For a team already among the worst in the league when it comes to scoring first, hopefully the practice time the Leafs managed to get in this morning at the Mastercard Centre will help avoid a flat footed start against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. Fortunately the Leafs finally got out of snowy Newark in time for a 11 a.m. skate and before they went the way of the Uruguyan rugby team and cannibalized each other.
Perhaps sustaining the illness while pushing the media bus out of a snowy standstill (though pure speculation), Tim Brent has returned home under the weather and will not play tonight. Joey Crabb, who has an assist in two games for the Leafs in late November/early December, has been recalled in Brent’s absence. He leads the Marlies in goal scoring with eleven and looks as though he’ll start on the second line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. Versteeg will join John Mitchell and Colby Armstrong on the third unit.
Jonas Gustavsson will get the start again tonight coming off a one-goal performance against New Jersey but will face a tougher test tonight than the Devils and their 1.69, league last goals per game output. Jean Sebastien Giguere remains at least a week away according to NHL.com. With three games in five days starting Thursday against Columbus, we could see James Reimer get his first NHL regular season start.
The Leafs have been playing five hundred hockey in the month of December, sitting 5-5 in their last ten, an improvement over the 3-7-3 record of November but not enough to get the Leafs out of lottery pick territory let alone into the playoff picture (as an FYI, Leafs are 12 points out with two games in hand on current eight place resident Montreal). Heading toward the midway point of the season, the Leafs badly need to string some wins together before the season gets away from them. Taking two points from other struggling teams in the East like tonight’s opponent in Carolina will have to start becoming the norm.
The Hurricanes enter the game looking to snap a three game losing streak in a building that’s been friendly to them in recent history. The Hurricanes are 4-0 and have outscored the Leafs 16-7 in their latest trips to the ACC.
-Since his seven game pointless streak in October, Kris Versteeg has 21 points in his last 24 games played.
-Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin have moved into a tie with Phil Kessel for the goal scoring lead with 12. Five Leafs have as many or more points than Kessel, who has 20 in 34 games played (Grabovski, Kulemin, MacArthur, Versteeg, Kaberle).
-Kessel is now the worst minus player on the team at -14, surpassing Brett Lebda and Kris Versteeg at -13.
-John Mitchell and Colby Armstrong provided three of the four goals against New Jersey. As much as Kessel has struggled in this first half, the drop off from the top six to bottom six in terms of points production is drastic. After Bozak, who is struggling mightily himself in the points department at 11, Tim Brent has 6 followed by Fredrik Sjostrom and Colby Armstrong at 4, John Mitchell at 3 and Colton Orr at one point. Contributions from the secondary cast like those seen from Armstrong and Mitchell in New Jersey will have to become a more frequent event.
-Nazem Kadri will skate on the fourth line tonight, centering Sjostrom and Orr. I understand Kadri hasn’t proven up to top six minutes but I don’t see how servings of fourth line duty mixed with press box viewings is benefiting Kadri’s development in any way. Return him to the Marlies.
-The Leafs were originally scheduled to fly back home after their Boxing Day tilt with the Devils, but with the massive blizzard pelting most of the eastern seaboard, the Leafs planned to stay in Jersey overnight and return to Toronto on Monday after a morning practice.
Following their 4-1 victory Sunday, the Leafs boarded a bus destined for the teamâ€™s hotel outside of Newark. However, they ended up getting stranded on the bus for four hours (until 3 am Monday) and had to cancel their morning practice.
They werenâ€™tÂ able to return home on Monday either, as the charter they had already boarded was unable to take off. Finally, they arrived back in Toronto this morning after as Colby Armstrong put it, â€œthe longest one-game road trip ever.â€
-Markham native Jeff Skinner, who is tied for the lead in rookie scoring with 25 points, will look to get off the schnide in front of friends and family, as he has gone nine games without a goal.
-Mikhail Grabovski should be happy to see the Hurricanes, as he has five goals in his last five games against them.
Your lineup for tonight courtesy of Jonas Siegel: