Game Day Primer: Round 1, Game 1

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The work starts here!! It’s finally time for the players on this team to put up or shut up. Perhaps more importantly, the same can be said for the President, GM and Head Coach, as they’ll be the first to be shown the door if we’re on the verge of witnessing yet another 1st round defeat.

As it stands, this appears to be the roster they’ll deploy for Game 1:

The expectation is that Ryan O’Reilly will drop to the 3rd line when they play in Tampa for games 3 and 4, which will make it tougher on Jon Cooper to successfully line match against the Leafs, but for the time being they appear happy to stack the top 6. I’m not a fan of having John Tavares on the wing, but, as always, Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe have overthought things and all we can do is watch.

Ilya Samsonov will get the nod for game 1, which would be the right decision even if Matt Murray was healthy enough to play.

A few keys to the game(s):

  1. They need to be physical, but a very specific type of physical. If the Leafs lay any kind of questionable hit, you know the refs will make them pay right on the spot, while the DOPS will hand out suspensions at will. They can’t initiate after the whistle, but that doesn’t mean they need to back down. Again, the refs will be happy to give them the extra minor and call it game management, but thats tough to do if you push back after getting a face wash.
  2. This goes extra for Michael Bunting. He needs to be a statue after the whistles. He can’t move, speak or react in any way, shape or form. The refs are primed to cost the Leafs a series based off of his antics. This guy needs to tape his stupid mouth shut and only play from whistle to whistle. Even if the Lightning are ambushing one of the Leafs stars, he needs to skate away and let somebody else handle it.
  3. While the stars are among the most talented in the league, it’s going to be dirty goals that win this one. They need traffic in front of Vasilevskiy and they need to get to the blue paint and dig for goals. That has never been a strength for this group, but neither has winning a round of hockey, so they need to learn how to get both done.
  4. We’ll call this one adjustability on the fly. Sheldon Keefe doesn’t make adjustments in game very often and he needs to adjust his ability to adjust. While I respect the idea of sticking to the plan and trying to push through, the Head Coach has proven to be extra stubborn when games are on the line. It’s at a point where I’m wondering if he’s simply afraid to make the necessary adjustments. Does he think he’s overthinking it himself, or is he incapable of seeing whats happening in-game?
  5. Get the special teams going. The Leafs have one of the most dangerous powerplays in the league during the regular season, but they can’t rely on that during the playoffs. Powerplays are harder to come by and when they do get them they haven’t been as effective at cashing in. We need to hope for a win in the special teams battle.

I’m not confident in this teams ability to win when it matters, but, as always, I’m here to cheer them on anyway. Let’s hope they don’t disappoint.