The Blue and White Blog Game 4: Singing the HNIC Blues
Well I didn’t think this team would go 82-0-0. But that last game stung. High-scoring game, defensive lapses, soft-goals, bone-headed plays, letting rats get under their skin and beautiful offensive play wasted. That game checked all of the boxes for a typical Leafs loss. And why did it have to be against Montreal? I hate Montreal.
The Leafs are a team that is terrifying when firing on all cylinders and terrifying in a different way when the other team has momentum. Toronto seemingly gives up as many chances as it gets and that will catch up to you over a full season of hockey.
This week the Leafs have the Cup champion Blues, President’s Trophy winning Lightning and red hot Red Wings all on deck. Forget the back-up goalie, forget any youth or inexperience, forget the pressure to perform this year. Quit the excuses. A good week will do wonders to wash away the bitter taste Saturday night’s loss against the Canadiens.
This might be stupid to say about the reigning Stanley Cup champions, but this team is so good. The Blues are just so fast, physical and deep. Toronto is generally regarded as one of the deepest at the centre position but, with Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and Oskar Sundqvist down the middle, St. Louis matches up very well.
While they have an established core of Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Schenn, Pitrangelo, Schwartz and Parayko, there’s plenty of youth coming up that can potentially extend St. Louis’ championship window. Robert Thomas, Jordan Binnington, Vince Dunn, Zach Sanford and a healthy Robbie Fabbri should take steps forward which will make this team even better. What a scary thought.
Players of Interest
This guy needs to give us more. He’s been a fine penalty killer (stick throwing aside) and has shown a bit of sand paper. But it’s no secret that the Tavares-Marner line just hasn’t clicked the same way that it did when Hyman was on the left wing. Now the season is young and Kapanen is a natural right winger learning the ins and outs of the left side. But less than a week ago I was in a heated debate with my brother defending Kapanen over Hyman and the returns have not been promising.
I’m in the camp that thinks Hyman is a fourth liner at best and that Kapanen has some real jam. He’s one of the fastest players in the NHL and plays the game with a little chip on his shoulders. The biggest knock is his hands can’t catch up to his feet. I’m a big Kappy apologist but he simply needs to show a bit more.
Anytime a rookie/young goalie gets hot in the playoffs I’m always interested to see how they follow it up. Binnington was an absolute animal in 32 regular season games and 26 playoff games last season. The Blues do not win the Stanley Cup last year without him.
But we’ve seen this song and dance before. Not every rookie goalie that wins the Cup ends up being Ken Dryden. Antti Niemi never quite replicated his Stanley Cup form after leaving Chicago. Matt Murray hasn’t been the dominant goalie people thought he’d be since Fleury left town. Playing 50+ regular season games and having enough gas in the tank for an extended playoff run is incredibly difficult. It will be interesting to see if Binnington is up to the task.
The Third Line
The Mikheyev-Kerfoot-Moore trio has been Toronto’s most effective unit on both ends of the ice so far. All three players have the offensive touch to potentially play up in the line-up and all three chase the puck like a dog on a bone. The speed and sand-paper makes them a tough match-up for other team’s third lines which is a huge advantage for Toronto. Let’s just hope Babs doesn’t get too excited and start force-feeding them 20+ minutes a night.
The Best Third Pairing in Hockey
I’m not talking about Sandin and Holl. St. Louis just has an embarrassment of riches that they can trot out Vince Dunn and Justin Faulk as their third pairing. The game just becomes increasingly tougher for the opposition when there’s not real weak match-up to pick on. Just take a look at this blueline:
Remember Those Leafs?
Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarson, Alex Steen
The Leafs have been a bit of a feeder system for the Blues over the years.
The 2008 trade of Steen and Carlo Coliacovo for Lee Stempniak was a kick in the teeth. Steen has hit the 20 goal mark four times for the Blues (career-high 33 in 68 games in 2013-14) and has eclipsed 50 points five times. Stempniak had 24 total goals in 123 games over two mediocre seasons with the Leafs.
Gannarson made it to St. Louis by way of a trade for Roman Polak in 2014. Not a brutal trade but Gunnarson has been a steady top 4 defenseman for the Blues while Polak was a big pylon and the bane of my existence. Scratch that, it was a brutal trade.
Last year Bozak left in a free agency shuffle that saw Toronto reel in John Tavares with JVR and Bozak moving on with no real room in Toronto’s budget. Boz Lightyear ended up winning a Cup right away with St. Louis which stung, but good on him. He was always miscast as a top line centre with Toronto but produced with Phil Kessel in spite of the haters.
Saturday’s loss was the type of deflating loss that felt like it could pile on and develop into a bit of a slide. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and Toronto shows a bit of a bounce-back at home tonight. On a brighter note here, watch some clips of Auston Matthews goals this season:
Jeez. I’ll need to hose myself off. On stir fry night no less.