On paper, there’s very little reason to think the Blackhawks will lose on Friday night when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Hawks are playing well, have a powerful offense, and their defense has been outstanding. Toronto, meanwhile, has been outscored by more than one goal per game so far, doesn’t play much defense, and has trouble scoring.
Friday night should be a layup for the Hawks… which is why it’s a dangerous trap game that could cost the Hawks points if they take Toronto for granted.
Sunday night, which is also Jeremy Roenick Heritage Night at the United Center, the Hawks host the top team in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks. That game will serve as a good benchmark to close the first quarter of the season, letting the Hawks know how they stack up against the leaders in the conference.
Toronto comes to Chicago playing as well as they have all year, having won two of their last three. Granted, one was at a Carolina team that might be one of the worst teams in recent memory, but beating the Detroit Red Wings is nothing to be ashamed of.
Allowing five goals to Minnesota on Tuesday is worthy of shame, but beating the Red Wings 5-1 last Saturday is a good effort for a last place team.
Jonas Gustavsson certainly deserves better than the 3-3-3 record he’s posted this season. His .912 save percentage is good enough to win more than three games, while his 2.77 goals against average is as much an indication of the poor defense in front of him as it isa reflection of his goaltending.
The irony in Toronto is that their best player is Tomas Kaberle, a defenseman. But he’s more in the mold of Brian Campbell than Brent Seabrook, which is why Toronto has struggled at the blue line this year. Mike Komisarek was placed on the IR on Thursday with a quad injury, and is expected to miss a number of weeks.
Kaberle has been a machine for Toronto, though. He already has 11 power play assists this year among his 20 points through just 16 games. His names has floated through a handful of trade rumors already this year because of his production (and $4 million cap number). In fact, he’s been mentioned in rumors involving the Blackhawks.
But even with a good Kaberle and a solid Gustavsson, the Blackhawks should smoke the Leafs on Friday night.
The issue the Hawks, like any young team, has is overlooking an inferior opponent when they have a strong test just 48 hours later. Toronto might not be a very good hockey team, but they’re still professionals. If the Hawks take them for granted, like they did with Vancouver in October, they could lose the game and players to injury.