The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action tonight, kicking off a three game, all Canadian Western road swing beginning in Edmonton as they tangle with the Oilers. Â The Leafs are coming off a positive swing through the top teams in the East, finishing with a 3-2 record against Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Montreal.
Not only will the Toronto Maple Leafs be looking to build on the little success they have had lately, but they will also be looking to avenge the happenings of December 2nd, when the Edmonton Oilers came into the Air Canada Centre and embarrassed the Maple Leafs in a 5-0 rout. Â Sam Gagner, Ryan Jones, Taylor Hall (2), and Jordan Eberle all scored for Edmonton that night, while Nikolai Khabibulin picked up the shutout. Â The Leafs are 4-5-1 in their last ten games.
The Oilers, meanwhile, are looking to rebound after a dismal 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Â The Oilers amassed a mere 12 shots on goal in the contest, and spent the majority of yesterday’s practice working on ways to improve their firepower.
And as if they needed the extra motivation, Taylor Hall made sure the Leafs were fired up with a little bulletin board material. Hall spoke to reporters yesterday. Â “Hopefully we can compete a lot harder. Â Because Toronto is a team that, if we do, it’s there for the taking.”
No doubt at all that Ron Wilson was in the Leafs dressing room extra early this morning taping that one to the wall for all his players to see.
Taylor Hall: After struggling a little to start the season, the first overall pick has come on strong as of late for the Oilers. Â Hall has tallied four goals in his last five games for the Edmonton, and has scored seven in his last 11 contests.
Magnus Paajarvi: Between the talk about Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle (all deserved, mind you) we sometimes forget about the third part of the triad in Edmonton, Magnus Paajarvi. Â A smooth skating forward with speed and creativity, he has scored 12 points (three goals) in 28 games with the Oilers this year. Â He is, however, showing signs of positive adjustment to the NHL level of play. Â Paajarvi has six points in his last six games.
Dustin Penner: He has had his difficulties in Edmonton since being signed to an offer sheet via Anaheim, but big Dustin Penner has really rounded out his game. Â He is contributing more offensively to the team. Â His efforts seem better and more concentrated, and there hasn’t been the need to remind him about consistently applying himself. Â Penner has three points in his last three games and is currently on pace for a 25 goal season.
Mikhail Grabovski: While he was kept off the scoresheet in Montreal, Mikhail Grabovski has been one of the more consistent point getters for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. Â A more focused and determined Grabovski has saw him gather 20 points in 29 games, including goals in three straight games before Saturday’s contest against the Canadiens.
Tomas Kaberle: He finally got the firs goal monkey off his back, but despite not finding the twine, Kaberle has been a steady contributor to the Maple Leafs offense once again this year. Â He has five points in his last four games, and has been as solid as ever in creating plays and manufacturing offense for a team that has had trouble doing so throughout the season.
Kris Versteeg: Versteeg is not only hot, he is borderline on fire. Â 12 points in his last 15 games has the speedy winger out of his early season scoring slump, and contributing regularly to the Leafs attack. Â He’s on pace for a 26 goal season, and leads the team in powerplay goals, with five.
The Goalie Match-Up
The Toronto Maple Leafs will start J.S. Giguere tonight against the Oilers. Â Giguere was solid against Montreal on Saturday night, giving up just one goal on 23 shots. Â Giguere has a goals against average of 2.78 this season, while his save percentage has dipped to .894.
The Oilers are likely to counter with Nikolai Khabibulin, the goaltender who was between the pipes when the Oilers recorded a 5-0 win over Toronto in early December. Â Khabibulin has a goals against average of 3.46, with a save percentage of .897.
Oilers: Jim Vandermeer (ankle), Ales Hemsky (groin), Shawn Horcoff (knee).
Leafs: Mike Brown (finger), Mike Komisarek (finger), Jay Rosehill (nose)
Keys To The Game:
After a week that has to be considered a confidence booster for the Leafs, they look to continue to build on it with a swing through Western Canada. Â The Maple Leafs haven’t had the best of luck lately when it comes to playing in the West, and their record has reflected that. Â However, with several Maple Leafs hailing from Western Canada, there should be a little extra motivation for the team to perform at top level in front of friends and family.
It also should not be lost on the Maple Leafs that this Oilers team came into their home rink just a few weeks ago and laid a beating on them in front of their own home crowd. Â There’s no way this won’t serve as motivation for the Leafs.
As we saw from Saturday night, good things happen when you score first, like the Leafs did against the Canadiens on Hockey Night In Canada. Â While games like the comeback win against the Capitals are memorable when all is said and done, the fact remains that the level of intrigue from trying to mount a comeback does not outweigh the hole you dig for yourself as a team when allowing the opposition to score first. Â For the Maple Leafs, getting the first goal on the road could well be a key to securing a victory over the Oilers tonight.
Bottom line is, we should be in line for a great game. Â The Maple Leafs and Oilers have similar levels of speed, which could make this a fun, run-and-gun style game tonight in Edmonton. Â Add to that the motivation of the Maple Leafs trying to erase the memory of a painful defeat courtesy of the Oilers earlier this month, and the friends, family, and fans of the Maple Leafs in attendance, and tonight could be a very fun night to be a fan.
Tonight’s game begins at 9PM Eastern time, and will be shown on Rogers Sportsnet.
Questions? Comments? Â email me at [email protected]