After CBC presumably decided they needed a break from the pressures of a large-scale audience broadcast last Saturday, everything is right about the world again as the 4-1-1 Leafs are set to faceoff against the 2-3-1 Flyers in Philadelphia on Hockey Night in Canada. Both clubs enter the contest on a bit of a slide and struggling for offence as of late.
After popping sixteen in their opening four, the Buds’ scoring has dried up in their past two outings to the tune of consecutive 2-1 losses. Equal parts hot opposition goaltending, lack of finish and inability or unwillingness to win the battles out front, the Leafs will see a similar approach to the Rangers’ gameplan tonight in Philly as the Flyers will look to slow down, outwork and outmuscle the visitors.
The Flyers also came out of the gate hot (2-0-1 in their first 3), but are reeling after three consecutive regulation losses at home, scoring only five times during the slump. Philly will be hungry for a win to get themselves back to the .500 mark before the end of their homestand.
The game poses perhaps the biggest test of the season for the young Maple Leafs. Thursday night marked the Leafs‘ flattest performance of the season so far and the first line saw its minutes reduced (Tyler Bozak in particular, who played only thirteen minutes vs. the Rangers). The first line responded positively after struggles against Pittsburgh in game three and must reply similarly tonight.
While at this point I’m comfortable saying Thursday’s result was “just one of those games” in that even simple passes weren’t being converted, Ron Wilson’s point is a good one – the Leafs‘ 4-0 start didn’t go unnoticed around the Conference. The Buds must show consistent energy and the versatility to adjust to attempts to slow down their offence. Tonight, against a physical Flyers team in particular, the Leafs must show the willingness to compete and win battles on the forecheck and in the crease in order to grind out a win.
To that end, it wasn’t just the ineffectiveness of the first and second lines that is to blame for Thursday’s result but also a lack of energy and physicality from the bottom six when the momentum needed to be turned. Tonight’s game could be won or lost in the trenches and John Mitchell will have to help contribute to the intensity in the place of Mike Zigomanis.
Where the Blue and White have a definite edge on paper is in the goaltending department. Jean Sebastien Giguere is off to a 3-0-1 start with a 1.96 GAA while Brian Boucher remains winless through two starts. The Leafs were winless in their last four at the Wachovia Center, but it’s now called the Wells Fargo Center so hopefully that means the end of that.
Carl Gunnarsson will replace Brett Lebda after a poor defensive performance from the newcomer last time out. Gunnarsson will look to get his season back on track and limit the number of giveaways coming off his stick. Â It will be interesting to see how he responds to some time in the pressbox – hopefully it works as a kick in the butt as it did for Luke Schenn last season as opposed to being a confidence deflator. He will skate alongside Mike Komisarek in the final pairing.
Toss your predictions in the comments.