The Blue and White Blog Game 7: The Grind Line is Wild’n Out
What has gotten into Toronto’s bottom six?
The third and fourth line just look downright lethal out there while the “top line” of Kapanen, Tavares and Marner look absolutely glacial by comparison. I’m sure that I could look at some stats to decipher some of this weird play but I’m going by just the old eye test.
The bottom six chip, forecheck, and are absolute hounds on the puck. And for once, for all of the years of Brian Burke truculence and Lou Lamoriello bottom six over-pays, once the bottom six gets a hold of the puck they can actually do something with it. On the flip side, controlled zone entries are the bread and butter of the elite talent that Tavares and Marner bring to the table. Last season when the other team would stack their own blueline and force them to dump, they’d chip it in for golden retriever Zach Hyman to fetch. Six games in Kapanen just hasn’t been as effective chasing that stick and one wonders if that line couldn’t hurt for a little dose of Mikheyev or Trevor Moore on the wing. I for one think Kappy could use a little patience, but at a certain point you have to produce.
After beating Detroit 5-2 on Saturday night, Toronto hosts the 1-4-0 Minnesota Wild tonight. There is apparent talent on this Wild team but I think it’s safe to say that they’ve missed the championship window on this Parise-Suter-Dubnyk core. They have the second-oldest team in the NHL with an average age of 29.5. And what young players they do have seem to be be of the Ryan Donato, Joel-Eriksson-Ek mold without any real elite potential lurking.
What they can hang their hat on is a solid, bordering on elite, defensive unit. Take a look at this six pack:
Despite a bad record this defensive core should be something that could prop them up. The Wild have one of the most anemic group of forwards out there and five games in, their top three scorers are all defensemen; Brad Hunt with 4 points and Suter and Spurgeon with 3 points each.
Players of Interest
Toronto’s Third Pairing
There’s always something. Toronto has sent down 2018 first round pick Rasmus Sandin which, shock of shocks, seems to have struck a chord with Leafs Nation. But once you get any anti-Babcock vitriol out of your system and take a deep breath, this move seems fine and down right logical. On paper Toronto preserves a year of his NHL entry level deal. On the ice Sandin will get more opportunity with the Marlies than the 12:33 TOI he was getting with the big club which will surely be better for his development.
With Dermott’s return just around the corner it will be a tryout between Holl, Marincin and Gravel to standout and earn the role of 6th and 7th defensemen.
At age 33 it’s fair to question whether we’re seeing the beginning of the end for him. This year has has a .862 save percentage and 4.56 GAA in 4 games which is just a frigid start to say the least. For a team that was 27th in goals for last year, keeping the puck out of their own net will be incredibly important.
Dmytro Timashov: Playmaker
Does Kapanen hear the footsteps yet?
Here’s some quick talking points from couch correspondent Phillip Waind:
Last game showed what the bottom two lines for the Leafs can do. They were buzzing all night and displayed that they have the ability to carry the team. Even if that team is the measly Red Wings, it was impressive all the same. The Tavares-Marner line has only shown flashes of what they could be, so hopefully they start to cook.
This season is probably the last gasp of air for this current rendition of the Minnesota Wild. They canned GM Chuck Fletcher, the Nick Fury to this super team, this summer . Minnesota has one of the oldest and one of the most expensive rosters out there which is a lethal combo.
That being said Toronto can’t afford to look past anyone this year. They still have a lot to figure out on their own side of the tunnel. How do you get the Tavares-Marner duo going? When will Andersen round into form? Beyond Rielly, Barrie and Muzzin, who can you trust on the blueline?
Regardless, Minnesota is due for a dub. I just hope it’s not tonight.