Whereas the week prior was West Coast Waffle Week, let this upcoming stretch of games be known as Loser Bracket Week. Including the win over the league worst New Jersey Devils in front of a crowd of dozens on Sunday, the Leafs have four straight games against teams currently out of the playoffs picture. New Jersey, Carolina, Columbus, Ottawa. What was the opposite of the Yankee’s Murderer’s Row back in the 20’s? Regardless this stretch of teams that can be called anything but elite would be a great time for the Leafs to pull their asses out of their heads and get on that 63 points in 48 games pace they’ll need to reach the playoffs. Or it could be just the opportunity they need to drop 3 of 4 "easy" ones forcing Burke to make good on his "make a trade for Wilson’s sake" promise, thus setting this team back yet another year. For the love of all that is holy, please win these games.
Tonight, the Buds will get their best opportunity on the week to get one as the Hurricanes find themselves losers of 3 straight with only 5 goals to show for their "effort". Leading the way as always for Carolina is captain Eric Staal who leads the team in goals (16) and points (34). Last year’s surprise 30 goal scorer Jussi Jokinen has regressed to the mean this season and is on pace for only 15. Ouch. However rookie Jeff Skinner has helped pick up the slack with 8 goals and 17 assists, giving him a tie for the rookie scoring race along with Logan Couture. He’ll be centering Carolina’s 2nd line tonight and should be lined up across from the Kadri-Bozak-Kessel line for most of the line. I haven’t heard much about Skinner’s defensive game so hopefully that means it’s lacking and the KBK line can finally get something going tonight.
Though even if they are able to manhandle Carolina’s forwards, Cam Ward may ultimately have the last say. Because of the small market in Carolina and the team’s struggle to win in front of him, Ward’s having a quiet but fantastic season. He’s tied for 4th in the league with a .925 save% but has a 2.58 GAA because the Hurricane’s give up 34.2 shots a game, "good" for 28th in the league. Again, more good news for the Leafs as that’s nearly a full 6 shots above their season average of only 28.8 pucks put on net a game. The Leafs desperately need to take advantage of Carolina’s pourous defensive play tonight otherwise it’ll be the Cam Ward show and we won’t like it. Speaking of porous defense, former Leafs Ian White makes his first return to the ACC tonight after getting dealt in the Phaneuf deal last season and subsequently getting dealt to Carolina for Anton Babchuk earlier this season. I have no idea if he’s still rocking an awesome mustache, so watch closely because should it be there above his lip, it truly is a thing of beauty.
On the other side of the ice, the Leafs just arrived in Toronto this morning after being stranded in the Armpit of America, New Jersey, on account of Mother Nature being really pissed off at New Jersey and dumping nearly 3 feet of snow in less than 24 hours. Hopefully being stuck on a bus for 3+ hours didn’t give the Leafs cabin fever, although if it did, one hopes they ate Brett Lebda for sustinance Alive! style. The lineup looks to remain the same, though with Wilson you never know until the pucks drops. With Lebda out of the lineup on Sunday, the Leafs cruised to a 4-1 victory, so obviously Wilson will do what he’s done all season and screw up a working formula by sitting Gunnarsson for Lebda tonight. Jonas Gustavsson looks to get the start in net tonight meaning Thursday’s game against Columbus could be James Reimer’s first NHL start. Something to watch for sure.
The key to tonight’s game will be getting shots on Ward and getting a lot of them. SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!!!
GO LEAFS GO!