Something has to give as two slumping opponents meet tonight at the ACC. The Sharks and Maple Leafs are 1-4-1 over their last six and both are at risk of losing their grasp on a playoff spot if the results don’t turn around soon.
San Jose is tied with Phoenix for the Pacific Division lead, but hold onto third in the tiebreaker thanks to fewer games played. On points alone, with 69 the Sharks would sit 7th in the West and only four points ahead of ninth placed Calgary. It sounds like the Sharks aren’t the same Western powerhouse of recent years, and they may not be, but look a little closer and you’ll see they’re top ten in three of the four major statistical categories – Goals For, Goals Against and Powerplay (3rd). It seems they’re a better team than their record indicates and have only been held back by a 27th ranked penalty kill. In short, it’s another tough test for a Leafs team looking for its second win in eight games tonight at the ACC.
Don’t underestimate the fact that the Sharks are a team with a heavily Canadian makeup either, with as many as 16 Canucks on their roster on a given night. Three of their top players happen to be Ontario boys as well in Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle. There’s something about players with Ontario roots, plying their trade out West and making their biennial visit to the ACC with friends and family in the stands, that gets them up for a big multi point performance in Toronto, I swear it. This will be Guelph native Logan Couture’s first visit to the ACC as an NHL player.
James Reimer takes over the increasingly scrutinized Leafs crease tonight with general manager Brian Burke looking on intently. The Leafs goalie tandem of Gustavsson and Reimer has combined for a .872 save percentage over their last eight games, and Reimer has to be feeling the pressure to perform as the Leafs GM considers hailing outside help between the pipes. As good a time as any for James to channel the Optimus Reim of his pre-concussion days.
Antti Niemi gets the start for the Sharks. Recent acquisition Dominic Moore will not play after injuring himself blocking a shot.
On the of town scoreboard, the Leafs will hope for a Tampa Bay win over Winnipeg (ninth placed, tied with the Leafs on points at 65 with two less games to play).