January 06 2011 12:11PM
The St. Louis Blues love playing in Toronto. In their last 10 games playing there, St. Louis has a record of 8-0-2. Ho boy. That's some bad juju tonight for the Leafs, something they've had too much of this season. Added to the bad vibes, it's the first time former Leafs Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo, two former 1st rounders, make their return to the ACC after getting dealt two seasons ago for
Lee Stempniak a 4th and 7th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Thanks Uncle Cliff! (Note: 5 days after the trade for Stempniak was made, Brian Burke became the Leafs new GM. Think he makes that trade? I don't.) Surprisingly, Steen and Carlo aren't the only former Maple Leafs first rounders on the Blues; Brad Boyes, selected 24th by the Leafs in 2000, is another key contributer for the Blues. There is no more widely known fact about the Leafs that when former players come back to the ACC they go bananas. Expect those three to combine for an Ovechtrick tonight.
Book it. Done.
And who's going to help faciliate 9 goals for the opposition tonight? None other than the Maple Leafs 2010-11 whipping boy Brett Lebda who is coming down from the pressbox for the first time in 3 games. Taking his place, Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnar's hit the sophomore slump hard, but what more could be expected from him for the minutes and situations he plays and the greater struggles of the team?
But back to Lebda. He blows chunks. For reals. Also getting his first start in 2 games is Jonas Gustavsson who will take his place between the pipes tonight with James Reimer going tomorrow against Atlanta. The Monster has the unfortunate circumstance of being the Leafs player who has fallen furthest from grace. His great and dependable play from earlier this season has deteriorated into sub .900 goaltending and brought about questions about his future with the Leafs.
Hopefully this is more a sympton of overuse and fatigue and not a testament to his true talent.
If Brian Burke could select his perfect team, his prime example of a tough working man's team, it would be the St. Louis Blues. They have no stand out superstars, but a lot of above-average players who play hard nosed hockey with good results.
They have only 2 players with 10 or more goals (the Leafs have 5), but have 12 with 5+ (the Leaf have 6). That's scoring by committee at it's finest. Their backend is a lot like Toronto's as well with bluechip dmen in Pietrangelo, Johnson, and Brewer who are great at holding down the fort in front of the hero for last year's Canadien's playoff team, Jaroslav Halak who has proved that last year was not a flash in the pan to the tune of 15 wins and a .914 save %.
With such a good base of young, skille players, things are looking pretty good for St. Louis' future in the NHL. Pretty sure they give Burke a hardon. Just my guess.
The Blues comes into tonight's game as a team seeming to be better than the standings say they are. They currently sit in a tie for 8th in the Western Conference, though they have games in hand over LA and Chicago who only have 45 points. When you look at the stats, you'd think St. Louis would be near the top.
4th in the league in shots for, 33.2. 5th in the league in shots against, 28.2. 11th in goals against per game, 2.66. But where they are having trouble is in having those shots convert to goals. They are 19th in the league in goals per game with 2.58, meaning that as a team they only shoot at a 7.7% accuracy. That's ridiculous and totally unsubstainable over the course of a season.
That number can realistically only go up and therefore so will the goals and their standing. This is a very dangerous team.
The path to victory for the Leafs tonight starts and end with goaltending, which has been their bane this season. If Gustavsson puts up another sub .900 night, St. Louis walks away with a win. He's got to shake off whatever funk he was and return to earlier season form.
The offense has begun to wake up, it's time he followed suit. Speaking of the offense, John Mitchell injured his knee in the pressbox sometime last week and is going to be on the IR for 4-6 weeks. Mike Brown looks to have healed his hand and is practicing with the team again, though there is no word if he'll suit up for tonight's game Orr who would sit for him when he does. Other than Lebda, there are no other lineup changes for the Leafs.
I've got a feeling this will be a barnburner for one team tonight to the tune of a 4-1 game. Let's hope it's the Leafs emerging victorious.