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Northern Exposure: Kraken Visit Toronto

With rumors of a Giordano trade still swirling, Seattle takes on the Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs v Seattle Kraken Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

What: Seattle Kraken at Toronto Maple Leafs

Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

When: Tuesday, March 8, 2022; 4:30pm PST

Wait, who are we playing? Landlubber’s Guide to the Toronto Maple Leafs

Coverage

Local TV: ROOT Sports NW

Streaming: ESPN+

Local Radio: 950 AM KJR

SiriusXM: Channel 222

Last Time Out

It was the same sad story for the Kraken when the Leafs visited Climate Pledge Arena back in mid-February: giving up a goal in the first 5 minutes; allowing more than half of the Toronto roster to notch a point; using both goalies but failing to reach the .800 save percentage mark; I could go on, but you’ve heard this story before. Final score 6-2 Toronto.

Stats, Streaks, & Droughts

As of this writing the Leafs occupy third place in the Atlantic Division, and enjoy the safe playoff spot that accompanies that position. They are five points behind the first place Florida Panthers, but also only three points ahead of the fourth-place Boston Bruins. A mere eight points is the difference between getting the top seed in the Atlantic division and settling for a wild card spot in the playoffs.

There is absolutely no way to predict which Toronto Maple Leafs team will show up on any given night. In the last 10 games they have beaten the Minnesota Wild — but lost to both the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres by a combined score of 10-3; they defeated the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins — but lost to the Vancouver Canucks, and split a pair of one-goal games with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Leafs are 5-4-1 in their last 10, the highlight (or low-light?) of that stretch being the chaotic 10-7 win over Detroit, a team that they should have bulldozed with ease. It’s a coin flip as to which club will take the ice against Seattle.

The Kraken, for their part, snapped a seven-game losing streak last week with a come-from-behind win over Nashville. Head Coach Dave Hakstol debuted some new line combinations for that outing, and three of the four lines ended up scoring. Those lines didn’t last long, for the best reason possible: Jaden Schwartz and Jared McCann both returned to the lineup. It didn’t matter, as neither managed to crack the scoresheet as Seattle lost to Washington 5-2 on Saturday, then dropped a hard-fought battle to the Hurricanes 3-2 the following night.

Noteworthy in the last several games were the droughts broken by Colin Blackwell, who scored twice in two games after going without a point in the previous seven; Alex Wennberg, who tallied against both Nashville and Carolina following a 19-game goalless streak; and Morgan Geekie, who scored against San Jose, ending a 20-game goal drought dating back to mid-December. And Calle Järnkrok quietly continues to make his presence known on the scoresheet, with 5+5=10 in his last 12 games.

Players To Watch

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years, I don’t have to tell you who the impact players are for the Leafs. We start with Auston Matthews, who has 40 goals and 72 points through 53 games, including 7+6=13 in his last 7 outings...

Next is Mitch Marner, with 60 points in 47 games, including a natural hat trick (plus one more for good measure) in that calamitous tilt against the Red Wings...

Then there’s John Tavares, who is having a “down year” with just 52 points in 55 games, but did just end a 14-game goal drought with this one against Vancouver...

And finally William Nylander, a franchise winger on most teams in the league, but relegated to playing 4th violin behind the three guys I just mentioned...

And it doesn’t even end there. If you manage to neutralize all four of those guys, you still have to deal with Michael Bunting. In what is really his first full season in the NHL, Bunting has come out of nowhere to notch 20 goals and 25 assists. However when you have guys like Matthews and Marner feeding you sauce every night, I suppose your job’s pretty easy:

Injuries, Illnesses, Additions, & Scratches

Toronto has a couple of major names out of the lineup at present. Forward Ondrej Kase had 23 points in 44 games before sustaining an upper-body injury; he is on Injured Reserve. Defenseman Rasmus Sandin is out with a non-COVID illness, his timeline for return is unknown. But the biggest hole in the roster is the one left by blue line stalwart Jake Muzzin, who sustained his second concussion in as many months back in February. He has been placed on LTIR, and his absence has the Leafs’ front office scrambling to add at least one defenseman before the deadline. More on that in a minute.

For Seattle, Brandon Tanev remains out for the season; but with McCann and Schwartz returning from injury, that leaves 13th forward Karson Kuhlman as the only company for Turbo on Injured Reserve. There is nobody on LTIR, and thankfully nobody is in COVID-19 protocol for Seattle.

The only other noteworthy roster change is the departure of Kraken Legend Austin Czarnik, claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders by the Kraken on February 8th, as he returned to Long Island via that same waiver wire on Sunday afternoon. Fair winds and following seas to you, lad.

Odds & Ends

  • As mentioned above, with the Leafs dipping their toes in the trade waters trying to bolster a depleted blue line corps, the rumors of Kraken captain Mark Giordano ending the season wearing a Toronto jersey continue to swirl. Giordano is from Toronto, playing his youth hockey with North York and Richmond Hill. Wherever he ends up, expect the Kraken to retain salary in the transaction, and demand a king’s ransom in return.
  • Spring is in the air, and that means you can count on two things: the Leafs’ goaltending cratering; and doubts about the Leafs’ goalies being able to mount a successful playoff run flying wildly in the Canadian press. Backup Petr Mrazek has a 3.53 GAA and .890 save percentage in his last five outings. Starter Jack Campbell is also slumping — he has allowed 20 (twenty!) goals over his last 280 minutes of play, good for a 4.26 GAA and .876 save percentage. Compare that to his best stretch of five games which came back in late October, when a mere 8 goals squeaked past him on 159 shots — good for a 1.60 GAA and .949 SV% — and you understand why Leafs pundits are losing their minds. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas is unlikely to make any changes between the pipes before the playoffs. But if his club can’t get past the first round, that decision may just seal his doom.
  • It may seem defeatist, but with the Kraken out of any playoff probability the only thing left to do this year is lose enough games to secure the best chance to select #1 overall in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Toronto can help Seattle out a lot in that regard: if they would be so kind as to beat the Kraken and then roll over dead for the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday that would put Seattle 2 points closer to drafting consensus #1 Shane Wright in early July.