Maple Leafs look to end mini slump with a win against Michael Bunting and the Hurricanes

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
1 month ago
It’s not a secret that the last five games have been rough for the Toronto Maple Leafs. With a 1-3-1 record in those five games against inferior competition, Toronto finally sees themselves matched up with a team with Stanley Cup aspirations again in the Carolina Hurricanes.
After dropping their first game out of the Christmas break 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators and then losing how they did in last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-5 in overtime, it’s safe to say Toronto is desperate for two points, but so is their competition.
It’s been a weird season for Toronto up to this point. From the countless injuries on the blue line for the second straight year to the struggles of Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll taking the unofficial official starters role to getting injured in a game against Ottawa in early December, the Maple Leafs have rolled out their third-string goalie and a blue line consisting of three to four depth/AHL defensemen for the majority of the season.
However, that being the case, the team has a record of 17-9-7, which is good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division with some games in hand. But if it wasn’t for the countless struggles with Samsonov, I think it’s safe to say their record could be much better, especially after those two overtime losses to Columbus he was in the net for.
But it’s not only on Samsonov. Yes, he has taken the blame a lot this season, and rightfully so, given his performance, but Toronto’s incapability to consistently beat bottom-feeder teams continues to be a struggle for the organization. They are 2-5-3 against four of the bottom six teams in the NHL (Buffalo, Columbus, Ottawa and Chicago). Just imagine if they were like other good teams in the league and won more than they lost against these teams.
With a record of 2-5-3 against those four teams, Toronto’s record against everybody else in the NHL this season is a tremendous 15-4-4 because it seems like they can only beat good teams more often. Well, they’ll get that challenge tonight as they host Michael Bunting, who makes his return, and the Carolina Hurricanes for their last game of 2023.
The Hurricanes are kind of in a similar situation to the Maple Leafs. Both teams have high aspirations, but goaltending has been hurting them all season. Although Toronto ranks in the bottom half in team save percentage with an .892, the Hurricanes rank even lower with an ugly .878, yet hold a team record of 19-13-4, which is good enough four fourth in the Metropolitan Division and the first wild card spot.
It’ll be an intriguing game tonight for sure, given both team’s struggles and the desperate need to bank points in the standings so they can climb up their division.

Pregame details:

Maple Leafs’ lineup:

Matthew Knies – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – William Nylander
Nick Robertson – Max Domi – Calle Jarnkrok
Bobby McMann – David Kampf – Noah Gregor
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Simon Benoit – Jake McCabe
Mark Giordano – Timothy Liljegren

Hurricanes’ lineup:

Andrei Svechnikov – Sebastian Aho – Teavo Teravainen
Michael Bunting – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Martin Necas
Jordan Martinook – Jordan Staal – Seth Jarvis
Stefan Noesen – Jack Drury – Jesper Fast
Jacob Slavin – Brent Burns
Brady Skjei – Brett Pesce
Dmitry Orlov – Jalen Chatfield

Projected goalies:

Martin Jones (TOR) vs Pytor Kochetkov (CAR)


Sportsnet, 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT
(Stats from Hockey-Reference.com)
(Projected lineups from DailyFaceoff.com)
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