MAPLE LEAFS(13-12-7) at COYOTES (11-17-5)
9:00 pm (SN Ontario)
The Toronto Maple Leafs head to Arizona for their final game before the Christmas break tonight after drubbing the Colorado Avalanche last night in Denver to the tune of 6-0. The Leafs chased Avalanche starter Seymon Varlamov after Frederick Gauthier scored his first career NHL goal to make it 5-0 for the Blue and White at the 8:42 mark of the second period.
The last time Toronto and Arizona played was at the Air Canada Centre on December 15th, where the Leafs fell 3-2 to the Coyotes in a shootout with none other than former Leaf Peter Holland scoring the winner. Tonight’s rematch comes on the tail end of back to back games where Toronto has gone winless this season in such games. But the stars could be aligning for that to change tonight.
Auston Matthews, who is making his hometown debut tonight, comes into the game on a torrid goal scoring pace. Since busting out of a 12 game scoring slump he has tallied 10 goals in the 13 games since, putting the Leafs young center on a pace for 41 goals in his rookie year. He will be a highly motivated player tonight playing in front of friends and family in the rink he dreamed of playing in as a kid.
Another factor that could lead to the Leafs breaking the back to back loss streak is that the Coyotes are a banged up group and their record this season has not met expectations going 11-17-5 through their first 33 games. Arizona will be without center Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) and left winger Max Domi (hand) and are both out indefinitely. Toronto will be without Tyler Bozak (lower body) and Ben Smith (hand).
Matthews return isn’t the only story this evening though. Shane Doan, the face of the Arizona Coyotes, will be playing in his 1500th NHL game tonight and will also be looking to score the 400th goal of his career. Not many players have reached these milestones and Doan has the opportunity to hit both on the same evening.
Tonight will be a fun night for everyone but let’s not lose sight of how important this game is for the Leafs. A win tonight would keep the team in the hunt for a playoff spot and allow them to go into the Christmas break on a high note and feeling good about themselves. The schedule doesn’t get any easier after Christmas either as they have another set of back to back games coming out of the break against Florida on December 28th and Tampa Bay on the 29th.
The Leafs must find a way to start winning these games and as such Mike Babcock has elected to go back to Frederick Andersen in goal tonight. After shutting out the woeful Avalanche last night, Andersen
improved his record to 13-8 with a 2.55 GAA and .921 Sv%. Incredible considering how he struggled through the month of October.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
van Riemsdyk – Kadri – Marner
Hyman – Matthews – Brown
Komarov – Gauthier – Soshnikov
Martin – Froese – Nylander
Rielly – Zaitsev
Gardiner – Carrick
Hunwick – Polak
Crouse – Hanzal – Vrbata
McGin – Holland – Duclair
Rieder – Martinook – Doan
Perlini – Dvorak – Jooris
Ekman-Larsson – Barrie
Goligoski – Stone
Connauton – Schenn
Auston Matthews — Morning Skate — 12/23/2016