It’s been a tough January for the Toronto Maple Leafs, with coaching decisions getting called out and even the normally affable and unshakeable Freddie Andersen losing his cool a bit.
If there’s a team that’s having an even worse month, though, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks.
Despite a weak defense and inconsistent offense, Chicago had been hovering right around playoff territory all season on the back of a Vezina-worthy year for Corey Crawford. Now, he’s out with an injury, and it’s back to square one – which has meant some serious issues.
Toronto hasn’t found many ways to win lately, but this game could be in the bag for them.
No Mo Rielly again, as he’s out until after the All Star Break, so we can’t even complain about Roman Polak being in the lineup.
That leaves the defense particularly weak, though, which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you guys.
I have no real feelings about the forward lines other than that Mitch Marner is top six and Leo Komarov is down on the fourth line, which is nice.
Know all of that complaining about Nazem Kadri that everyone likes to do this year?
Try this one on for size: not only does captain Jonathan Toews have just 31 points in 47 games this year (as a $10.5 million dollar man), but he hasn’t recorded a point since January 9th. And for all the love he gets as a leader, he doesn’t have a single game-winner yet this year.
Patrick Kane isn’t faring much better up front, although he’s just over a point-per-game pace at 48 points in 47 games. Still, he’s a negative possession player on a team that’s supposed to still drive shots, with heavily sheltered zone starts, and he’s only found the scoresheet in one game since January 9th, himself.
Now isn’t even the time to get started on the Blackhawks defensive gaffes this year, although they’re a huge concern in their own right. Connor Murphy has not only not replaced Niklas Hjalmarsson, he’s found himself struggling to stay in the lineup every night – and the rest of the young defensive corps has been the same way, with poor play from veterans serving as the icing on the cake.
For perspective, even Brent Seabrook has been healthy scratched this month.
The two goaltenders, Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass, have done their very best – but there’s only so much the pair can pull off.
The team is looking to jumpstart their offense with some new lines, so Anthony Duclair will start as 1RW with Toews and Brandon Saad. But a frustrated Joel Quenneville isn’t afraid to mix things up during the game itself, so it’s anyone’s guess who will actually play where.
It’s a back-to-back, with a game again tomorrow night, so we’ll see Andersen one night and Curtis McElhinney the next. Expect Andersen tonight and McElhinney tomorrow, although the Leafs could tweak that if they feel confident enough that McElhinney can win them a game tonight against a Chicago team in free-fall.
Across the ice, Jeff Glass has already been confirmed for Chicago, where he’ll attempt to keep the team in yet another game.
Glass spent a brief stint with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies last year, benefitting from Piero Greco after a decade spent in the KHL. The former Ottawa Senators prospect won U20 WJC gold almost 13 years ago, but hadn’t managed to break into a depth chart that left him heading across the ocean for the bulk of his career.
He’s found his way back, and he’s luckily made a fairly smooth adjustment to life in the North American pros so far.
But in the Leafs’ favor, he’s inconsistent in his post-integration coverage and his lateral movement lacks crispness, so a frustrating game could send him off balance and tip the scales in Toronto’s favor quickly.
(If you want to read more about him, I did a big workup on him a few weeks ago for The Athletic.)
- It’s still just 25 points on the year for Nazem Kadri, who still has only one goal and one assist since November 30th. I know I’ve said that only so much of that is his fault, with some awful luck over the past few months. But at a point, the responsibility has to come from somewhere, and Kadri himself needs to take a look at why he can’t seem to find himself on the scoresheet. Perhaps more frustrating, the team’s only win in their last five games came when he had an assist.
- I know it’s super vogue to make fun of former players voicing their (sometimes outdated) opinions on Twitter, but I thought Ryan Whitney had an excellent point earlier this week. He asked why Mitch Marner is out there for a boost of offense when the team is down one at the end of the game, skating on a top line with Patrick Marleau, but relegated to the fourth line the rest of the time. It’s a question that I think needed to be asked, and I’m curious what the answer is.