Preview and GDT: Maple Leafs at Senators (7 p.m., CBC)

Preview and GDT: Maple Leafs at Senators (7 p.m., CBC)

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The Leafs return to Ottawa for the first time since April 20, 2013, the night of a 4-1 Leafs win that clinched their playoff berth for the first time in 9 years. Good times.

And remember this angry drunk Sens fan from the Leafs‘ 4-0 win over the Senators a few weeks earlier?

That was also the night Cherry laid the kiss on Nazem Kadri on Coaches Corner after the game. Good recent memories in this rink. I usually get out to one Leafs/Sens game in Ottawa a year because it’s my favourite regular season matchup. The 50/50 split in the crowd makes for a great atmosphere, and most of these Leafs fans are of the rabid variety, getting a rare chance to see their team and feeding off of each other as they sense the Blue and White faction is taking over the enemy rink.  Day vs. night compared to a week night game at the ACC.

The Senators have outshot and out-corsi’d their opponents in five straight, but are 2-3 over the span. The Leafs have outshot opponents in a total of three games this season.  And yet the Leafs are seven points ahead of the Senators entering tonight, a pretty healthy lead at the 29-game mark.

9 points would sound even better. If I’m understanding the new playoff structure properly, the Leafs are currently holding onto the last wildcard spot in the East. I could be wrong as it’s going to take me years to stop thinking  in terms of the “top 8.” Regardless, putting more distance between you and a divisional opponent is always a good thing, and points are especially needed when the games after tonight go as follows for the Leafs:

Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh. That is as tough of a five-game stretch as you’ll find on any NHL schedule.

John-Michael Liles may or may not play tonight, but I’m hopeful he does in Mark Fraser’s place. It’s interesting to hear Jake Gardiner has been revisiting the tape from the Bruins series, but if the coaching staff did the same they would see Liles and Gardiner in with Kostka and Fraser out was the recipe for success. In an ideal world this team would have a shutdown defenceman who can skate and move the puck better than Fraser, but we don’t have that luxury. Playing to a strength and loading the group up with puck movers may  be the best bet.

James Reimer will start in net for the Leafs on account of his years of dominance in the nation’s capital, where he is remarkable 6-0-0 with a .977 save percentage.

Dave Poulin pregame:

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]