The Toronto Maple Leafs have played well to start the season, managing to win six of their first eight games. They’ll need to play their best game of the season on Saturday as they travel to Chicago to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. If they’re going to be considered a contender, they have to win these types of high-profile games.
The Blackhawks have had the edge in this Original Six rivalry, winning their last seven meetings with the Maple Leafs. People making their sports picks should note that the Blackhawks have also won three in a row at home against Toronto, so the Maple Leafs have to put that out of their head going into this massive early-season game.
The Toronto Maple Leafs can win because…
They have been getting quality goaltending, which is especially important when considering the Maple Leafs have been getting outshot much of the time. Jonathan Bernier has wrestled the No. 1 spot away from James Reimer, posting a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage in six games. While Reimer’s numbers aren’t as good (3.17 GAA, .917 save percentage), he saved Toronto in a 4-1 win over Minnesota in which they were outshot 37-14. It wouldn’t be in the Maple Leafs’ best interest to get outshot like that against Chicago but they should have confidence that their goalies can steal the game if necessary.
It also helps if you can score your way out of trouble. Toronto is second in the NHL with 28 goals a game, led by six from Joffrey Lupul while James van Riemsdyk and Mason Raymond have five and four, respectively. Phil Kessel has just two goals but is tied for the team lead in assists with six. The top two lines in Toronto is proving to be just as good as any in the league right now.
Check out the NHL Picks of the Day for Saturday, here.
The Chicago Blackhawks can win because…
They have a lot of motivation coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis, which came at home. The Blackhawks have yet to lose in regulation at home, winning three times while coming away with a pair of losses in overtime. Handicappers making their NHL picks know that they have been generally pretty good at the United Center over the last couple of seasons. They’re up against a team that is 3-0-0 on the road in the Maple Leafs but the Blackhawks also have the mental edge of dominating Toronto over the past few years. While you can’t really quantify that, ask the players, it is in the back of their minds as they hit the ice.
While the offense in front of him has been a bit inconsistent to start the season, the Blackhawks have been getting great goalie play from Corey Crawford, who has a 2.25 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Crawford is under a lot of pressure coming off his Cup run with Chicago, who signed him to a six-year, $36 million deal in September. There are also many that expect him to push for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. So far, he is living up to the expectations.
Outlook & Pick
The goaltending for both teams is playing well right now but a total of five is too low for these teams. The Blackhawks have lots of weapons on offense while the Leafs offense has been playing well all season. Go over on the NHL odds.
NHL Pick: Over 5 at Bovada