ANN ARBOR JR (PRE GAME OPINIONS)
Doesn't the 2014 Winter Classic seem like a century ago? That's what it feels like to me, because the Maple Leafs and Red Wings are meeting each other for the first time since that historic game. The last time these two teams met, Tyler Bozak scored the biggest goal of his career by scoring the shootout winner. Since then, both teams have taken completely different paths and look to renew this "ancient" rivalry.
Are you excited for this game? I would feel excited about the rematch, except this comes after the Leafs played a sloppy game this past Sunday in Washington, so I am not really sure what to expect. Fortunately, the game starts at a regular time that works for the Leafs (7:30 pm EST) so a much better effort is a must! Also, don't expect Bernier to play tonight since the Leafs are playing it safe with their Number One goalie. We all know how important he is to the Leafs, so he will most likely play on Wednesday against Tampa Bay.
So, here are the three things the Leafs need to do in order to get two big points:
1) Have a better effort for a full 60 minutes
The last game did not start well, and it ended with a poor showing because the Leafs gave up three sloppy goals and could not recover. For this game, the Leafs need to have a better fore check and a passion to win. The Capitals clearly were ready in that game and the Leafs could not respond. They must do the same against the Red Wings so they can hang on for the win.
2) Take advantage of the injury-riddled Red Wings
Let's face it, this has been a rough year for the Red Wings. They are missing 11 regulars in the lineup at this point, including Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss, Todd Bertuzzi, and Jonas Gustavsson. That results in a young and average-skilled line up. Since the Leafs nearly have a full and healthy lineup, it is important to take full advantage of the weakened Red Wings team.
3) The Top Line needs to produce
It seems strange to think that Kessel, Bozak, and JVR have struggled in the point production department, but it really is happening. Over the last three games, the Top Line have combined for just one point. It is only a matter of time before they find their stride, but they need to do it fast! Otherwise, it will be up to the suddenly hot defense to pop in key goals. To me, this is a tough task to carry out long term.
Here's what I think will happen in this game: it will seem like a close game, but the winner will have a two goal advantage, but not in a shutout. Lets pray that the power play gets better in this one! Hope to see you after the game!