Almost exactly a month ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-5-5, second Atlantic)came to the Bay to take on the San Jose Sharks (8-13-4, seventh Pacific). It was just the second game in a disappointing six-game homestand. In fact, the lone win in those six games came in overtime against the Maple Leafs. Although both teams have played plenty of games since then, not much has changed over the last month. Wins have come rarely for San Jose, while Toronto has stacked up points more easily.
Following the overtime loss to the Sharks in October, the Maple Leafs ended the road trip with losses to both the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, a reverse California Sweep.
But as soon as November rolled around, Toronto jumped right back into their winning ways. The team won the first three games of the month, going 7-1-2 over the last ten games. While the Sharks ended the last homestand with an overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday before defeating the Montreal Canadiens handedly on Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs are coming into tomorrow’s match-up on a four-game win streak.
The Maple Leafs find themselves in a very solid position at second in the division (33 points) with the Boston Bruins three points ahead (36 points) and the Tampa Bay Lightning six points behind (27 points). The 33 points are also enough to rank fourth in the league with just New Jersey (38 points), Boston and Vegas (35 points) leading the pack ahead of Toronto.
Both teams have had some injuries since they last saw one another. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov is out on the injured reserve as well as defenders Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin. As for San Jose, both Nico Sturm and Mario Ferraro are on injured reserve, and goaltender James Reimer is still unavailable. These injuries are sure to affect both teams, but the Sharks undeniably have the bigger hill to climb without their number one netminder.
Is it time for Aaron Dell’s revenge?
Aaron Dell is back!
Well, he’s technically been in San Jose all season, having played seven games for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda, but it’s time for Dell to see some NHL action this season now that Reimer is unavailable. So far with the Barracuda, Dell has posted a 3-3-0-1 record, 3.02 goals against average (GAA) and a .904 save percentage (SV%).
Last season, Dell played 12 games with the Buffalo Sabres, posting a 4.03 GAA and .893 SV%. This is admittedly pretty bad, but the Sharks’ goaltending this season hasn’t been a whole lot better. Through nine games this season, Kaapo Kahkonen has posted a 3.81 GAA and .871 SV%.
Losing Reimer is objectively not good for this already struggling team, but Aaron Dell has the opportunity to earn some faith back from Sharks fans. The World’s Okayest Goalie came back to Team Teal for a reason — it’s time to step up to the plate.
Can the Sharks silence the Leafs' top scorers?
With forwards like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares the Maple Leafs are not lacking in goal-scoring skill. Nylander leads the team with 13 goals on the season and has netted four goals in the last five games. Marner leads the team in assists with 21, including seven in the last five games. These guys know how to put the puck into the net.
In October, the Sharks came out on top because they were able to score quickly. But to really be successful against this Leafs team, the Sharks need to slow down the top guys. Toronto has four players with over 100 shot attempts and more than 50 shots on goal. Comparatively, Timo Meier has posted 220 shot attempts and 123 shots on goal, but after that, only Erik Karlsson has more than 100 attempts and 60 shots. It’s pretty easy to figure out that the Sharks aren’t scoring, and the Leafs are.
Is this the key to the game? Probably not, but it’s definitely a good place to start. If those top players don’t have the chance to shoot, they won’t have the chance to score. Keeping them quiet means Leafs goals will be at a minimum. Here’s hoping, anyway.
How will the Ferraro-less penalty kill perform against a high-danger power play squad?
San Jose’s penalty kill is the one area where the team tops the league. Quite frankly, it’s been the one reliably bright spot all season. However, Toronto’s power play is also elite. At eighth best in the league, they are a massive threat. Especially with the question mark that goaltending presents for this particular game, it will be incredibly important for the kill squad to stay elite.
Unfortunately, Mario Ferraro is still out, and a big part of the penalty kill. Ferraro leads the team in penalty kill time on ice and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the only defender whose shorthanded TOI even comes close. Ferraro’s absence is going to hurt in a lot of ways, but the penalty kill may be the biggest one.
In the team’s first game without Ferraro against the Canucks, the kill was able to keep Vancouver’s fifth-ranked power play squad off the board twice. The Canadiens went 0-for-6 in last night’s shutout. The special teams are going to be exhausted and they’ve got a huge task in front of them tonight, as well.
Bold Prediction: The Sharks complete the season sweep, in regulation. Nick Cicek records a point and Alexander Barabanov scores the game-winning goal.