It can be described in many senses. It’s the battle of the van Riemsdyk brothers. It’s an Original Six matchup. It’s a veteran club taking on one in the midst of a rebuild. But whichever way you choose to bend it, the truth is that when the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Chicago Blackhawks in Toronto on Saturday, it’s yet another must-win game for the Maple Leafs.
Holding on, barely, to the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs are in a spot where every point gives them an advantage towards making the postseason.
The Hawks, on the other hand, are where they’ve found themselves consistently over the past number of seasons. They’re first in the Central Division – three points up on Minnesota – and are tops in the entire Western Conference.
With both teams sporting a high-flying offence, it should be fun to see where this game goes. On paper, it’s a clear Blackhawks victory. But don’t count out this young Toronto franchise just yet.
Chicago Blackhawks at Toronto Maple Leafs
Air Canada Centre – 7:00 p.m. EST
Broadcast channels – CBC, CITY and CSN-CH
2016-17 Season Series:
October 22 – Blackhawks 5 – Maple Leafs 4 (SO)
Chicago Blackhawks – 45-20-5 – 95 Points
Road Record: 22-11-1
Hot Players: Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin
Key Injuries: Artem Anisimov
Artemi Panarin-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane
Richard Panik-Jonathan Toews-John Hayden
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Marcus Kruger-Jordin Tootoo
Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brian Campbell-Brent Seabrook
Toronto Maple Leafs – 32-23-14 – 78 Points
Home Record: 17-10-6
Hot Players: Mitch Marner, Tyler Bozak and William Nylander
Key Injuries: Connor Carrick and Joffrey Lupul
Zach Hyman-Auston Matthews-William Nylander
Leo Komarov-Nazem Kadri-Connor Brown
James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Mitch Marner
Matt Martin-Brian Boyle-Nikita Soshnikov
Jake Gardiner-Nikita Zaitsev
Morgan Rielly-Alexey Marchenko
Matt Hunwick-Roman Polak
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap]Aside from the Rangers, the Blackhawks are the best road team in the NHL. They hold a 23-9-4 record away from the United Center and will look to build on that when they take on the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap]Auston Matthews is on a seven-game pointless streak. While it shouldn’t be anything to worry about as the Leafs are getting production from other players throughout the lineup, Matthews will have to get back on track if the Leafs hope to make the playoffs.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap]The Leafs’ top two rookies still sit five points behind Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine for the NHL’s rookie scoring lead. Laine has 60 points, while Matthews and Mitch Marner have 55 points each. Marner has played in five fewer games than Matthews and against stiffer competition at times, but the end of the season stretch will be fun to watch as the Leafs gun for the playoff and these two rookies gun for top spot on the league’s scoring list.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap]The Leafs are top 10 in power play and penalty kill. They lead the league in power play at 23.7 percent, while their penalty kill sits ninth in the league at 83.3 percent.
The Leafs will need two big points in this one if they hope to hold down their playoff spot. With just over 10 games left in the season, every point is important and the Leafs don’t have much wiggle room when it comes to the teams hunting them down in the wild card standings.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.