Just as many differences as similarities; Leafs vs Hawks
March 18, 2017, 2:00 PM ET [108 Comments]
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The dynamic duo of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have frequently drawn comparisons to their idols, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews and winger Patrick Kane, but in spite of the two young franchise cornerstones potentially developing into the ‘it’ duo of the next generation, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a way to go before they’ll reach the Hawks lofty heights.
“Those two guys, I loved watching what they do and pick apart what they do and see if I can translate it to my game.” Matthews said on Saturday.“(Toews) is a complete player, he plays 200 feet on the ice. He doesn’t take a game or a shift off.”
Marner has been compared to Kane since his days with the London Knights and received high praise from the Hart Trophy winner, who said on Friday that the 19-year-old rookie is probably a better two-way player than he is.
“(Kane) is a guy I watched a lot of his games. It’s going to be fun lining up against him again tonight.” Marner said of his fellow London Knights alum. “He always got so many tricks up his sleeve.”
The two clubs meet at Air Canada Centre on Saturday at decided different stages in their development. Chicago leads the Western Conference with 95 points and is battling Minnesota for the Central Division title and for home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Toronto is in a life-and-death struggle for the second Eastern Conference wildcard spot, one point ahead of Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders.
“(Hawks coach Joel Quenneville) told me the same thing this morning, he said ‘you remind me of us nine years ago’. Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after the morning skate. “In the meantime, they’ve won three Cups and they’ve kept it going, they’ve found a way to change up players.”
The Hawks won their first Cup four years after picking Toews third overall and three years after winning the lottery to chose Kane first overall, but almost as important as their contributions were years of drafting and developing a defensive corps(Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson), depth at forward (Dave Bolland, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer) and adding key free agents (Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa) to put the club over the top.
Toronto may have the forwards that will develop into effective support players for Matthews and Marner, but only Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev appear to have the quality that could be part of a Leafs championship defense.
GM Lou Lamoriello will try to upgrade his club this summer and going forward, but their path to success will only mimic the Blackhawks if Toronto is as successful in developing youngsters as Chicago has been and the Leafs are as fortunate to acquire difference makers like Hossa in free agency or in a trade.
Josh Leivo replaced James van Riemsdyk on a line with Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner at the morning skate on Saturday, but Babcock indicated that the veteran winger will play against Chicago.
The defensive pairings remained the same, as Alexey Marchenko skated with Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev played with Jake Gardiner. Connor Carrick participated fully, but was paired with Martin Marincin.
The Hawks will not have Artem Anisimov in the lineup and head coach Joel Quenneville announced that winger Marian Hossa would be a scratch due to a lower body injury.
Frederik Andersen makes his sixth straight start, while Corey Crawford will be in goal for Chicago.