Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bruins vs. Leafs: Stuff To Look Out For

Once again the Bruins have to shake off the rust of a half-week layoff, as the Maple Leafs ride into town on a 3-game winning streak. Stuff to watch for tonight:

The Sundin Saga continues - You've heard so much more about this than you ever wanted to. It's fair to say that Sundin has outdone even last year's Niedermayer Saga, by hemming and hawing away nearly a third of the season schedule. Meanwhile, several franchises -- especially the Rangers, Canucks and Leafs -- are effectively at a personnel standstill while awaiting The Bald One's final decision.

Let me get this off my chest, because I haven't had time to write a full article about it (yet). Screw Sundin. Last season I defended his choice to remain in Toronto against the popular consensus, because I felt he'd earned the option to finish his career as a Leaf if he so chose. And let's not be naive about his rights as a free agent; he's got leverage over the whole process and is only doing what's owed to him after a decade and a half of outstanding play.

But really. Screw this guy. The whole "team first" ethic went out the window when it became clear that he's willing to disrupt an entire season for several teams by dragging his feet through negotiations. More importantly, wherever he lands there's now going to be a media hurricane... and good friggin' luck to whatever coach has to integrate him into a locker room and convince everyone that he's good for the team's chemistry. This whole situation has set itself up to be the biggest letdown since Forsberg decided to make yet another comeback. Oh, wait.

Blake's revenge - I'm pretty sure THN had already gone to press by calling Jason Blake the 10th-most-overpaid NHL'er (#1 -- JovoCop!) before he busted out this wicked spin-o-rama to beat the Devils in the shootout. Let's avoid going to the shootout tonight, shall we?

Toskala sucks - That's actually just a personal opinion. The buzz around Toskala is that he's on a hot streak and almost has his GAA under 3.00 now. But seriously, why is this guy still wearing the Leaf?

Too tough - To be honest, I think the Maple Leafs are a little too good this year... too good for their own good. It seems like ever since the lockout, they've been expected to blow up the roster and start over. Every year they come out, fight just hard enough to get out of lottery contention, and then fizzle. Part of the problem is that they're actually not a half bad team -- they've beaten the Wings, Bruins, Rangers, Habs and Flyers this season. Part of the problem may be that the players actually feel pressure to perform in Toronto, as opposed to a town like Miami where they can just quit on the coach and get away with it. Either way, the Leafs are not an easy game and the Bruins would do well to play a full 60 minutes this time (as opposed to letting them back in a game... see below).

Home cookin' - Toronto is the only team to beat Boston at home this season, and one of only two teams to beat the Bruins by two points (though, to be fair, both games involved an EN goal). Meanwhile, the Bruins are eyeing a 5-game road trip in the second half of the month, so expect them to really fight for the home points.

Keeping a lead - If there's anything that can be said about Toronto this year, it's that they're tenacious.
Game one: Boston up 2-0 after one period, lose 4-2.
Game two: Boston up 3-0 after two periods, Leafs pull to within 4-2 in third.
Game three: Boston up 2-0 after half a period, stave off comeback to win 3-2.
The Bruins have consistently jumped out to large leads this season, only to let off the gas later in the game. If that happens again against Toronto, it might be costly.

Playing or Not?
Sturm: Maybe
Ward: No
Nokelainen: No
Fernandez/Thomas: Conflicting reports. My money's on Tim.

Other previews:
Stanley Cup of Chowder
Rink Rap
Bruins Hockey Blog
The Bear Cave
Pension Plan Puppets (Leafs linkage)

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