NHL Betting Preview: Vancouver vs. Toronto

frederik-andersenTonight the Toronto Maple Leafs will want to carry on their good vibes that they’ve been feeling about themselves after winning two games in a row, and try to add to it with a win at home against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks’ scoring has dried up, and they are frustrated with their lack of goals, so they are far from winning games. And coming in to face the young Maple Leafs will be a tough test, since they seem to be high flying and will work hard trying to keep the good times rolling. The Canucks coming in on Saturday night will face a full to the rim Air Canada Centre. The crowd will be quite rowdy since the Leafs just defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 on Thursday night, and just got their first road win of the season.

The Canucks have a record of 4-6-1, and they are quite dejected after losing 1-0 to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. Unfortunately, they have been shut out in four of their past five games, so their sticks need to wake up. In regulation, they’ve lost six in a row and seven straight if you go back to an Oct. 22 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings. League-wide they have scored the least at 17 goals in 11 games.

“They feel that we’re getting chances, we’re just not scoring,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said Friday when asked how his team is handling the slump. “They’ve played the game long enough that they know they will eventually come. If you’re playing poorly it’s tough. It’s hard, too, when you’ve played well and you haven’t got anything. … Our goaltenders have played well, both of them.”

“Right now we’re getting in front of the net, we’re getting to those rebounds but we can’t find a way to score,” Canucks left winger Daniel Sedin said. “But we have to stay positive. Usually when you go through these stretches you’re not playing very well but we are playing well and creating enough chances to score some goals and that’s the frustrating part. I feel we could have won a few of those game.”

The Maple Leafs who’s record is not much better at 4-4-3, but they seem to be on the upswing, and are gaining confidence after their win in Buffalo, who won there for the first time since Jan. 29, 2013, when they won in overtime. Since then, they were stone-walled by them. So it was a very convincing win. And their goalie is starting to get confident too and play like the pro too.

Star youth player Mitch Marner had the first two-goal game in the NHL against Buffalo and will definitely not go back to the minors. He’s excelled on a line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, and they have really clicked.

“We weren’t happy with our last couple of games,” Marner said. “We were giving up too many chances and (Thursday) we just wanted to play sound defensively and get back hard and help the D out. We knew if we played hard D we’d get the chances on offense and luckily it happened.”

“Mitch had a real good game and then hadn’t been as good, Bozak had been sick and James wasn’t skating as good,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, “When they got skating they were better. Everybody got cautious. When you haven’t done a ton of winning and you’re young, you get cautious and you start backing up instead of — the game is way more fun when you’re playing with the puck in the offensive zone. We’ll get that figured out over time as we learn how to win.”

Their secret to winning on Thursday was the goaltending of their Frederik Andersen. After some tough mistakes and losses, he made 42 saves against the Sabres, and stopped 44 shots in a 3-2 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. So this week has been good for him.

“He’s gotten his confidence, obviously,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “You can see why we made the move for him, he’s a big-time goaltender and he’s going to give us confidence as time goes on.”

So Vancouver will come in knowing what they are facing in the young and powerful Maple Leafs. “They’ve got their focus on coming with a lot of energy every night and that’s why they’re hard to play against,” Coach Willie Desjardins said.

Keys to the Game:

The Sedins have to show up against the Leafs’ youth. Yesterday both Daniel and Henrik Sedin said they need to step up their games to help the Canucks get out of the hole they’ve dug themselves. But can the older, struggling Canucks match up against the Leafs youth and speed? Mitch Marner and William Nylander are tough to catch and it won’t be easy.

Leafs goaltender Freddy Andersen needs to keep up with the burden of 40+ shots, but it seems he thrives on the challenge. He’s put up a 7-1 record in the past eight games in which he faced more than 40 shots. But the Leafs will need to play better defense to make it easier on Andersen, and make the Canucks take their shots from the perimeter.

The Leafs have had a hard time putting an opponent to rest in the third period. And the Canucks, who can’t win or score, means they should be able to add to their misery. The Leafs cannot take them lightly though.

Giving up as too many shots is the Leafs problem, and the way they give up goals worries Babcock. His skill players have the green light to create offence with their skill and speed, which is their advantage over many opponents but they turn the puck over a lot and that run and gun style can bite them back hard, however.

Star Toronto centre, Auston Matthews hasn’t gotten a point in his past five games. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. He’s still getting chances and a lot of shots, he got a team-high four shots Thursday in Buffalo. So a Saturday night of national play on Hockey Night In Canada will probably boost his confidence and get him on the score sheet.

Are the Canucks really as bad as their last seven games? Will the Leafs stretch their modest winning streak to three, or can the Canucks, who are desperate for the win, get it against a group of inexperienced teens? We think youth will get the last laugh.

Prediction: Leafs over Canucks, 5-4