The Chicago Blackhawks tour through Original Six franchises in Canada continues on Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto enters this game with a 32-14-8 record, good for a second-place tie in the Atlantic Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, although Tampa does have a game in hand on the Leafs. With the Boston Bruins damn near out of sight atop the Atlantic at 85 points, the postseason matchup between Tampa and Toronto feels inevitable with about 30 games left on the regular-season schedule — a series that went so well for the Maple Leafs last season.
Because, really, this season is all about what happens in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Toronto, a franchise that still hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004. If that’s going to change this spring, the first thing that the Maple Leafs need to do is get healthy. A big step in that direction appears to be happening with Auston Matthews returning to the lineup for this game.
It’s all the familiar names atop the statistical columns for Toronto, of course. Mitch Marner has a team-high 64 points (19 G, 45 A) in 54 games, also leading the team in assists. William Nylander is the leading goal-scorer with 29 to go with his 32 assists. The aforementioned Matthews has 53 points (25 G, 28 A) in 47 games while captain John Tavares is at 53 (23 G, 30 A) in 54. Morgan Rielly remains the top offensive threat from the blue line with 25 points (2 G, 23 A) in 39 games.
Offense hasn’t really been the issue for Toronto in the past, though: it’s on defense. And, specifically, it’s been in goal. This season, the solution to that issue could be Ilya Samsonov, who signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal in the summer and has the best numbers among Maple Leafs goalies this season: 18-6-2 record, .917 save percentage and 2.32 goals-against average. The young Russian netminder, who turns 26 next Wednesday, could end up being the No. 1 guy come the postseason — especially considering Murray’s injury issues of the present and past.
Toronto’s last two games were against the basement-dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets, with the Blue Jackets winning the second of the home-and-home series. Would it be hilarious if Toronto lost two games in a row to the two worst teams in the league? Yes, yes it would.
What Blackhawks lineup will attempt to provide that comedy is up in the air, given the slew of injuries that happened during Tuesday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Luke Richardson during postgame: Jarred Tinordi has a lower body injury, won’t be playing tomorrow against Toronto.— Phillip Thompson (@_phil_thompson) February 15, 2023
Jason Dickinson's wrist: "He should be OK tomorrow."
MacKenzie Entwistle was checked out. "Might be a 'maybe' tomorrow."
If Tinordi’s indeed out again, then Ian Mitchell seems like a lock to return on the blue line. If Entwistle can’t go, the Blackhawks are down to 11 forwards — with Jonathan Toews not on this trip — so what happens at forward could be anyone’s guess. Richardson will provide an update to the media a few hours before puck drop, so we won’t know until then.
Playing the second game of a back-to-back against one of the top teams in the league makes this another tall task for the Hawks. But with their opponent being a franchise known for providing unexpected comedy on the ice, a Chicago victory here could keep us laughing until St. Patrick’s Day.
Let’s go Hawks.
Tale of the Tape
Blackhawks — Statistic — Maple Leafs
43.04% (32nd) — Corsi For — 51.64% (8th)
40.88% (31st) — Expected goals for — 54.09% (4th)
2.40 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.35 (8th)
3.62 (28th) — Goals against per game — 2.67 (6th)
55.6% (1st) — Faceoffs — 52.2% (7th)
18.0% (26th) — Power play — 25.4% (4th)
75.6% (24th) — Penalty kill — 80.2% (15th)
How to watch
When: 6 p.m. CT
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto