It’s all ugly, any way you look at it.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost eight games in a row against their division rivals from Beantown, and the Boston Bruins have outscored them an incredible 41-12.
In their past 35 meetings, meanwhile, the Leafs have won just five times in regulation, a stretch of futility that ranks up with the worst of any NHL team against any other in that span, which dates back to February of 2007.
Boston has scored an average of 3.80 goals per game on Toronto in that six-year stretch, terrorizing Leafs goaltenders more than even former Bruin Phil Kessel, who as has been documented ad nauseam, has been a no-show against his former team.
If there’s a silver lining – it’s a small one – it’s that the Leafs have been better against the Bruins this season, losing both games in tight contests in a sign they may finally be turning a corner against them.
Which is a good thing given they begin a stretch of two pivotal games, back to back, Saturday and Monday against the Bruins and desperately needing points to keep pace in the Eastern Conference race.
“They don’t do a lot of things wrong,” Leafs youngster Nazem Kadri said. “Especially when they have hot goaltending, it’s tough to beat them.”
“They’re probably the closest team to playing 60 minutes every night in the league,” teammate Clarke MacArthur added.
The Bruins may have signalled their arrival as an elite team when they won the Cup in 2010, but they’ve been very strong ever since and managed to keep that cast together unlike many other recent winners.
Boston is 20-6-3 this season with the second best goals-against average and No. 1 penalty kill in the league, perennially getting some of the best goaltending regardless of who’s in goal.
In Saturday’s game, that will fall to rookie Anton Khudobin, who may be the backup but still has an impressive 6-2-0 record and .925 save percentage in the few starts he’s made.
While many will point to Zdeno Chara as the key focal point of this Bruins team (and with good reason), Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul says what he sees every time he plays Boston is a cast of veterans that is just savvy at both ends of the rink.
That’s backed up by their puck possession metrics, which are some of the best in the league.
“They’re one of the few teams in the league I would call a true veteran team,” said Lupul, who will miss the final game of a two-game suspension on Saturday, a big loss given how he has played since returning from a broken arm. “Their best players are all veterans and you look around at other teams and the league’s getting younger and younger and frankly I think a lot of teams miss those role players.
“They’re veteran guys and they don’t make mistakes. And it’s all the way down their roster. And I think that’s one of their strengths.
Their depth is a big strength.”
Lupul, however, also argued that the Leafs – with the addition of players like James Van Riemsdyk and Kadri’s emergence – have begun to close that gap.
“I think that’s the difference between our team this year and last year,” Lupul said. “We’re a lot deeper this year. We’re a tougher team to defend now.
“They’re definitely a team that we respect a lot, but a team that we’ve got to start challenging a little bit if we want to take that next step into that level of teams into the Bostons and Pittsburghs of the world instead of the Winnipegs and Islanders. You’ve got to start winning those games, especially in their building. That’s the next step for us.”
- Leo Komarov was placed on injured reserve on Saturday, opening a hole for Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton to come into the lineup on Mikhail Grabovski’s line. Hamilton is a very big guy with 30 goals in
56 AHL games this season, but his skating has always been the one thing holding him back from being an NHL regular. “He’s always the hardest worker on the ice,” defenceman Jake Gardiner said.
- With Komarov out and Lupul suspended, the Leafs will have no choice other than to play both tough guys on their fourth line. As we saw against Buffalo on Thursday, that can create problems when there are injuries, as coach Randy Carlyle was reluctant to use Frazer McLaren in a close game late, leaving him with only nine forwards.
- James Reimer will get his third straight start as Carlyle tries to find a set No. 1 goalie to go with down the stretch here. He is 3-4-0 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .912 save percentage against the Bruins in his career.
- One other Leafs-related item: Amanda Kessel, Phil's sister, was named the top female player in NCAA hockey on Saturday, winning the
2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. She had 97 points in 36 games with the University of Minnesota, where her brother played his only college season.
The Leafs full lineup Saturday will likely look like so:
JVR – Bozak – Kessel
MacArthur – Kadri – Kulemin
Hamilton – Grabovski – Frattin
McLaren – McClement – Orr
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Fraser - Franson
Liles – Gardiner