Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday storylines: Kids and the Hall

In the words of the immortal Badger Bob Johnson, it’s a great day for hockey. Emphasis on the “day,” as seven of today’s eleven games will start in the afternoon — or even the morning, depending on how far west you are. That includes four 1:00 ET games, making it the day’s busiest start time. But the best matchup of the day is one of the few evening games, and we’ll start there.

HNIC Game of the Night: Penguins at Maple Leafs

This is the third Saturday-night meeting between these two teams, with the last coming just three weeks ago. But plenty has changed on both sides since then.

The trade deadline was part of that, with the Penguins making a big change by bringing in Derick Brassard while the Maple Leafs went the more conservative route by settling for Tomas Plekanec. We’ve also seen a pair of major injuries since that last meeting, with Auston Matthews (shoulder) and Matt Murray (concussion) both sidelined; neither is expected to play tonight, although it sounds like Matthews might be getting close.

But the bigger story, at least in Toronto, is the change in the team’s fortunes since the last matchup. The Leafs went into that one riding a five-game win streak that had them back within range of the Bruins and Lightning in the Atlantic race. That streak had included wins over the Lightning and Predators. Things were good.

They’re no longer good, at least temporarily. The Leafs lost that Penguins game but then rolled off four more wins. But since then it’s been four straight losses, matching a season high, with the nadir coming in Monday’s 5-3 loss to the lowly Sabres. That slump has put an end to any talk of moving up from third spot in the Atlantic, and it’s raised some concerns over Frederik Andersen‘s play. Even when the Leafs were rolling, it was often due to their goaltender’s strong play. Now he’s given up five goals in each of the last two games, and three or more in five straight, and it’s fair to wonder if his workload is catching up to him. If so, the Maple Leafs might be in trouble.

Of course, that’s the nature of goaltending, and if Andersen stands on his head and shuts out the Penguins tonight then we’ll all declare that he’s back and move on to the next narrative. A win tonight would go a long way to calming any jittery Leafs fans out there and keep this four-game mini-slump from turning into something more. We’re still a long way away from any talk of 18-wheelers and cliffs, but it would be nice to nip this streak in the bud before we get there.

As for the Penguins, they come in riding three straight wins and holding down first place in a tight Metro race. After Phil Kessel‘s early heroics carried the team long enough for Sidney Crosby to heat up by mid-season, now it’s Evgeni Malkin who’s looking scary, with eight points in his last four to sneak into the Art Ross conversation. That’s not the guy you want to see when your goalie is slumping.

Hey, speaking of stars riding hot streaks that make Canadian fans sad…

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

No comments:

Post a Comment