It seemed like a pretty good set up, really. After winning back to back games for the first time since the start of the season, there was a glimmer of hope that they would beat Anaheim and charge into Saturday night on a legit winning streak, ready to take on the Leafs, right all the wrongs and bring peace and harmony to the world. That's a nice story, but this is the 2016/17 Canucks we're talking about. Instead, we get a loss sprinkled liberally with frustrating, indifferent play, maddening player usage by Willie Desjardins and dammit all to hell, the re-emergence of the #VancouverGoaltendingControversy.
So instead of being a confident bunch looking to truly pay the Leafs back the best way possible: on the scoreboard, we have a team that should be embarrassed by the way they played against Anaheim the other night. Add in that this coach still steadfastly refuses to change situations that are clear to anyone with functioning vision that are not working, and a sudden desire to play Ryan Miller when Jacob Markstrom is emerging as the better option and you have a recipe for disaster. So what will they do if Nazem Kadri takes another run at someone? Or Matt Martin? There's gonna be a stupid overreaction, and that's a road we cannot go down again.
||Goals For Per 60 (GF60)
||Goals Against Per 60 (GA60)
|14.3 (24)||Power Play %||19.1 (12)|
|85.9 (4)||Penalty Kill %||84.9 (8)|
|50.8 (10)||Faceoff Win %||49.3 (18)|
||Shooting %||9.7 (6)|
||Corsi For %||49.3 (17)
Stats from NHL.com and www.hockey-reference.com
Funny thing about the standings in the era of Bettman points: They really don't tell you like they used to, which teams are better than others. It could be why you hear rumblings in the media of a desire to get a system that awards 3 points for a regulation win, something I have long supported. Reward the teams that actually win the game within the confines of the rules for a standard game. If you need a shootout to win it, you should be dinged one point. It's that or take away the loser point. This inflated parity is crazy. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. When you look at the standings, you see the Leafs and Canucks separated by a mere two points. Same number of wins. Yet one of these teams is being looked at as a club on the rise, the other not so much.
While both teams have goaltending issues, they're doing it in the opposite manner. October was a good month for the Canucks goalies, and a forgettable one for the Leafs. Now, they seemed to have turned that around, while the Canucks, Ryan Miller especially is not playing well. Another difference: these Leafs score goals. A lot. And while they're still working on the defensive part of their game, Mike Babcock seems to have his team moving in the right direction. Will they make the playoffs? We'll have to see, but there's hope in Toronto for the first time in a long time, and that's exactly what they need.
The key to this afternoon's game is making sure the Canucks don't lose focus. This is an important game not because of what happened in the last meeting between these teams, but because if they want any hope of competing for a wild card spot, they have to start rattling off some wins and fast. Yes, you need to be wary of Kadri, but don't forget about Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Reilly. They and many others on the Leafs are capable or wreaking havoc on the score sheet, and the way this team has played defensively, minus the top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, seems like a perfect situation for the Leafs.
This is an untenable situation for the Canucks. They're injured, have zero confidence in their ability to play hard unless they're already losing, have a coach who flat out refuses to give the players leading the way offensively any more ice time, and for some unexplained reason is putting Ryan Miller back in net tonight. Miller gave up two truly crappy goals the other night against Anaheim, so what is this, a chance for revenge after the Leafs ventilated him last time? This has blowout written all over it.
And then there's Erik Gudbranson. He's the new defensive whipping boy, given a) he's been terrible in the start of his Canucks tenure and b) Sbisa is (and I know this will shock you coming from me, but credit where credit is due) showing marginal signs of improvement. He can still be a frustrating player to watch, but good gawd Guddy is a damn wreck.So tonight's game is not going to be easy for him, thanks to his post game comments about Matt Martin after the 6-3 loss in TO. That spotlight is gonna be bright and oh, so hot. Every single mistake is going to be pounced on by Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson with glee.
So if the Canucks can't find a way to score more like they did against Minnesota, they're going to be in big trouble tonight, and that increases the likeliness of on-ice stupidity. But we can rest assured, folks: The Department of Player Safety is watching tonight's game closely.
I get that Miller has won more games against the Leafs than any other team he's played, but that's a stat that is heavily weighted by years of playing against awful Leafs teams while in Buffalo. Where we're at now is it's debatable that he's the best goaltender on this team at the moment, and after a performance that wasn't his best (though to be fair he got little support) he's getting his 4th straight start. I don't like it.
And since I am sure it's going to come up in the comments: stop complaining about the 4pm start time. It's all about the television situation and the concentration of population in this country. Let's face it: they don't play in Edmonton or Toronto every year in this spotlight game. Take that as a sign of respect. That being said I won't be surprised if they start making the Oilers their Saturday Western road swing date next year.
While the Canucks lead the league in wins when giving up the first goal, the Leafs are dead last when they do, so it is important to get on the board first and early, because the Leafs fans in attendance tonight will be loud and obnoxiously so. Take them out of it early and focus on getting the win.
A little pregame reading for you as well: I had a chance to speak with Joshua Kloke of The Athletic Toronto about the understated rivalry between these teams and why people out there don't seem to see the 94 Western Conference Final the way we do. You can read it here.
GAME DAY BATTLE HYMN
The Toronto area has given us some seriously kickass metal over the years, so here's some of my favorites for ya: