Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs showed what it takes to have a chance at beating a team like Chicago. Not sure what happened to the Leafs, perhaps they were angry and completely unsatisfied at the effort on Thursday in St. Louis and they should be, but they took Chicago's game and threw it right back at them.
Remember what 1980 USA coach Herb Brooks preached to his young college kids prior to the Olympics that February? Comparing the Blackhawks to the mighty Red Army Soviet teams if you will, you don't worry about defending them, you attack them. Take their game and shove it right back in their face. On top of that, the Maple Leafs outworked the Hawks for a solid 60 minutes and still allowed three goals in the process.
Jonathan Bernier once again allowed a couple of savable goals, and Dion Phaneuf fresh off of his suspension played perhaps one his worst games as a Leaf in recent time. Phaneuf should have been charged for scoring two goals on his own goaltender, but the second of which was mercifully disallowed. In my opinion, the goal still should have stood but no matter what, Toronto seemed destined to take complete control after that play. Even without important players such as Tyler Bozak, Dave Bolland and David Clarkson, the Leafs displayed what a lot of speed and creativity can accomplish with the likes of regulars Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and newcomers Peter Holland and Jerry D'Amigo.
Holland has been prone to some silly penalties as of late, which have proven a bit costly, but with the team in desperate need of some center depth, the 22-year old is a much better option each night for Randy Carlyle than say Carter Ashton and Jerred Smithson and even solidify a wing spot when Bozak and Bolland eventually return. D'Amigo, also 22-years old, should be used as a 4th liner who can skate well and also be used on the penalty kill alongside Jay McClement and Nikolai Kulemin. Without a doubt at the moment, Carlyle's best forward penalty killers should be McClement, Kulemin, D'Amigo and van Riemsdyk.
There is a lot of hockey left to be played for Toronto, and hopefully the Leafs can build off of last night's 7-3 thrashing of the 2013 short season champs. The main thing for Toronto is to stop taking stupid penalties, refrain from dishing out dangerous hits that could result in suspensions, and get healthy.
David Clarkson has been perhaps the biggest disappointments for the Leafs thus far. Clarkson is a grinder type of player, and he has displayed some of that grittiness in blue and white, but certainly sitting with just 2 goals, 4 assists and a minus 4 rating is not enough. It is time for the veteran winger to stop playing like a fourth line goon and start chipping in like the kids did last night against Chicago.
Pairing John Michael Liles with the 19-year old Morgan Rielly is also a solid decision made by Carlyle. If the bench boss is going to stick with Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson, then matching up Rielly with another veteran blue liner and puck mover should be just fine for the time being. Despite the on and off again play from Cody Franson, pairing him with Gardiner should also be set for the foreseeable future. This allows Mark Fraser to perhaps play some games with the AHL Marlies and get his confidence back and also allows Paul Ranger to spell one of the other six on any given night. For those who do not know, Korbinian Holzer is still having issues playing his position, as he is a minus 6 rating with the Marlies. So in the meantime, Toronto cannot depend or hope for any help from the Marlies when it comes to defensive depth.
More tough games to come this week for the Buds, heading back to Pittsburgh on Monday and then returning home to face a Panthers team who have started to play some decent hockey, but also a very beatable team. Phoenix will be in town Thursday, a strong defensive Western club who seem to be the only playoff contender in the West who is struggling at the moment. Three winnable games in my opinion given the Penguins struggles against the Leafs and two others struggling altogether.
Kings Return to Scene of Crime
If the Kings saw any of the Leafs thrilling victory over Chicago last night, they will need to be able to play similar to the Leafs. Being the last game of a weeklong road trip, hopefully the Kings will have a little bit of energy left to be able to spend some time in the Hawks zone and fire the puck on Antti Raanta as much as possible.
Hard to say, but I think tonight is more of a test for the champion Blackhawks this time around. After getting crushed last night, and looking just plain bad, the Hawks return home quickly and face a team who has not given up a first period goal in 19 games. Plus the fact that they face a team who should be playing with a big chip on its shoulder after being ousted by Chicago in the Western Finals just a number of months ago.
Watching all of those Hawks vs. Kings/Maple Leafs matchups over the last several seasons, I have never seen the Hawks play as poorly in any of them until last night. It always seems to me that when the Hawks face LA or Toronto, they are on fire and EVERYTHING goes their way. Last night, thank the good Lord, it was finally the other way around and was a long time coming.
Martin Jones should be starting for LA tonight. And like I stated before, if Jones plays well again tonight, wins and is in control of things then this could be an issue when Jonathan Quick returns. Considering that Chicago is perhaps the toughest obstacle for the Kings to overcome in the playoffs, if Darryl Sutter has another option in goal to help get past Chicago, he needs to find out tonight.
Update End of 1st in Chicago: Scrivens Can't Come Up with a Key Save
Way to go Coach Sutter. Instead of going with the hot hand, as has been the case for the past week or so, Ben Scrivens gets the surprise start who has not seen action since December 2nd.
Not only does Jones need to keep playing, but it is also equally important for the team to continue what it is doing. It is very aggravating to see a coach change his stance, and make an unwarranted decision. If he wanted to get Scrivens into a game, it should have been yesterday in Ottawa against a team that is struggling to win games and also a team in which Scrivens has seen a few times before and would have been more comfortable than being thrown to the lions in Chicago.
Moreover, the team does not get a chance to see at what the youngster Jones could have done against a team as potent as Chicago and in a building that is almost impossible to come out of with a regulation win. There is also no reason for the Kings to come out flat and play another lousy game in this building. Jake Muzzin does not make a play he normally makes easily and is stolen by Jonathan Toews who sets up Marian Hossa in front who barely gets a stick on the puck but still somehow slides in between Scrivens. Then minutes later, Scrivens gets burned on a shot from Kris Versteeg which also could have been stopped.
But how in the world can you hope to beat the Hawks in Chicago with a goaltender who hasn't played in weeks?
Still, Jonathan Quick would not be doing much better given his track record in the United Center. But with a wild card option like Jones, who knows.
Nice going Sutter. Nice going...So much for the road trip and everything else. Ever heard of not fixing things if it ain't broken? Why don't you try that sometime!
The Kings better hope to God that some other team in the West knocks off the Blackhawks come playoff time, because there is no way that LA will accomplish the feat.
When LA returns on the 30th of December, Quick could very well be back in net for the Kings and perhaps Jones could be sent down for the remainder of the season or even traded for another asset. In that case, we will never know if Jones could have been the answer in perhaps beating Chicago, especially in the UC.
This is a real shame!