Game Preview: A Battle for Canada’s Top Spot in Vancouver

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Photo: Getty Images-NHL.com

Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs look to remain the NHL’s top Canadian team, but will have to accomplish something they haven’t in 10 tries over 9 years and 343 days: beat the Vancouver Vancouver Canucks.

Two lockouts have passed since the Toronto Maple Leafs swept the Vancouver Canucks in a cross-country home and home in November of 2004. The Vancouver Canucks have beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in ten straight games thanks in large part to their pair of ginger Swedish twins; Daniel Sedin has recorded 18 points over his last 9 against the Toronto Maple Leafs while Henrik has 16 points in 10 games. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been outscored 44-21 over the nine games and haven’t limited the Vancouver Canucks to under five in their last four meetings. Both Sedins will be playing in their first games since inking matching, of course, new contracts for four years, $28 million.

After a horrible showing in an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal sweep at the hands of the Sharks, the dramatic final act to Gillis’ Luongo/Schneider circus in the offseason and the hiring of high-profile coach, things have settled down a little bit in Vancouver thanks to a decent start to the season wherein they’ve gone 9-5-1 and Luongo and Lack have supplied the Vancouver Canucks with good-enough performances between the pipes.

Since taking over the Vancouver Canucks, besides getting his desired spike in blocked shots, John Tortorella decided to stack the Vancouver Canucks top unit by moving Kesler to the right side of the Sedins to create himself more of an all-purpose powerhouse line. The trio has accumulated a combined 44 points. Tortorella has been using his best two players in all situations, unlike the tradition of Alain Vignault of reserving the twins for offensive exploits with heavy ozone starts. The result is the Sedins, who were always bizarrely low in time on ice for each being elite forwards, are now up in the 21-22 minute range.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be countering the Vancouver Canucks’ twin power with an old enemy in Dave Bolland. Bolland’s history against the Sedins is a hilarious one; it’s for his antics against the Vancouver Canucks and the Sedins that Bolland became known as The Rat. His return from injury with the Hawks down 0-3 in the 2011 playoffs saw him post 6 points over four games as the Hawks almost completed the comeback only to fall in Game 7 OT. His effect was multiplied by his ability to help shut the Sedins down and get under their skin; once he returned, the Sedins combined for only two points over the final four games of the series and were regularly goaded into post-whistle scrums.

There’s also this:

Bolland does not much care for Vancouver and Vancouver doesn’t much care for Bolland. In terms of Bolland’s regular season performances against the Vancouver Canucks over the years, however, he’s been a bit of a nonfactor, posting just three points and a -7 over 18 games.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, for their part, will be walking into a wake up call if they aren’t much better than they were last time out versus the Flames. It was a back to back scenario with minimal rest in between, so the Toronto Maple Leafs will happily take the points in the standings over the style points, but they also must learn from it and make some adjustments. The Toronto Maple Leafs were coming off a poor showing against Columbus last Friday, and it had many fans concerned about what was going to happen the next night against one of the league’s better teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Toronto Maple Leafs put on one of their best showings of the season and will need to similarly elevate their game tonight.

Randy Carlyle has been harping on the giveaway problem the last few days in practice; for whatever the stat is worth, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the league in giveaways with 188, which is 50 worse than next-worst Edmonton (Note: I don’t doubt both teams are poor in this area; however, this is the fourth year running these two teams have been 29th and 30th in giveaways. Probably something to do with the way it’s being recorded in their home rinks). The point remains that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ puck management is their biggest issue when it comes to their possession play, and it is a three zone problem (the breakout is just one albeit significant part of it).

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the edge in goaltending and special teams going into this one, as they do against most teams. Top 5 scoring, special teams and goaltending are all marks of a good hockey team no matter their shot counts. Nikolai Kulemin is expected to return to the lineup tonight and will more than likely flank one of McClement or Bolland; Kulemin could be a handy defensive presence for Carlyle to have at his disposal in attempting to subdue the Sedins line. What Kulemin does better than any Leaf forward is his work on the walls; he can get pucks deep and go to work on the forecheck, and he’s probably the Toronto Maple Leafs best winger at coming back to support deep into the defensive zone or getting a puck out on the half board.

Carlyle hasn’t confirmed his choice for starter between the pipes. Reimer and Bernier were both great in the back to back; Reimer has the shut out going for him, while Bernier has a little more familiarity with the opponent. We’ll know closer to game time.

In another storyline I should probably mention, Mason Raymond will be facing off against his and Dave Nonis’ former team.

 LeafsCanucks
Record10-4-09-5-1
GF/G3.36 (4th)2.73 (16th)
GA/G2.29 (7th)2.67 (13th)
SF/G26.5 (29th)30.9 (10th)
SA/G36.1 (29th)28.0 (9th)
PP25.5% (2nd)9.3% (28th)
PK86.8% (3rd)86.3% (4th)
5 on 5 F/A1.27 (9th)1.07 (12th)
Sh%12.7% (1st)8.8% (16th)
Sv%93.7% (3rd)90.5% (20th)
FO%45.2 (28th)51.4% (11th)
  • Mind Bomb

    Leafs 6 Vancouver 0

  • Mind Bomb

    Yaknowwhat Mind Bomb 8-2 leafs

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Haha…Bolland!!
    STFU Vignault!!

  • wendelsway1

    Bolland, Clarkson and Dion will be on the case of the Sedin sisters………if they can shutdown Pitts, they can shutdown Van…….GO LEAFS GO!!    Leafs win 4-2

  • Mind Bomb

    Yaknowwhat Mind Bomb Who counts lol :)

  • wendelsway1

    I’m thinking MayRay will have something to prove and will be on the scoresheet tonight  :)

  • Biltmore

    Raymond gets blanked, Kadri feasts like a werewolf. Leafs by three or I’ll eat a bug.

  • Alec Brownscombe

    -Keon- Is this a phook joke, a counterjinx, or a legitimate feeling?

  • Leafs rule

    Bolland doesnt like Van and Van doest like Bolland Lmao GREAT ,leafs win 4-2 ,JVR with 2

  • Mind Bomb

    Yaknowwhat Mind Bomb That’s what Kessler says :)

  • B_Leaf

    I have a good feeling

  • Leafs rule

    Yaknowwhat Mind Bomb MB has game playing in his head already ,Leafs 8-2 ,HOLY ,can we watch to?

  • DJGLENN22

    -Keon- ………..go back to bed………lol

  • wendelsway1

    Use whatever means possible and  just win Baby!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmF6vmUVSsc

  • B_Leaf

    Lupus has a big night tonight with mcclement and kule

  • wiski

    How much does Nonis put up on the board tonight?

  • Tim Horton

    Shift_Disturber1 hope the leafs snag him. …. …. …

  • wiski

    Shift_Disturber1 wendelsway1 Like Emery vs Holtby beat down 😉

  • wiski

    Fack can’t get away from the ceremonies  #10 Goes To The Rafters In Vancouver: Tonight the Vancouver Canucks will retire Pavel Bure’s sweater.

  • Bruce Gamble

    -Keon- I’ve been feeling a shoot out for the last few hours….hope its a Leafs win

  • Bruce Gamble

    Shift_Disturber1 I was at that game and Ashton’s hit was right below me..it wasn’t pretty.He took a pretty good lickin’ for it too.

  • wendelsway1

    Shift_Disturber1 Sure….provided that reffing and discipline is handled in a consistent manner….sadly it’s not.

  • wendelsway1

    wiski Shift_Disturber1 wendelsway1 Well we’re talking about Vancouver…….I’m good with it  :)

  • wiski

    Shift_Disturber1 Unless you play for Nashville and use to be a turd. 😉

  • wendelsway1

    Shift_Disturber1 LOL….no idea what you were thinking…I, on the other hand, was being a smartass….lol  :)

  • Great Dane

    Rielly will get his first NHL goal tonight.

  • Ryan

    Would be a mistake for NHL/Bettman/Shanahan to invent rule under which to suspend Emery. NHL wants fighting, this is what comes with it. Retweeted by https://twitter.com/mirtle

  • leafslunch

    wiski Thats great news, means they’ll shit the bed for him.

  • Bruce Gamble

    I was at the Leafs-Flames game in Calgary last Wednesday and the guy that impressed me the most was Jonathan Bernier. That was the first time I’ve seen him play live. I was so impressed by how cool he stays under pressure. It just seems like nothing rattles him. I mentioned to my buddy at the game that Bernier’s on ice personality reminds of Ken Dryden’s when he played. Nothing rattled Dryden, hardly ever. Bernier was like that in the Flames game. He’s the real deal, boys.

  • Tim Horton

    Shift_Disturber1 Tim Horton yes.

  • wendelsway1

    Great Dane Rielly and Franson….our two Vancouver boys…..gotta put on a show for friends and family  :)

  • Great Dane

    Bruce Gamble I looks to me like we have two real deals on our hands – what a pleasant surprise.
    Nonis has done a great job this off season. 
    Raymond is a bargain. Bernier is great and pushes Reimer to better than last year. Bolland is just what the doctor ordered for the third line. Clarkson is still not up to 100% but looking great.

  • Jay31

    Bruce Gamble Looks like we fleeced the Kings. Bernier is not only doing well, he’s doing better than Quick.

  • Leafs rule

    wendelsway1 Great Dane F Me colour me surprised ,didnt know ,I agree and they both will because friends family will be that extra motivation that are important to the youngins

  • Bruce Gamble

    Great Dane Bruce Gamble Yes, I agree 100%. BTW…Mason Raymond can fly, holy smokes he’s fast!

  • Great Dane

    Bruce Gamble Just upgrade Bozak and you would have a frightening top 9
     JVR – Kadri/XXX  – Kessel
    Lupul – Kadri/XXX – Raymond
    Kulemin – Bolland – Clarkson 
    closing the get are

    Ashton/leivo – McC – Orr 
    I would run that line up against any team in the NHL

  • Great Dane

    Jay31 Bruce Gamble  While making Reimer even better.

  • Bruce Gamble

    Great Dane Bruce Gamble I agree, Dane, at long last..we have a hockey team now!

  • wendelsway1

    We came to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive……fuck you, Vancouver……Leafs are taking this game…..by any means necessary…..GO LEAFS GO!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLlxRGogTOQ

  • .JVR.

    Great Dane
    We already have a frightening top 9, even with Bozak as the top line centre.

  • vinoa

    For you DB:

  • wendelsway1

    So according to the not so bright Van fans, Bieksa is going to take MayRay out…..me thinks they don’t want to play the physical card with our Boys……we’ll see your Bieksa and bury you with Orr, McLaren, Clarkson, Phaneuf, etc, etc…lol  :)

  • Jantz

    OHL Defenceman of the Month – Matt Finn (Guelph Storm):
    Matt Finn of the Guelph Storm is the OHL’s Defenceman of the Month
    after recording 12 points in 11 games scoring four goals and eight
    assists with a plus-minus rating of plus-15.  He finished the month with
    a career-high 10-game point-streak helping the Storm win eight straight
    games to close out October.  In the final two games of the month, Finn
    picked up back-to-back two-point performances both times scoring a goal
    and an assist including October 27 where he earned first star honours in
    a 7-4 win over the London Knights, and October 30 as part of a 7-1 win
    over the Peterborough Petes.
    Finn, a 19-year-old from Toronto, ON, is playing in his fourth OHL
    season with the Storm.  The club’s captain is currently third in OHL
    scoring among defencemen with 16 points in 14 games.  Selected by the
    Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Finn will
    represent Team OHL in the 2013 SUBWAY Super Series game November 21 in
    Oshawa.

  • vinoa

    Leafs rule Lol Bolland is my new hero. Go Leafs Go!!

  • theacs1966

    -Keon- If last week I guaranteed you 4-5 of 6 pts would ;you have taken it?  I think you would.  A .660 winning% (108 pts) will get you into the playoffs.  We’ve built a nice soft cushion so even if your feeling pans out, we’ll be fine.

  • Leafbites

    Jantz Another all-situations kid. Though he fell at the draft, it was savvy pick for Leafs org.

  • wendelsway1

    Shift_Disturber1 Beauty!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO_QntXc-c4

  • Leafs rule

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=583358221730096&set=a.224504460948809.55644.150242135041709&type=1&relevant_count=1&ref=nf
    Now look at reims face ,he looks dangerous now

  • Jmessih

    This is watch I expect from Bolland, especially in the playoffs
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP_XD1mvxvc

  • Tim Horton

    Jantz More excited for Finn than anyone one of our other junior prospects. He looks great when healthy.