CanadianRugby Posted December 5, 2016 Share Posted December 5, 2016 http://theprovince.com/sports/hockey/nhl/vancouver-canucks/ed-willes-leafs-reno-on-pace-while-canucks-lagging-behind#comments For an early December game between a pair of 12th-placed teams, the Saturday night special between the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks served up any number of ready-made storylines. There was revenge factor, which led to a bruising heavyweight fight between the Canucks’ Erik Gudbrandson and the Leafs’ Matt Martin, the kind of scrap that used to be an integral part of the game but is no more, even if it can bring 18,000 fans to their feet. There was a sublime goaltending performance by the Canucks’ Ryan Miller, who turned aside 38 of 40 shots as the Canucks squeaked out a 3-2 shootout win. There was even the predictable drama created by the legion of Leafs’ fans in attendance, full-throated and fully invested, creating a charged atmosphere in a building which is usually flatter than pee on a plate. So you can take your choice of those topics as you contemplate the events in and around a noteworthy night at The Rog. But if you were looking for something not quite as obvious; something subtler but more meaningful, we call your attention to the two lineups and what that says about the direction of the Leafs, the Canucks, and the NHL for that matter. It’s like this. Between the two teams, there were 10 players aged 22 or under and three more aged 23. These included the dazzling Auston Matthews, the Leafs’ 19-year-old superstar in the making who scored the tying goal, 19-year-old Mitch Marner, who dominated the game for stretches, and the Canucks’ 21-year-old Bo Horvat, who scored the shootout winner while logging 20:40 of ice time. Gudbrandson, by way of comparison, is just 24, but in this brave new world, he sometimes feels like Grampa Simpson. “The game has changed and it’s happened really quickly,” Gudbrandson said. “I’ve seen huge changes since I came into the league and it’s only been six years.” Horvat, who’s in his third year, was asked if he’s now a grizzled veteran. “It feels like it,” he said, before adding, “Every team has some young skilled guys who are going to be around the league for a long time. This is just the beginning. They’re going to be the stars. They already seem to be the stars now.” But where does that leave the Canucks? That’s just one of the questions that’s going to be answered this season as they continue their makeover, but the images from Saturday night were telling. There were long stretches in the nationally televised tilt in which the Canucks were simply overmatched. True, they had things under control for the first half of the game, opening a 2-0 lead with some tidy work. But after the Leafs’ James van Riemsdyk scored on a power play midway through the second frame, the ice was tilted to an illogical degree. Over the third period and overtime the Canucks were outshot 18-5. Matthews had five shots, including the tying goal. Marner had four. JVR had six. And there were another 20 shots that missed the net. “We had lots of open nets,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. “We just didn’t shoot it in.” Oh. “We have a lot of good young players who are starting to come,” Babcock continued. “We have eight rookies. That’s a lot of rookies. We’re trying to hold them accountable, catching them doing it right and make sure they know they right way to do it.” The Leafs, moreover, are just a couple of years down this path, but already look to be far ahead of the Canucks. OK, this year’s draft lottery helped their rebuild immeasurably, and you’re invited to contemplate the role blind luck plays in these endeavours. The Leafs’ went into the lotto with a 20 per cent chance of drawing the first pick. The Canucks were 11.5 for first overall and 11.4 for second. Put Matthews or Patrik Laine in their lineup today and it changes everything for this franchise. But it’s the Leafs with the Golden Child while the Canucks try to hammer away at their renovation; hoping they can make incremental gains throughout the lineup, hoping they can get get lucky with a couple of big things. It’s possible, one supposes, and there are some encouraging signs this year. Troy Stecher has been a revelation. Nikita Tryamkin has solidified his place in the lineup. Those two players change the entire look of the blueline, which isn’t a bad place to start. But it’s not enough, not based on what we saw on Saturday night, not based on what’s going on in so many cities around the NHL. After a half century, it finally looks like the Leafs’ day is coming. In Vancouver, we wait. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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