After a seemingly endless week of postulating, panicking, and debating with the fervent passion that only hockey-starved Leafs fans can display, it is finally gameday.Â While the prevalent hope amongst Toronto followers is that the winless streak gets broken tonight, there is a veritable maelstrom of other stories convoluting that one simple wish.
Firstly, after days of speculation that Jonas Gustavsson may start for tonight’s tilt with Vancouver, Joey MacDonald has been confirmed as the number one tender.Â The notion of rushing Gustavsson back was definitely ill-advised, as a tender groin needs to be healed properly, especially in a netminder.Â Â Couple that with MacDonald’s honest effort and relatively solid play (I repeat: relatively) thus far and it’s clear that he deserved this one.Â That being said, Jonas will likely return to action on Monday against the Ducks.Â On the other end of the ice, the Leafs must hope they can take advantage of a Roberto Luongo that has not been his stellar self so far this season.
The forward complement will look fairly similar to what we saw last week against the Rangers.Â After a week of answering the same questions from the media, the Toronto scorers know they have to step up tonight.Â Kulemin and Rosehill will sit tonight and youngster Viktor Stalberg will continue to infuse some life up front for the Leafs.Â They will have their work cut out for them against a tough Vancouver blueline that includes the likes of Willie Mitchell (poor Jonathan Toews!) and Shane O’Brien.Â As usual, the players are saying all the right things: they just want to “go out and win a hockey game” (Matt Stajan) because they know that they’ve “hit rock bottom” (Lee Stempniak).Â This is often the case in the NHL.Â It’s yet to be seen whether this incarnation of the Maple Leafs can carry through.
On defense, Ron Wilson tossed aside speculation that Luke Schenn would be riding the pine this Saturday by complementing the sophomore’s efforts at practice this week.Â While the pairings may be swapped around tonight, expect them to have to work hard against a Vancouver team that is missing one-half of their top forward in Daniel Sedin.Â Players such as Mikael Samuelsson have stepped up in the absence of their star shooter and the team as a whole is desperate to string some wins together.
As an aside, Phil Kessel is essentially in full-practice mode right now.Â He is able to shoot and go through the motions, but is a bit away from being able to engage in full contact.Â Ron Wilson has identified November 3rd as a potential debut for the young sniper, but the last thing anyone wants is for our prized asset to be rushed into action ahead of his time.Â The eagerness of Wilson to get him in will hopefully be overriden by caution.Â This tough coaching decision has ironically arisen amidst accusations by an ex-player that Wilson is “not a good coach”.Â It is up to the Leafs as a team to place all of these distractions on the backburner and hit the ice at GM Place with the sole intention of winning.
Here are the lineups tonight as per TSN:
Grabovski – Ponikarovsky – Blake
Stajan – Hagman – Stalberg
Mitchell – Wallin – Stempniak
Primeau – Mayers – Orr
Kaberle – Komisarek
Beauchemin – White
Schenn – Finger
Burrows – H. Sedin – Samuelsson
Raymond – Kesler – Grabner
Bolduc – Wellwood – Bernier
Glass – Johnson – Hordichuk
Mitchell – Edler
Ehrhoff – Rome
O’Brien – Bieksa