MAPLE LEAFS (17-20-7)
It’s a clash of the titans . . . said nobody for tonights game. The Carolina Hurricanes will come storming into the ACC Thursday night looking to even the season series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The last time these 2 teams met the Leafs were able to squeak out a 2-1 shoot out win way back on Nov 20, 2015.
Preseason predictions had the Hurricanes finishing just above the Leafs in the standings. So far that fact has turned out to be true. Just like Toronto, Carolina is a young team with a boat load of future potential and in the midst of rebuilding back to contention.
After a modest 4 game win streak Carolina is looking to snap their current 3 game skid and now have to do it without the services of starting goaltender Cam Ward. The 31 year old has been placed under the NHL concussion protocol and on injured reserve. According to Hurricanes GM Ron Francis it is unclear exactly when the injury occurred or what a schedule for return would be.
What is known is that backup goaltender Eddie Lack will likely fill in the starters role for the foreseeable future. His 2.97 GAA and SV% of 0.891 must be a concern for second year coach Bill Peters. Carolina is currently sitting 3 points out of the last wild card playoff spot and losing Ward is a blow to Carolina’s playoff chances.
Justin Faulk leads the team in scoring with 32 points. Of his 14 goals though 12 have come on the power play. Another area of concern for the coach as Carolina is goal challenged and needs Faulk to improve his 5 on 5 offensive game. Left winger Jeff Skinner is enjoying a bounce back year over 2014-2015 when he finished with a meager 31 points in 77 games. At his current pace he looks to be finishing the year around the 30 goal mark. Captain Eric Staal is also looking to finish strong. He is playing in the final year of his contract and is looking to cash in one last time. At 31 years and a steady decline in offensive numbers he will be hard pressed to receive another contract in the elite range from any team let alone from Carolina. Trade talks have been linked to Toronto as well as half the other NHL teams. Staal’s $8.25M cap hit is a barrier to a trade prior to the Feb 29 trade deadline. There is little info coming from Staal or the hockey club on a contract extension. Carolina is in a real jam as there is a real risk of losing their captain to unrestricted free agency in July and receive nothing in return.
Although listed as day-to-day James van Riemsdyk is not expected back to the lineup for another 6 weeks. Toronto is 1-3 without him in the lineup. A small sample size of his impact being out of the lineup but an indicator none the less. Social media blew up with the news of his injury. Many in Leafs Nation (fans, writers, experts . . . ) believe the tank for last overall is now in full swing.
Once again Leafs hearts were broken by a last minute Marchand game winner last Saturday night. A collective groan could be heard throughout Leafs Nation. Not again right? It was a valuable lesson learned in playing smart for an entire 60 minutes. That had been followed up by a Leafs win Tuesday night against Philadelphia with . . . . wait for it . . . a last minute goal by Matt Hunwick. It was his first goal of the season and his first as a Maple Leaf.
This could be a showcase game for James Reimer. With no contract extension on the horizon and pending free agency on July 1st, Reimer has played well enough to garner looks from other teams prior to the trade deadline. He will be looking to cash in handsomely after completing his 2 year show me deal. With part of the Shana-plan being to stock up on draft picks Reimer could fetch a decent return in a trade.
After scoring his first goal in 13 games Lupul will need to continue that trend. Quietly people have been expecting the talented and underachieving forward to step up in JVR’s absence. Bozak continues to enjoy success without winger Phil Kessel but also needs to step up and produce more. As Leafs veterans there is a justified expectation for both players to show leadership in the face of adversity.
It was 1 year and 1 day ago when Carolina captain Stall aimed an empty net slap shot at Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf. It was an in your face type of play and Phaneuf chose to take the high road and not retaliate. There is absolutely no love lost between these two. They simply do not like each other. Will there be retribution tonight? Keep an eye on both captains as that should be a game within the game offering further entertainment value.
TODAY’S NEWS – Beloved Dave Keon has ended his decades long feud with the Leafs. He will be honoured pre-game Saturday vs Montreal and will be receiving his rightful place on Leafs Legends Row with his own statue next October. Stay tuned to LeafsHub.com for more details.
Enjoy the game tonight.
Shawn Matthias – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Joffrey Lupul – Peter Holland – Brad Boyes
Daniel Winnik – Byron Froese – Rich Clune
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak
Kris Versteeg – Eric Staal – Elias Lindholm
Joakim Nordstrom – Jordan Staal – Andrej Nestrasil
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Phillip Di Giuseppe
Brad Malone – Jay McClement – Nathan Gerbe
John-Michael Liles – Justin Faulk
Noah Hanifin – Ron Hainsey
Michal Jordan – Jaccob Slavin
Gdiff (5v5) — -8
Gdiff (All) — -13
CF% (5v5) — 49.9
PP% — 16.5
PK% — 79.7
Gdiff (5v5) — -15
Gdiff (All) — -17
CF% (5v5) — 53.2
PP% — 17.4
PK% — 80.7