The Carolina Hurricanes will be desperate for points when they visit the Leafs tonight. Â On the other hand, Toronto would need to take care of the Hurricanes in regulation if they are serious about keeping themselves in the race for that final playoff spot. Â It has yet to be seen if the Leafs players truly believe they can work their way into that conversation. Â Regardless, Toronto fans have to hope their team fares extremely well over the upcoming stretch of games, as they feature numerous Eastern Conference opponents directly above the Leafs in the standings. Â The Maple Leafs will be giving James Reimer the start in hopes that he fares better than his two fellow netminders have against Eric Staal and the Hurricanes.
The Matchup Stats
Carolina has marched into Toronto and came away with two points on five consecutive occasions over a three-year span. Â At the backbone of this success has been Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who has won 7 times in his last 10 against the Leafs, posting a 0.913 SV% in the process. Â An elite goaltender, Ward’s consistency has traditionally put him a step below the cream of the crop in the NHL. Â Yet the former first round pick has strengthened his portfolio with an excellent season thus far. Â With a penchant for stepping up when it matters, Ward will be a difficult obstacle for opposition teams as Carolina aims to enter the playoffs. Â Of course, the Hurricanes would not get anywhere without Eric Staal, who has feasted on the Leafs to the tune of 14 points in just twelve games.
Perhaps it was the (no longer existent) fraternal rivalry, but Tomas Kaberle has enjoyed his games against Carolina. Â The longest serving Leaf has put up 13 points in his last fourteen games against the ‘Canes, thriving in matches between these two teams that lean towards the “freewheeling” side. Â While Phil Kessel has only put up a 0.50 PPG in his last few years against Carolina, this writer thinks he will bust his current slump tonight. Â Some added determination and intensity was very evident in Phil’s last game. Â While he still needs to manage his frustration to better maintain that focus, the goals will soon come, as they always do for the streaky American.
Toronto will be thankful that skilled Finnish wingerÂ Jussi Jokinen will be unable to play tonight for Carolina. Â The 30-goal scorer brings an underrated level of skill and grit to the Hurricanes lineup, often forming a lethal combination with captain Eric Staal. Â However, they will have to be wary of countryman Tuomu Ruutu, who has only recently cooled down from a stretch that saw him rack up 16 points in 11 games, averaging a disgusting four hits per game over that span. Â The Leafs will need to contain Ruutu’s speedy, skilled line, which also boasts rookie sensation Jeff Skinner.
The two teams are eerily similar in many ways. Â Both have a healthy contingent of young players and play an up-tempo game that is sometimes disastrous defensively. Â Toronto and Carolina also have nearly identical special teams, with the 15th and 13th ranked powerplays respectively, while featuring the 28th and 25th best penalty kills. Â One area the Leafs hold a distinct advantage is in their propensity to allow shots against, with Toronto standing 10th in this category as opposed to the Hurricanes’ 27th. As such, one can see that the standings-based disparity between these two teams boils down to two simple differences: a higher level of goaltending and one consistent, offensive stud (Staal).
There’s no doubt that Clarke MacArthur is one of those Toronto players who is truly still determined to battle for that playoff spot. Â He is also distinctly aware of the difficulties that this will entail:
“We’ve got 30-some odd games left. Â If you think about it, we’ve got to be batting .750 the rest of the way or something around there. That’s a lot of hard work ahead of us.”
Let’s hope we see some of that hard work on display tonight.