The Toronto Maple Leafs welcome the Atlanta Thrashers to the Air Canada Centre tonight for the first of four meetings between the teams. Â The Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, while the Thrashers are fresh off a 7-1 win over the New Jersey Devils this past Saturday night.
The Maple Leafs currently sit in 13th place in the East with 28 points, while the Thrashers sit fifth in the conference with 41 points. Â Atlanta can jump back into first in the Southeast division with a win tonight. Â Atlanta is 6-2-2 in their last ten, while the Maple Leafs have struggled as of late, compiling a record of 4-5-1 in their last ten games.
The Maple Leafs will be looking to build off what was for the most part a solid effort against the Canucks on Saturday night. Â Other than a few defensive breakdowns, the team was able to carry the play against Vancouver for stretches of time. Â The Maple Leafs will once again have Nazem Kadri as a healthy scratch, instead opting to insert Brett Ledba, a defenseman, onto the fourth line in a forward role. Â Clarke MacArthur and Colby Armstrong will face their former team for the first time.
Dustin Byfuglien: One of the players acquired in the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer, Byfuglien has been returned to his original position of defense, and the results have been very positive for the player and the team. Â Byfuglien has 33 points in 34 games, and is on pace for a 79 point season.
Andrew Ladd: Despite cooling off lately (one point in five games) Ladd has made a smooth transition during his first year in Atlanta. Â Ladd has 30 points in 34 games, including 11 goals for the Thrashers, good for second on the team. Â Ladd’s character on and off the ice has even led to him being named team captain of the Thrashers.
Ondrej Pavalec: The Thrashers goaltender has overcome a scary early season fainting spell to give the Thrashers solid, consistent goaltending. Â Pavalec has appeared in 22 games for Atlanta, and brings with him sparkling numbers: a goals against average of 1.76, and a save percentage of .944
Mikhail Grabovski: Grabovski has been a new man since the start of the 2010-2011 NHL season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are reaping the benefits. Â Grabovski has goals in his last three games, has been the Maple Leafs most consistent forward, and has found instant chemistry with Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur. Â Grabovski’s 23 points are good for second best on the team.
Clarke MacArthur: The former Thrasher faces his old team for the first time, and may bring with him extra motivation since the Thrashers declined his arbitration award this past summer. Â MacArthur has been a pleasant addition to the Maple Leafs, one of their top forwards in terms of production. Â He leads the team in scoring with 25 points and has points in his last three.
Nikolai Kulemin: With points in his last two games, Kulemin has combined with MacArthur and Grabovski to pace the Maple Leafs offense. Â With ten goals and ten assists in 32 games, Kulemin is on pace for 25 goals, which would eclipse his career high of 16.
The Goalie Match-Up
The Toronto Maple Leafs will start Jonas Gustavsson tonight, and perhaps for the foreseeable future. Â With yet another groin injury to Jean Sebastian Giguere, Gustavsson will be counted on to carry the bulk of the load for the Maple Leafs perhaps into the new year. Â Gustavsson has struggled lately, but the team in front of him has struggled with defensive lapses on many occasions. Â Still, Gustavsson has a goals against average of 2.92. Â His save percentage stands at .901.
The Thrashers will start the aforementioned Ondrej Pavalec, who has been on a tear since returning to action. Â Pavalec boasts strong numbers for the Thrashers, and is a big reason for their success so far this season. Â His save percentage of 1.76 and goals against average of .944 are among the league’s best.
Toronto: Mike Brown (finger), J.S. Giguere (groin)
Keys To The Game:
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be in tough tonight in their final game before the Christmas break. Â The Thrashers have really turned up their play as of late, and are pressing for top spot in their division and the Eastern Conference, making them one of the surprising teams in the National Hockey League this season.
The Thrashers will give the Maple Leafs all they can handle tonight with two lines that can score goals, and two lines that are strong on the puck and make things difficult for opponents. Â The Thrashers also have balanced scoring throughout most of their forward lines, while the defense is mobile and strong.
The Maple Leafs need a quick start once again tonight, and they also need more production from one line. Â While Kulemin/Grabovski/MacArthur have been producing, the rest of the team has been somewhat suspect and streaky. Â The Maple Leafs will also need to insulate Jonas Gustavsson tonight. Â The Monster has been on the receiving end of many defensive lapses of late, and has been more than willing to show his frustration.
Game time is 7PM tonight on Rogers Sportsnet Ontario.
Questions or comments? Â email me at DerekHarmsworth@gmail.com