LGD: The start of a whole new season

With the regular season entirely in the rearview mirror, it’s a blank slate going forward for these Toronto Maple Leafs.

As entertaining (and surprising) as this past season has been, it’s no time to celebrate, but rather, time to dial in. Jumping from 30th to a wild card spot in a span of one season was a huge step in the right direction and one that many didn’t anticipate. Even as Babcock’s tenure began, the team preached patience and cautioned fans of the severe growing pains that could be had. Fast forward a bit over a year and the Leafs have accelerated the rebuild and in part, shifting the team’s mindset from patience to urgency.

“I told the young guys today (that) you think when you’re a young guy, you think: ‘Oh next year, next year.’ Next year never comes in sport, you make good on the opportunities you get,” said Mike Babcock on Tuesday as he addressed a flurry of reporters “You put everything into it and if it doesn’t go your way you regroup.”

Mike Babcock is a winner and he surely isn’t going to accept the idea of a top-seeded team like the Capitals dominating his young underdog team.

The quest for an upset starts tonight.

The Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs lines courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com

A Change of Pace:  “[I] always like to start the 2nd night [of playoffs]. It’s important for your players who get to watch on TV how hard everyone plays…” said Mike Babcock, as per Mark Masters. With nine Leafs making their playoff debuts tonight, we could see this Leafs team get quite the wake-up call early on into this game.

Fresh Legs: The Leafs roll an effective top-nine comprised of a combination of speed, skill, two-way play along with some youth sprinkled all throughout the lineup. The Leafs boast an impressive offensive attack while scoring 3.05 goals per game (5th) while having legitimate scoring options on each line.

The Leafs offensive talent wasn’t overworked this season, as most players played a relatively even-keeled amount of minutes per night. Maintaining the team’s balanced attack and minute distribution is key, especially against an experienced Capitals team.

Zaitsev, No-go: Nikita Zaitsev, who suited up for all 82 contests this season, won’t be in the lineup for the Maple Leafs tonight. Babcock described the injury as an “upper body” injury and Leafs fans should be crossing their fingers for Zaitsev to return for game two.

The X-Factor: Nazem Kadri hasn’t just set career high’s in statistics this season, but he’s also carved out an interesting role with the Leafs this season. Kadri has evolved into the team’s shutdown centre, a pest to other opponents, that can not only get under players skin but also serve as a legitimate defensive weapon. Kadri is a vital component to the Leafs game plan throughout the series and it’ll be interesting to see if he can silence Ovechkin’s line.

The Capitals

Washington Capitals lines courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com

The Presidents Trophy: Throughout the Ovechkin era in Washington, the Capitals have secured the Presidents Trophy three times. Despite their consistent regular season success, the Caps are yet to reach a Stanley Cup Final, or even the Conference finals for that matter.

Now or Never: For the last few years, it seems as though the hockey community hopes for Alex Ovechkin to finally hoist a cup. This year may be his last legitimate chance to do so, as he may not have as many pieces surrounding him going forward. With TJ Oshie, Justin Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brett Conolly and Kevin Shattenkirk all without contracts past this season, we could see a very different Washington Capitals team next year.

The X-Factor: Braden Holtby, not Alex Ovechkin, is the key to this team winning the series. After winning the Vezina Trophy in 2015-2016, Holtby continued the momentum into the 2016-2017 season and finished tied for the most amount of wins, with 42. Holtby is the backbone to this Washington Capitals team and if he can continue to stop pucks the way he has, the rest will figure itself out.

Tonight’s game will be on Hockey Night in Canada and you can catch it at 7:00 PM.

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  • Gary Empey

    I expect the Caps to try to dominate from the dropping of the first puck. It is disappointing to see one injury on the back-end lead to 3 new defensive pairing for the opening of the playoffs. Other than that it’s David vs Goliath.

    • Harte of a Lion

      Gary, have faith. Perhaps the universe will tilt towards the Blue and White with some lucky bounces and puck luck. I feel Boyle will pound in a rebound tonight in overtime to collect his first goal as a Leaf sending tremors throughout Caps nation. For those of us who are true beleafers, whatever happens, this has been a season to remember. The best part is, this is only the begining of great things to come, the first chapter back to contender status.
      Thank you Brendan Shanahan, for having the balls to take the job, stick by your guns and bring in the management and coaching assets to put our team back on track. Thank you to all the players, both rookies and veterans who showed the other 29 teams that this is no illusion. And thank you to the writers and posters at The Leafs Nation for making this site one of the best in the cyber world.
      The bandwagon is crowded once again…

      Keep on posting mate, Go Leafs, I for one BeLeaf!