As they hit the road for a three-game away stretch, the Maple Leafs look to extend their three game winning streak but must start by conquering the impenetrable fortress known as the TD Banknorth Garden, home to the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins. The 21-5-4 Bruins boast an 11-1-1 home record and are currently riding an eleven game home winning streak during which they’ve outscored their opponents by a collective score of 53-22. The big, bad Bruins are back.
The Maple Leafs can find hope in the fact that they’re the lone team to beat Boston in regulation at home this season when they defeated the Bruins 4-2 back on October 24. The Bruins haven’t outright lost in their twelve other home outings.
The Bruins’ 67 goals against makes them easily the best defensive team in the Conference. The story is no different offensively, as the Bruins’ 106 goals for lead in that category as well. They’re additionally the second best powerplay team in the Conference at a 24.8% man-advantage success rate. At home, that figure is even more imposing at a 37% conversion clip. The Maple Leafs’ 28th overall penalty kill will certainly be up against it. Fortunately, the Leafs currently stand as the least penalized team in the league, and Ron Wilson will undoubtedly emphasize continued disciplined against an opportunistic Bruins side.
The Maple Leafs sit 26th overall in GA but have certainly seen progress in this area of their game over their past nine games. In but two of those nine, the Leafs have allowed two goals or less. It appears we are now seeing the product we expected out of a Ron Wilson-led team — a disciplined group that plays responsible team defense. Should the Leafs upset the Bruins, the Leafs would surpass the .500 mark for the first time since early October.
A stingy Bruins’ blue-line is buttressed by a scorching-hot goaltender in Tim Thomas, who is 7-1-1 in his last nine with a .931 save percentage and a 2.06 GAA. After a worrisome first two months, Vesa Toskala has been hot in his own right recently in posting a 2.4 GAA over his last nine.
Jeremy Williams looks to do the unthinkable – again – by scoring for his fourth game in a row since being recalled.
Nik Hagman remains out of the line-up with a concussion, but the Leafs appear to have found a keeper of a first line during his absence. Nik Kulemin thrived alongside Nik Antropov and Matt Stajan Tuesday night as the pair created problems for the Devils’ defense with an effective fore-check and puck possession game.
More to come tomorrow.