The Vancouver Canucks are hoping a visit to the ACC won’t do much to halt their recent winning ways. Â Other than a brief speedbump against Montreal on Tuesday, Vancouver has been nearly unstoppable, going 7-2-1 in their last ten games. Â This makes it a tough assignment for the Leafs, who won’t have an easy time snapping out of a six-game slide against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. Â Toronto will be hoping that recent call-ups Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie inject some life into their slumbering squad. Â Fans will be hoping that management didn’t jump the gun with Kadri, putting him in the limelight at the peak (hopefully…) of Toronto’s struggles.
Really, has the title “Canada’s team” ever been as clearly belonging to one team in recent history? Â Not that I’ve ever been a fan of that term (often thrown around by certain media outlets), because it too often gets ugly and complicated due to “geographical envy” (eg. Montreal fans displeasure at national Leafs exposure). Â But in the purest sense, Canada’s best NHL team right now is undisputed. Â With the rebuilding state of Edmonton and Toronto, the “decent, but not a contender” status of Montreal, and the absolute chaos that is Calgary, Vancouver takes the cake almost by default.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have a wide arsenal of strengths and skills that can put a team down. Â Toronto will obviously have to be wary of Vancouver’s skilled players, specifically on the powerplay, as the Canucks shoot a lethal 30% on the man-advantage while on the road. Â They will also have to fight hard to gain control of the puck after faceoffs, as Vancouver is one of the handful of teams higher than Toronto when it comes to success in the circle. Â If the Leafs can find solace in any statistic, it’s that the Canucks sit in the bottom-half of shots against per game. Â If Toronto manages to come out strong and pressure a Canucks squad that hasn’t been as sharp on the road, this will be an exciting, fast-paced game with a ton of hits (both teams sit in the top 10 for that category). Â But if the Leafs put forth another disorganized offensive effort, Vancouver will capitalize on the league’s most giveaway-prone club and it won’t be pretty.
Here are some other quick notes and lineups for tonight’s tilt:
-Kadri will have to maintain the effort and attention to detail he has put forth in the AHL recently. Â He will be playing on the wing with Bozak and Kulemin, a line that coach Wilson thinks will “show us what he can do offensively with the puck”. Â Nazem will have to stay with his game (not try to do too much) to have an impact, although his success at even strength is very much a question mark at this point. Â One area in which Leafs fans should see an immediate impact will be on the powerplay, as Kadri has the capacity to move the puck quickly and accurately. Â More importantly, the currently anemic man-advantage could use any sort of injection at this point and Kadri should deliver that.Â Â For a closer look at the ramifications of Kadri’s debut and Burke’s reaction, check out this bit from Ron.
-J.S. Giguere has had a rough time with the Canucks in recent years. Â The Leafs goaltender has posted a porous 4.70 GAA and 0.817 SV% in his last three games against the Orcas. Â This is an unsightly contrast to Roberto Lungo’s 3-0 mark against Toronto, while sporting a 0.929 SV%. Â Thus the home team will be looking to solve Luongo and also fend off Alex Burrows, who has racked up 7 points in his last four games against the Leafs.
-Mikhail Grabovski has found his stride. Â After a slow start, the Belarussian pivot has 3 points ( including 2 goals) Â in his last 3 games. Â For a young team with the players that Toronto has, success will ultimately depend on the consistency of purported impact players. Â Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur are the only two of Toronto’s scoring forwards that have performed at/near their maximum levels through this first part of the season. Â Kessel started strong, and faded of late. Â Grabovski has come on hard, but wasÂ under-performingÂ early. Â Kris Versteeg’s mojo dried up after the preseason, and has yet to be rediscovered. Â With the defense and goaltending that have been on display, Toronto will find success with a consistent output on the part of these players.
Slumps are made to be broken, but this is as hard a team to break it on as any. Â If Toronto gets a much-needed spark from Kadri and Aulie and emerge victorious over Vancouver, Leafs Nation will let loose a collective sigh of relief. Â If the Leafs sink again, especially in the underwhelming, pseudo-apathetic manner in which they have recently, Toronto media headlines will likely make the descent from dramatic criticism to apocalyptic forewarnings.
Toronto Maple Leafs
D. Sedin-H. Sedin-Burrows