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Maple Leafs Hot Stove provides the most comprehensive game day coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Starting lineups, stats and comments get you ready for that night's game.

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Troy Bodie has been sent down to the Marlies. Colton Orr returns. Jonathan Bernier starts.

Paul Ranger is expected to step in for John Michael Liles (not confirmed).

Will it be two points in our stockings or a lump of coal? GO LEAFS GO.

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While the Leafs did well to battle back and take a 4-3 lead in their eventual shootout loss to Detroit on Saturday, once again they failed to shut down a game when they needed to.

I went back and counted up the number of times the Leafs have forfeited a third period lead. Here’s the list:

Game
Description
Players on Ice
CarolinaLeading 2-0 going into third, lost 3-2 in regulation.4, 12, 19, 43, 44, 45; 3, 12, 36, 42, 45, 81; 3, 12, 36, 45, 63 (PK)
New JerseyLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:45 to go. Won shootout.3, 11, 21, 36, 45 (PK)
MinnesotaLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:17 to go. Lost shootout.12, 15, 21, 44, 45, 81
WashingtonLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:10 to go. Won shootout.3, 11, 21, 34, 36, 41
PittsburghLeading 5-3 entering third period. Coughed up lead by 13:19. Lost in shootout. 3, 36, 42, 45 (PK); 12, 15, 36, 41, 43, 45
DallasLeading 2-1, coughed up lead with 2:46 remaining. Won in OT. 2, 3, 12, 23, 45 (PK)
OttawaLeading 3-1 going into third, coughed up lead by 9:30 of the 3rd period. Won in Shootout.
4, 12, 23, 34, 41, 51; 2, 4, 23, 29, 34 (PK)
PhoenixLeading 1-0, coughed up lead with 4:52 to go. Won in Shootout.3, 11, 34, 36, 41, 71
DetroitLeading 4-3, coughed up lead with 6:16 to go. Lost in shootout.21, 26, 43, 44, 45, 81

Those are some valuable points the Leafs won’t get back. The only reason the Leafs aren’t out of a playoff position right now is because they’re competent in the shootout, but the lack of ROW could hurt them down the road, too, in terms of tie breakers.

Only one of those third period collapses came with Bozak and Bolland in the lineup (the Carolina loss). Bozak had played parts of the Pittsburgh game but left for the third period. With Bozak and Bolland hurt, the result is often that Jay McClement plays a lot when Carlyle looks to protect a lead. The pecking order in terms of Carlyle’s trust in his centers late in games seems to go, in order: Bolland, Bozak, McClement, Kadri, Holland.

Whatever the reason – the missing personnel at center, system, psychological scarring from May 13 – the Leafs are “receiving” too much late in games, and it’s costing them points and ROWs that could come back to haunt them in April.

Christmas Eve Eve in New York

Tonight, the Leafs look to enter the brief Christmas break on the right note with a win in New York. The Rangers are the one of the opponents on the outside of the playoff picture but within strikable distance of the Leafs as we approach the half way point of the season.

After scoring just a goal a game in three straight, the Leafs had an offensive outburst vs. Detroit, and yet the Leafs’ top line remained absent outside of an assist for JvR and Kessel on the powerplay. The trio of Kadri, Kessel and JvR needs to be better tonight. Those two powerplay assists are the trio’s only two points in the last four games and they’re a combined -14 over that span.

Jonathan Bernier is expected to start and Colton Orr is expected to return to the 4th line.

The Rangers, playing in a back to back scenario, will start Cam Talbot in net. That’s not necessarily a good thing for the Leafs; Talbot’s 7-2 with two shutouts and a .936 save percentage.

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The Maple Leafs enter this game trailing the Red Wings for third place in the Division (remember – the funny new format means top 3 teams from each division make the playoffs) by just two points. The teams are both middle of the pack-ish in goals for and against. Both teams have been plodding along on the wrong side of .500 the last 10 games.

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Burn the Yotes!

James Reimer is the “likely” starter in net after calling his team out following the Florida loss. Reimer had been in net for two consecutive back to back situations where his team came out completely flat. Hopefully he gets a better effort in front of him tonight.

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11-15-3 since their 6-1 start, 10 losses in their last 13.. it may not be time to panic yet, with the Leafs still tight to Detroit for third in the division, two games coming up against the Red Wings in the next six games, and 45 games still left on the schedule.

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There is talk Jonathan Bernier will start tonight, which doesn’t make any sense.

It would be five starts out of six for Bernier and in a back to back to boot – note: Bernier was also officially credited with the St. Louis loss – meaning Bernier would be the first of the two to get an extended run of starts for no reason related to actual performance.

Bernier has been below .900 in 7 of his last 10 games. Reimer won his last full game in a shootout after facing 50 shots against Ottawa. SItting him out in a back to back would be a slap in the face. Not sure if it’s related to the St. Louis loss, but the Leafs getting ran over in the first period and leaving players wide open in the slot all period would seem to excuse the goalie from any fault.

We’ll see who is in the net come game time before jumping to further conclusions.

The Panthers are not a push over as they were earlier in the season. They’re rested and have been waiting in Toronto. They’re winners of 5 of their last 6. Starter Scott Clemmensen has been solid in his last two games – wins over Montreal and Washington. Brad Boyes and Jimmy Hayes will each be good for a goal.

Jerry D’Amigo is unlikely to play, but we won’t know who will play in his place until game time. Same deal for any changes on the blueline (even though there shouldn’t be).

The Leafs need this one.

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A great win over the League champs can quickly be forgotten if the Leafs don’t take it as a turnaround point amid a poor December. They’re now through  the toughest part of their schedule and have to get back to accumulating points with 15 of their next 16 games against Eastern opponents.

The top 4 of this Penguins team’s defence has been decimated (i.e. entirely eliminated) by injuries (Martin, Letang, Orpik, Scuderi), and their fifth D, Derek Engelland, is waiting to be suspended. James Neal is suspended, as well. Evgeni Malkin is out after crashing into the boards leg first against Detroit. For tonight’s game, check out the NHL betting odds.

Despite all the lineup depletion, the Pens enter tonight winners of three straight (five of their last six). The Penguins historically have persevered better than expected when faced with significant injuries, although these are particularly daunting.

Malkin being out should help the Leafs focus their shutdown efforts a little more on #87. McClement, playing alongside Kulemin and D’Amigo, played 10 of his 14 and a half even strength minutes against Jonathan Toews, Parick Sharp and Marian Hossa while starting 80% of his shifts in the defensive zone. That line scored twice and won the possession battle.

For the Leafs, the lineup remains the same because why wouldn’t it?

JVR-Kadri-Kessel
Raymond-Holland-Lupul
D’Amigo-McClement-Kulemin
McLaren-Smith-Bodie

Gunnarsson-Phaneuf
Gardiner-Franson
Rielly-Liles

Bernier

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The Leafs have recalled Troy Bodie to play in wake of the David Clarkson two-game suspension. Whatever.

One liner of the day goes to Lescott: “Doesn’t matter anyway, forechecking the Hawks is like a cat chasing a laser pointer.”

Here we go.

Jonathan Bernier starts for the Leafs. Morgan Rielly is expected to play.

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Deep breaths, everyone.  No Dion Phaneuf and the 20-7-4 Los Angeles Kings are coming into town.

The Kings are a heavy forechecking team and are going to seal the boards on the Leafs all night. The key to beating a good forecheck is going to be quick puck movement,  effective use of the D to D pass, and available forward support on the breakout. Without that, this Kings team will hem the Leafs in with sustained zone time, bring fresh legs into the cycle, and grind them down all night. Blowout win over the Canadiens last night aside, the Kings haven’t been an explosive offensive team (18th in goals for, bottom 10 before last night), but give up so little in the way of shots and goals (fewest in the league with 62) because they win the possession battle night after night.

Randy Carlyle would be wise to play to a strength and put to use all of the mobility and puck moving available to him on defence.

The Kings are in the second half of the back to back and will play goaltending Martin Jones again tonight coming off of his shutout at the Bell Centre. The Professor has been snubbed of a crack at his former team. In Darryl Sutter’s defence, Jones is 3-0 with a .62 goals against average in his first three starts in the NHL.

Jonathan Bernier will play against his former team and may have to steal one for the victory.

Joffrey Lupul will make his return on a good looking third line tonight.

Projected Lineup:

JVR – Kadri- Kessel
Raymond – Smith – Clarkson
Lupul – Holland – Kulemin
McLaren/D’Amigo- McClement - Ashton

Gunnarsson – Franson
Gardiner – Liles
Fraser – Ranger
Rielly

Bernier

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The opposite of the typical Leaf game from earlier in the season. A decent even-strength performance by the Leafs, but the game was lost on special teams and an uncharacteristic bad goal on the Leaf netminder. The Leafs again played the Bruins pretty even, but can’t find a way to beat this team.

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The Leafs look to build on a two-game winning streak against a familiar adversary tonight at the ACC.

The Bruins enter the game after an emotional, controversial win over the Pittsburgh in which Shawn Thornton pretty much committed assault on Brooks Orpik.

Loui Eriksson won’t play due to the after effects of a perfectly clean hit he sustained from Brooks Orpik which led to the aforementioned altercation. The Bruins are also without Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid, and Johnny Boychuk.

Randy Carlyle probably won’t change much coming off a shootout win last night in Ottawa, although an infusion of fresh legs, be it Paul Ranger in for Mark Fraser (eh, Randy? eh?), could help in the back to back situation.

Last time the Leafs faced off with the Bruins on November 9, Boston dominated the first period, which included the infamous 2+ minute shift in Leaf end with Fraser, Ranger and a stickless Nik Kulemin on the ice. The Bruins were controlling pace of play (i.e. slowing it down and playing their game) with good puck management and an effective chip game. Their forecheck was forcing turnover after turnover, and the Leafs could not break up the Bruin cycle.

The Leafs surprised us with a great second period; an 18-shot effort that stemmed from a similar territorial dominance to what the Bruins imposed on the Leafs in the first period. Once the Leafs were able to string some passes together coming out of their zone, they were able to establish a forecheck, cycle and outskate the Bruins, which is the Leafs’ biggest advantage in this matchup.

A double minor high sticking call against JvR sunk the Leafs in the early third period. The Leafs could not reply on either of their third period powerplays.

The Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner pairing drove possession well in that game, and seem to know how to diffuse the Bruin forecheck effectively. Fraser, not surprisingly, struggled to get his feet moving and move the puck safely under pressure.

There is some talk Joffrey Lupul could play for the Leafs, as he was seen testing himself rigorously in the optional game day practice. Lupul scored the Leafs’ lone goal in the 3-1 loss last month.

Jonathan Bernier starts in net.

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Leafs vs Stars

The Leafs look to pick up their first win in five games tonight against the Dallas Stars. The Stars are 10th in the west with a 13-9-4 record, but some of below-average teams in the West would probably be good teams in the East. I caught parts of a couple of Stars games this season and this is a fast team.

Jerry D’Amigo received his first ever call up after four seasons with the Marlies and is expected to play on the Leafs’ 4th line tonight.

It seems Colton Orr is injured, and there is no word yet as to whether or not Frazer McLaren will dress for the Leafs. The Leafs waived Jerred Smithson and recalled D’Amigo though, so it seems Randy Carlyle is starting to get the idea after getting smacked over the head with the dangerous realities of icing a boat anchor fourth line, with a banged-up lineup, against a deep team like the San Jose Sharks.

Many fans have been waiting to see D’Amigo after some beastly playoff performances for the Marlies 2012 and again in 2013. He has been a 30-40 point player in the regular season, but has 21 points in 26 AHL playoff games.

D’Amigo will likely get some penalty killing time given Smithson is now with the Marlies and Tyler Bozak is out tonight. Hopefully D’Amigo has McClement and maybe Ashton as linemates to give him something to work with in terms of a cycle line.

Phil Kessel will play, Joffrey Lupul won’t. Jonathan Bernier starts. Tyler Seguin is in for the Dallas Stars. Stephane Robidas is out for a long time for the Stars.

We’ll know the lines closer to puck drop.

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The Sharks enter this game 18-3-5, and are 9-1-2 against fellow Pacific Division opponents, which is easily the strongest division in the NHL. They enter winners of five straight.

This is a dominant team with a deeeeep lineup.

Projected Lineup
 
 
Left WingCenterRight Wing
Tomas HertlJoe ThorntonBrent Burns
Patrick MarleauLogan CoutureTommy Wingels
Martin HavlatJoe PavelskiTyler Kennedy
John McCarthyAndrew DesjardinsMike Brown
Left DefenseRight Defense
Justin BraunMarc-Edouard Vlasic
Brad StuartDan Boyle
Scott Hannan Jason Demers
Goalies
Starter: Niemi

How can the Leafs beat them? Well, it begins and ends between the pipes with James Reimer, one would think. The Leafs are shorthanded and are the inferior team, so the answer to closing the gap is cliched – ‘outwork them.’ Playing without the puck a lot, which is almost ensured, means ramping up the physical play will be necessary to try to create separation.

Hey, even the Sharks once had a 0-1-4 stretch once, right? These guys are human.

Nazem Kadri won’t play tonight in order to be with his family after the passing of his grandfather. Cody Franson is a game time decision.

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A struggling Leafs team running into a 18-3-4 opponent can go one of two ways – the bloody Jaws-like scene we’re picturing, or the Leafs sensing the urgency of a fin in the water, rising to the level of competition, and icing a respectable showing.

The Sharks are obviously on another level personnel wise; they tick all the boxes required in an elite team with amazing center depth in particular (Thornton, Couture, Pavelski, Marleau in a pinch). It’s a mystery as to why the Sharks organization doesn’t have at least one Cup to show for itself given its regular season successes since 2004. While the Red Wings are popularly described as the paragon of consistency as a winning team that feeds the machine with acute draft day bargain hunting, San Jose has been a winning team that’s been better at the draft without the Cup to show for it.

Great drafting ensures this Sharks will have more opportunities to win its first Cup over this next CBA – a 9th overall pick was used on Logan Couture on and a second round pick on Marc-Edouard Vlasic; two 7th rounders were used to unearth Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun (leading Sharks defence core in minutes played, and leading the league in plus/minus); Tommy Wingels was a sixth-round pick up; Tomas Hertl, looking like pretty damn good value at 17th overall in 2012, is currently leading the Calder race (13 goals and 21 points in 26 games).

In fact, since 2003 no team has produced more games played out of its draftees than the Sharks, and they’ve been a good to great team the entire time.

The painful irony for Leafs fans is that the man who traded the first and second round picks used by the Sharks to trade up for Logan Couture in order to wrangle himself Vesa Toskala is one of the brains behind the scouting operation in San Jose, along with director of scouting Tim Burke, in John Ferguson Jr (at least since 2008). Leafs fans can at least thank Fergie for the excellent 2006 draft and the appointment of Dave Morrison as his Director of Scouting in the same year (Morrison’s results look to be pretty good so far).

Opposites Clash

Sharks coach Todd McLellan has been labeling his the 2013-14 iteration of his group as less of a heavy cycle team than in years previous, but a good possession team nonetheless that emphasizes putting a ton of rubber at the net, winning puck races, and rolling four lines with speed to feed a relentless attack.

“We’re talking about putting it in areas where we can go get it. We’re talking about playing more of a north-south game, not slowing it down as much, trying to stay ahead of the curve. That’s where the game is going. Coming out of the last lockout you could delay, look for people and hold on to the puck a little longer. Teams have figured out how to defend that now. You have to advance.”
- Todd McLellan

Consider the following quotes:


“We’re not a team who likes to skate over the blueline and throw shots at the net, we want to hold onto it and make some plays.”
-Joffrey Lupul


“Our coaches track scoring chances, not shots. A guy crosses centre ice and shoots the puck at the net, it’s a shot. After the game, when they put up the scoring chances, if there’s ever a big disparity in that, it’s going to be an issue with the coaches and with the players. But again, if they get 40 shots and five scoring chances, that doesn’t really matter to us.”?
-Joffrey Lupul

 
“You’ve got to shoot the puck. You watch highlights around the league and a lot of goals are scored on second or third chances and that’s how we’ve been getting them, too.”
- Logan Couture


“It shows up more in the third- and fourth-line situations, the ability to roll four lines and maintain the pace. If we were going quick in the past, it kind of fell off as we went down a line or two, so there were hills and valleys. In the game right now, all the lines play a quick game.”
- Todd McLellan

An amazing set of centers as in San Jose changes the entire complexion of a team, obviously, and Carlyle’s system is partially built around covering up for what isn’t the strongest group of pivots in the League. The Sharks are icing three centers better than the Leafs’ best. But embracing speed as the team’s identity and rolling four lines that looks to quicken the pace and sustain a high-energy game seems like the better approach than what we’ve seen from Carlyle’s Leafs lately.

Finding Hope

While the Leafs amassed a 36-21-5 record over 62 games under Randy Carlyle between January 2013 and November 1, 2013, regression remained a buzzword in Leafland due to some of the foreboding stats underlying their performance. There continues to be merit in those concerns; getting outshot, and out shot-attempted, was and continues to be an indicator that this team isn’t controlling games often enough (or seemingly at all, this season) at 5 on 5.

For that reason, the current 13-game stretch, in which the Leafs have gone 5-6-3, they’re not getting the same benefit of the doubt as maybe another team would that easily qualified for the playoffs last season, started the next season 10-4, and had a poor stretch in the month of November.

For the Leafs, the recent struggles haven’t been attributable to any one or two things. They have regressed in just about every area in November – five on five goals for and against, powerplay, and penalty kill. One area where the struggles have been most pronounced is in the goals department. In the previous 62 games under Carlyle, this team scored 190 goals (3.06/game). They scored just 25 goals in 13 November games (1.92/game).

Much has been made recently of the poor production this team has been receiving from its bottom six forward group. In the interest of finding some positives headed into the toughest month of the Leaf schedule with the team playing arguably as poorly as it ever has under Carlyle, let’s look at some of the individual numbers in November among the top six group.

Player
Points in Nov
Nov Points Pace over 82
PPG in Nov
PPG in prev. 69
Kessel6380.461.01
Kadri4330.40.83
JvR7440.540.65
Lupul4330.41.03*
Clarkson4250.310.48*

*Lupul played just 29 out of those 62 games, but did post 67 points the 66 games previous; Clarkson played 52/62 due to the suspension.

It certainly would be nice getting some production from the bottom six when the top 6 is struggling. The intention of this exercise is not to suggest Carlyle doesn’t need to rethink is current bottom six, because he needs to in the worst way. While depth up front is a concern at this point, options with a more offensive capacity to their game are available to Carlyle in Holland and Leivo, as young as they may be. He should probably use them. Jerred Smithson was needed to fill a temporary void at center, but it’s clear one shot in 12 games isn’t going to get him on the board any time soon.

However, for all 5 of these players to be struggling, as they are, over an entire month of the schedule? That’s unusual, and surely it’s not here to stay. Lupul, Kessel, Kadri, JvR playing at sub 40-point paces, all at the same time? Clarkson isn’t of the same offensive talent as the other four, but he should be able to pick it up as well and is bound to heat up at some point. No better time than now.

This team wasn’t going to shoot at 12% all season as they did in October, but surely that group of players isn’t going to stay this quiet for much longer, either.

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Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens

There’s no such thing as a “must-win” in November, but boy do the Leafs need a win tonight.

Through 26 games this season, the Leafs and Habs have an identical 14-9-3 record but Montreal is 6-2-2 in their last 10 while Toronto 3-4-3. Both teams lost after regulation last night (Montreal lost to Washington 3-2 in a shootout), so there’s no “tired” excuse for either club tonight. And Montreal was in Washington, meaning they had to travel as well.

The month of November hasn’t been kind to the Leafs as they are 4-5-3, but they can at least break 500 with a win tonight.

There are some changes being hinted at for the Leafs line-up and some interesting things will be to watch Kadri’s and Franson’s ice time as both didn’t play that much yesterday (14:13 and 15:56 respectively). We’ll post the lines when they come in, but regardless of what they are the Leafs need to play a good game here and start feeling confident about their game again.

The Leafs won their first game against the Habs in Montreal and after tonight have one more game remaining in Montreal (March 1st).

Odds are that Bernier is starting tonight because Reimer did yesterday, but Henny tweeted Reimer arrived to the rink first so we’ll find out in due time. The Habs started Budaj last night, unfortunately, so chances are they get Price in tonight.

Enjoy the game, everyone. Go Leafs Go.

Franson is hurt: