The Leafs will attempt to fight off the Blues for the only time this season when St. Louis visits the ACC tonight. Â As you have surely read elsewhere, the Blues have had a grand time in the confines of the Air Canada Centre over the last decade, having not lost a game there in almost 13 years. Â St. Louis is looking to build upon a recent surge in play after a successful five-game homestand by victimizing a Toronto team that has lost three of its last four.
The Matchup Stats
With the rarity of games between these two clubs, its hard to quantify players’ individual successes within this matchup for two teams that have changed immensely over the last decade. Â That being said, you will certainly have Alex Steen’s statistical prowess shoved down your face at some point today by a Toronto media outlet. Â As such, we might as well note that the Swede has had points in all but two of his last 13 games. Â Steen found his stride last year in St. Louis, playing a reliable two-way game that has made him a favourite of the St. Louis coaching staff. Â However, David Backes has lead the charge for this squad, posting 30 points in 38 games while throwing around his body with enough reckless abandon to sit at 15th league-wide in hits amongst forwards.
The Leafs will be looking to Mikhail Grabovski to respond offensively for this Toronto team. Â Papa Grabovski has thrown down an impressive 12 points in his last 12 games, and is the only Toronto forward that is consistently producing for his club. Â On that note, Phil Kessel has shown a tendency to follow up worrying slumps with blazingly hot streaks of play. Â With 5 points in 3 games leading up to a pointless encounter with the Bruins (let’s call Boston games a wash for “The Thrill”), Kessel may be primed to net some goals with some more frequency in the upcoming games.
While St. Louis is a young team with a load of offensive threats in Backes, Steen, Boyes, Berglund et al., they play a disciplined defensive system that has lead them to their 20-13-5 record. Â The Leafs will need to penetrate a PK that operates at 81.8% and a team that allows the fifth-fewest shots against per game. Â Toronto’s coaching staff has been urging their defensemen to get more involved offensively, as the blueline desperately needs to put some shots ON net and get some goals. Â With proper poise and attention, the Leafs should have an easier time doing this against a St. Louis squad that is a dismal 29th in blocked shots on the road (23rd overall).
With Jonas Gustavsson drawing back into net for the Leafs, management has to be hoping their tender rediscovers some of the focus and drive he had earlier in the season. Â The most prolific goaltenders are those that have found aÂ psychologicalÂ routine and a definitive level of mental comfort. Â Jonas displayed this capability early on, as his body language indicated control and intensity. Â However, a lack of team success and an innate competitive edge saw Gustavsson become increasingly frustrated. Â ThisÂ reverberatedÂ through all levels of his play, and contributed to the slump that he has been in recently. Â Some time off and healthy competition from James Reimer could be theÂ jump-startÂ that the Monster has needed to get back on his game.
As stated above, the Leafs badly need their defensemen to have a bigger impact in their opponent’s end. Â This sentiment was reinforced by Ron Wilson:
“Theyâ€™re not joining the play the way they should be, they coast up the ice. Â If they moved their feet and got a little more involved in the play as a fourth guy, they might have better results. They have to find a way to get their shots on the net.”
One cannot deny the accuracy of these statements from Coach Wilson. Â Dion, Francois, Mike, we’re looking at you. Â Hey, we know you can rip a booming slapshot that makes for very frightening acoustics upon impact with the boards or glass. Â Now just do us a favour and get it on net. Â Oh, and don’t pass it to Brett.