they have some excellent wingers as well. It's really on defence that they're a little shaky. Paul Ranger has had a very tough return to the NHL so far, but his play has picked up. Morgan Rielly has really found his NHL legs and is involving himself offensively every game. The Leafs don't attack often, but when they do, they come in numbers and they'll get a couple of good looks every time into the zone.
The problem for them is that they rarely gain the zone.
|Fenwick Tied %||50.3%||42.6%|
The Leafs PDO was in the top third in the NHL, but lower than it was last year until their trip this week. They ran into Richard Bachman and Karri Ramo in Edmonton and Calgary and got specatcular performances from both James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier in those buildings. Until their trip, generally what was doing it for them was special teams, although they've given up a lot more shots in 4-on-5 situations this season versus last year.
The Canucks are generally chugging along with fine shot numbers and a PDO reflective of the goals they've scored at evens. The problem is that they've won a disproportionate amount of one-goal games, and can't continue to play in those and expect to pick up points in 8 out of 9 one-goal affairs.
GAME DAY LINKS
I haven't actually read anything today. It's Saturday, you bums. Curling and college football are on. Go bet on sports and have a good time. (Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel are excellent odds for being the first goal scorer. A $1 bet will get you $10. If you'd rather pick a Canuck, go with anybody with Daniel, since he'd only net $7. I like Kevin Bieksa because he has longshot odds, and why not him?)