Pre-Game: Devils at Leafs (Update: D-Pairings)

Pre-Game: Devils at Leafs (Update: D-Pairings)

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    image via maple leafs.com

    The Maple Leafs look to extend their two game winning streak Tuesday night as they entertain the New Jersey Devils sans Martin Brodeur. Rookie Jeremy Williams looks to continue a streak of his own having scored in each of his first two appearances this season.

    The Maple Leafs are by no means facing a wounded animal, however. After their future Hall of Fame goaltender fell to injury on November 1st, the Devils turned to Kevin Weekes as their replacement starter and dropped five of their next six contests. But the Devils have since learned how to succeed without Brodeur, winning nine of their last eleven with former Marlie Scott Clemmensen manning the posts. At least so far, Clemmensen has succeeded in filling the sizable void left by Brodeur’s absence, posting an 8-3-0 record with a .919 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average. The Devils now sit in the East’s seventh seed with a 16-9-2 record.

    Vesa Toskala has also been hot as of late, posting a 1.50 GAA and a .943 SV% in his team’s two consecutive victories. Toskala will look to continue that form against a team that hasn’t been overly kind to him in the past. The Finn is 1-3 with a 3.5 goals against average in four career starts against New Jersey.

    The Leafs are looking to return to the .500 mark but must post their first three game winning streak of the season in order to do so. They face a much less predictable Devils team than what most hockey observers have become accustomed to. Historically a defense-first team known for flawlessly executing the soporific neutral zone trap, new head coach Brent Sutter has succeeded establishing balance in his team’s game. Sutter’s squad sits ninth in both the goals-for-per-game and goals-against-per-game categories. In their last ten games, the Devils have scored at a rate of 4.2 goals per game; a stretch that has included offensive upsurges of the six, seven and eight goal varieties.

    The Leafs must be vigilant of Devils’ dangerous trio of Brian Gionta, Patrick Elias and Zach Parise. The threesome has recorded 13 points collectively in their last two outings. It should also be kept in mind that the Devils’ 16-9-2 record is in fact better than face value as the Devils have to compete in a division that includes the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils’ 34 points are only good enough for fourth-place in the Atlantic division.

    The Devils are coming off of their first loss in the month of December after falling 4-2 to Buffalo Saturday evening.

    The Leafs have won two straight, against the NY Islanders (4-2) and Buffalo Sabres (2-1), on the back of much improved defensive play. Their penalty kill, once the league’s worst, has succeeded in 24 of the Leafs‘ last 26 short-handed situations.

    Jeremy Williams, Ian White and Jason Blake are the Leafs’ hottest hands at the moment. Williams has recorded three points (2G, 1A) in his last two contests, Blake has posted six points in his past four outings and White is currently on a two game goal-scoring streak.

    Nik Hagman will remain out of the line-up due to concussion problems. The team hopes to have him back in the line-up by Saturday, according to Mike Ulmer at Maple Leafs.com.

    Projected Leafs line-up:
    Kulemin – Stajan – Antropov
    Ponikarovsky – Grabovski – Stempniak
    Blake – Moore – Williams
    Deveaux – Mitchell – Hollweg

    Sifers – Finger
    White – Van Ryn
    Kaberle – Kubina

    Interesting… at first blush you might have thought those pairings were in reverse order. WIlson is continuing to reward his best defenders with increased ice-time while sending a message to his high-paid underperformers as he did in Buffalo on Friday (Ice-time went in that very same order).

    By the way, worthwhile read over at Maple Leafs.com. Jaime Sifers writes about his first week in the NHL.