GDT: Drive for Five in the Desert

GDT: Drive for Five in the Desert

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Fresh off a trade with the Dallas Stars, the Maple Leafs will take their game to the desert, facing the Coyotes in an attempt to win five games in a row .  The level of optimism in Toronto has been tempered by memories of the last four game win streak in this city.  While we are currently seeing a hard-working, speedy team with impeccable netminding, it is common knowledge around these parts that any of the above variables is subject to drastic and immediate change.  The Leafs are looking to stay the course against a formidable Phoenix team that plays a structured two-way game.

The Matchup Stats

It would be remiss of me not to mention recent ex-Leaf Lee Stempniak, toiling away in Phoenix.  The 27-year old winger was shipped out of Toronto at the deadline to the displeasure of few, only to go all gunslinger down South to the tune of 14 goals in 18 games.  Lee has returned to Earth (after securing himself a contract) and is on pace for 36 points on the year.  Stempniak is a fixture on the second powerplay unit for the Coyotes however, and it is likely the New York native will be playing with some extra motivation tonight.  To be frank, the Leafs should probably be more worried about Keith Yandle.  The Phoenix blueliner is truly coming into his own, leading his team in scoring (31 points) whilst averaging over 24 minutes per game.

Dion Phaneuf has 5 goals in his last 11 games against the ‘Yotes.  I should stop analyzing Dion’s statistics against Western teams as it always leads to the same disheartening question: can he still score like that?  However, he may not have to if the young guns of this Toronto squad continue their scorching hot play of late.  MacArthur, Grabovski, Kulemin, Kessel and Versteeg give the Leafs more 30 point scorers than most teams in the league.  One point by Tomas Kaberle would give them six, making them the leaders in this category.

Strategical Keys

The breaks will likely be few and far between against Dave Tippett’s team.  Ilya Bryzgalov has recently returned from a combination of the flu and family troubles to provide the impressive caliber of goaltending that the Coyotes have grown accustomed to.  Despite their reputation as a defensive team, Phoenix has been less proficient in this area than usual, and settles in the middle of the pack for both GF and GA.  This is a result of the variation in play they’ve exhibited this season.  On any given night they can have porous goaltending, prolific scoring, or impeccable defense.

As such, the Leafs will need to dictate the play early in tonight’s matcup.  Throw that combination of speed, puck pursuit and creativity at the Coyotes and hope to catch them while they are off their game.  Feed off the success of recent nights and take advantage of the Coyotes 26th ranked penalty kill.  The current Leafs should be able to capitalize on the 4th-worst team when it comes to giveaways, turning those blunders into scoring chances.

Gameday Quotes

Wilson (talking about his 600th victory):

“It’s pretty special.  Only six other guys have done it. You don’t see it very often. The best thing is that we managed to find a way to do it here.”

Ron Wilson regularly receives heat for Toronto’s catastrophic special teams (and more).  600 victories, while by no means a flawless endorsement of his current capabilities, should serve as a reminder that Wilson is an accomplished, savvy coach.  Shoot for 601 tonight Ronnie (but keep the “incentive” out of the locker room).

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From Matt Bracken:

The Toronto Maple Leafs (18-20-4) are in search of their fifth straight win as they head into Phoenix, Arizona to take on the Coyotes (21-13-9).  The Leafs will be in tough as the the Coyotes play well at home (8-5-5) and the Maple Leafs have lost four in a row to the franchise in Phoenix, the last saw them fall 6-3 to the Coyotes in Toronto on December 16, 2009.

The Leafs last won five in a row from January 27 through February 6, 2007.

James Reimer (22 years old) will get the start for the Leafs and has put up impressive numbers in his short pro debut with a 4-1 record, 1.92 GAA and a gaudy .947 save percentage.  Opposing him in the Coyotes goal will be 30-year old Ilya Bryzgalov who has had another solid start to the season with a 15-8-6 record to go along with a 2.63 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Mike Brown is back in the lineup after missing 19 games and will replace Freddy Sjostrom.