Maple Leafs Are Hot

Wednesday picks: The Maple Leafs are hot at the right time

Wednesday Picks: The Maple Leafs Are Hot At The Right Time

The NHL is a league like many others. Winning streaks and losing streaks make or break your season, and the Maple Leafs are hot at the perfect time. The Leafs playoff spot is almost locked in at this point, but seeding for home-ice advantage could be the difference maker in the postseason.

The Maple Leafs will be testing themselves against the Blue Jackets; meanwhile, out in Colorado, the Avalanche will be taking on the Canadiens. Out in Vancouver, the Canucks and Panthers will be playing in the last game of the night.

Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Pick: Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are hot right now, but they will be going against a Blue Jackets team that is hovering just outside the playoff picture. Both sides have a lot to play for, but the Blue Jackets are mostly already in the playoffs.

This game should be the best one of the night. I expect them to both come out energized and excited to try and propel themselves into playoff position.

Nylander’s Recent Surge

Maple Leafs Are Hot

Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

William Nylander has led the way for the Maple Leafs in scoring recently. Toronto has nine wins in their last 11 games, and Nylander has scored in eight of them, including three multi-point performances. Nylander is second on the team in points and has been the igniter for many of the Maple Leafs recent wins.

His most notable performance came against the Lightning. Nylander had two goals and an assist, making him responsible for three of the four points the Leafs scored in their 4-3 win against the best team in the NHL.

Nylander’s recent play has paved the way for the Maple Leafs offense. He has been scoring at will and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Columbus’ Struggling Offense

Columbus’ offense has taken a considerable step backward from where they were last year. The Blue Jackets have the third-lowest goals per game average scoring just 2.6 goals per game. Columbus needs to start trending towards quality, not quantity mindset when it comes to shots on goal. They have recorded the fifth most shots on goal in the entire NHL, but they just can’t seem to find the back of the net.

Another thing the Blue Jackets will have to get going is their powerplay. They have the worst power play in the league right now, and in their last five, they have only connected on two of their 15 power play attempts.

To fix these issues, Columbus has been in many of the trade discussions for forward Rick Nash. It is clear that the Blue Jackets need a scorer if they are going to have success the rest of the year.

The Blue Jackets have a good defense, but it is not good enough to carry them throughout the playoffs. A trade for a player like Rick Nash could be the difference maker down the stretch.

The Result

I like the Maple Leafs to take this one. Their offense and defense have been phenomenal the last few games, and I don’t expect that to stop now. The Blue Jackets are coming off back to back games and are already struggling massively.

This game should be close for the first couple periods, but I expect the Leafs to pull away in the third and take this one.

Avalanche vs. Canadiens

Pick: Canadiens

The Avs went on an incredible streak that ended just a few weeks ago. Since then they have started to come back down to earth. Colorado has lost six of their last nine including a loss to Montreal. In their previous game, they struggled against a terrible Buffalo team.

The Avalanche do have one thing going for them in this game, however. The Canadiens are having a dreadful season and are at the bottom of the league. The Canadiens are both bottom ten in the league in scoring and goals against, but Buffalo is also.

I think the Canadiens will take this one. The inexperience of the Avalanche is going to cause them to drop some games down the stretch that they shouldn’t, and this is one of them. This game will be a tight contest all the way through, but I think that Montreal will come out victorious.

Canucks vs. Panthers

Pick: Panthers

Maple Leafs Are Hot

(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHL via Getty Images)

The Panthers are on the far outside of the playoff picture looking in; meanwhile, the Canucks are officially in the race for Rasmus Dahlin. Teams in the NHL don’t throw games, but they do start to get lethargic in their play.

The Panthers are seven games out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. This is the second game of a four-game road trip out west. They won their first game against Edmonton 7-5, and they will be looking to do the same against Vancouver.

The Canucks lack scoring, and it has shown all year long with their horrendous 2.6 goals per game. The defense of the Canucks has also been horrible all year, and it is why they are bottom ten in goals against.

Florida is a team that has struggled all year defensively, but going up against a Canucks team that can’t score I think they should win pretty convincingly. They still have a lot to play for and young scorers Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck will be looking to continue their solid seasons.

 

Featured Image By: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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Eichel

What does the Jack Eichel injury mean for the Buffalo Sabres?

The Sabres will be without superstar Jack Eichel after he sustained a high-ankle sprain Saturday night in Boston. He went for the puck behind the Bruins net and lost an edge. His legs/knees bent awkwardly underneath him as Bruins’ defender Matt Grzelcyk piled on top of him. Watch the video of the injury here.

In Eichel’s third season he was leading the Sabres in goals (22) and assists (31) for a total of 53 points in 55 games. While the team has severely underachieved this season he was on pace for the best season of his career. He was only two goals and two assists short of tying his career-highs. With 27 games left he was surely going to set career-highs in goals, assists, and points.

The timetable for his return is projected to be four to six weeks barring setbacks.

Even Less Scoring

The Sabres sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in not only points, but also in the goals-for category. They’ve scored 132 goals, which is a league worst, three less than the Arizona Coyotes (135). The Coyotes, experiencing a similar underachieving season, sit at the bottom of the Western Conference.

Eichel

Sabres’ leading goalscorer Jack Eichel. Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Buffalo averages only 2.4 goals per game and that number is only expected to decline without Eichel on the ice. He’s accounted for 22 of the teams 132 goals scored, four more than teammate Evander Kane (18). Eichel has scored or assisted on 40 percent of the Sabres’ goals this season, which is an astounding stat.

Not only will they miss his scoring, but they’ll also miss his incredible playmaking abilities. He led the team in assists (31) when he went down on Saturday night. Teammate Kyle Okposo is the next most on the team with 24 assists on the season. Eichel has unbelievable stick skills and is known for making crazy plays/passes that give his teammates chances to score. Without him on the ice expect the playmaking ability of the team to take a significant step back.

Embrace the tank

The team has finished at the bottom or very close the bottom of the NHL over the past few seasons but hasn’t been lucky enough win the draft lottery to secure the first overall pick in the draft. Right now they sit second last in the league with 42 points, ahead of the Coyotes by four points. With Eichel not expected to return until somewhere between March 10th and March 24th, he’ll miss around 14-20 games. Missing their best player on the ice for that many games should help the Sabres lose more games and cement their spot as last in the league. Being dead last in the league gives them the highest percentage to win the draft lottery and secure the number one overall pick.

With the first overall pick the Sabres can draft the unquestioned number one player, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin from Sweden. The team needs a lot of work on defense and by adding another Rasmus to the defensive core, alongside Rasmus Ristolainen, they’ll greatly be improving their team on the back end.

Dahlin took home a silver medal in the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, NY just a few months ago. He impressed throughout the tournament and the Sabres and their fans would be love to see him return to Buffalo for the long-term.

Trade Kane to a contender

Evander Kane has put together a decent season with 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points through 56 games. Kane says he’s focused on the Sabres and not the trade deadline as it’s now less than two weeks away. But he has stated that he desires to get his first taste of playoff hockey in the NHL. He isn’t likely to experience it in Buffalo for at least a few more years.

Eichel

Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

The Sabres should be proactive in regards to embracing the tank, as much as fans hate it, and move Kane to a contender for a decent pick in the upcoming draft. By getting rid of their second best offensive piece behind Eichel, they’re further ensuring they reach the bottom of the NHL standings behind the Coyotes. Plus with getting a pick or two for Kane they can add another young player though the draft that will continue to help the rebuild in Buffalo.

Shut Eichel down for the season

There’s no reason to rush Eichel back this season and risk a set back or even another injury. The team has no chance of making the playoffs, they’ll be mathematically eliminated over the next few games. In the best case scenario he returns with 14 games to play, but in all likelihood he won’t be ready until there’s only 10 or less games to play. With the team missing the playoffs and wanting to be in the best position moving forward in regard to the draft and Eichel’s long-term health, they should shut him down for the season.

The longer off-season will ensure that he returns to full health for next season. Without him on the ice for the remaining 27 games they’ll almost certainly finish last in the league.

The 2017-2018 season is already a lost cause and they need to be looking ahead to the 2018-2019 season.

Give the young guns a chance

With the season having already gotten away from them, the Sabres need to give their future talent a chance to shine on the big stage. C.J. Smith, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, Alexander Nylander, and most notably Casey Mittelstadt, are all names that come to mind.

Eichel

Casey Mittelstadt playing for Team USA. Photo from tipofthetower.com

The group is all current Rochester Americans’ players except Mittelstadt. The Americans’ currently sit in the playoff picture as the season nears the 3/4 mark largely due to these players. While Rochester will want them down the stretch for the playoff push, the Sabres should give them a chance in Buffalo to show off their talent with the chance to continue to play up next season. Mittelstadt mightily impressed in Buffalo during the 2018 World Junior Championships, in college with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and in the USHL.

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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