Don Cherry quotations aside, the Toronto Maple Leafs pose a real challenge to the Nashville Predators. Both teams are young and fast.
After a rough January, the Toronto Maple Leafs have seemingly righted the ship. Mike Babcock is no longer playing Leo Komarov 23 minutes a night, and Travis Dermott is now a regular in the line-up. Some may call into question that Andreas Borgman has been sent down in order to play Roman Polak more, but most aren’t too upset. Despite a defense that’s still trying to find it’s identity, the Maple Leafs will push the Nashville Predators to their limit.
The Maple Leafs boast one of the top forward corps in the NHL and I wish I could talk about all of them, but I don’t have the time. So let’s go through a few key players who will make an impact each and every shift.
The youth movement
How can you talk about the Maple Leafs without mentioning Auston Matthews and William Nylander? I’ll discuss them together because of their magnificent play as a duo. No disrespect to Zach Hyman, but these two are all-world players. Nylander is what every general manager dreams of when they envision a playmaking winger who can dominate possession. He’s such a play driver that I honestly think he’d have as many points without Matthews. Now, onto their franchise centerman. The Leafs’ tank paid off in spades as they made the easy choice to select the Arizona native with the first pick overall. He’s whatever you want him to be, he’ll net 40 and score at a point per game pace. Matthews has shouldered a ton of pressure since suiting up for the blue and white, but he’s done so admirably.
Ex-London Knight Mitch Marner is one of my favorite players in the league. He’s a slippery guy that can’t be pinned down. His creativity with the puck is one of the more mesmerizing phenomena in the NHL and very reminiscent of Patrick Kane. One of my favorite descriptions of him was from a scout who said “Marner doesn’t always make the right play, but he always makes the best play”. While that may sound like a bit of a contradiction, watch him play and you’ll understand. He’ll make plays that are seemingly not there. He’s a fun player who’s sneaky in his impact on the ice.
Jake Gardiner is having one heck of a season on the offensive side of the puck. With Morgan Rielly out for a recent stretch of the season, Gardiner stepped up and was nothing short of magnificent. His passing from the backend is incredible, and if you want proof, go watch the highlights from their game against the Ducks. He’s also on a hot streak as he’s a point per game player in his last 13 games or so.
The Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg is still suspended and will make his return on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens. Otherwise, here is the Nashville Predators’ lineup:
Pontus Aberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin Fiala / Anthony Bitetto – Kyle Turris – Craig Smith
Scott Hartnell – Nick Bonino – Calle Jarnkrok
Miikka Salomaki – Colton Sissons – Austin Watson
Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban
Alexei Emelin – Yannick Weber
A starting goaltender has not been announced but I imagine Pekka Rinne will get the nod as he’s been hot recently. Another first period like he had against the Islanders will not be acceptable this game, however.
- Hope and pray: The Predators’ top four will have their hands full. P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm will most likely mirror the Matthews line while Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis will try to handle the Marleau-Kadri-Marner line. Keeping them out of the high danger areas will be the most challenging task they’ve faced all season.
- Pressure the defense: Like I said, defense is the chink in the armor for the Leafs and they can be pressured into giving up turnovers. Creating and capitalizing on these turnovers will greatly enhance the Predators’ chance for 2 points.
- Depth clashes: These are two of the deepest teams in the NHL. Guys like Kasperi Kapanen, JVR, and Connor Brown can score from any spot on the line-up. These guys will be a true test for Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson.
Where to watch
The game will be on Fox Sports Tennesee at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the game on 102.5 The Game. This match will also be on Sportsnet, and if you have the opportunity, I heavily recommend watching their broadcast and period break shows.