After a rollercoaster Thursday night, the Leafs will be looking to play a more disciplined road game as they start out on a four-game swing with a visit to Atlanta. Â The days when the Thrashers were a “soft” team are in the past, as the last two years have given rise to a hard-nosed squad that is very willing to throw their (rather large) bodies around. Â This results in a forward group that is tough to get off the puck and strong on the boards. Â However, it also creates a team of eager shot blockers that lead the league in that category. Â Backstopped by a very-capable Pavelec, picking up a win tonight will be a tough task for Toronto.
The Matchup Stats
As stated in yesterday’s GDT, Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel are both in the midst of hot streaks (Grabovski’s being much longer than Kessel’s). Â One should look to Kessel continuing this against a Thrashers team he has victimized to the tune of 14 points in his last 13 contests against them. Â Playing on the tail end of a back-to-back, the Leafs will undoubtedly need secondary contributions from the likes of ex-Thrashers Clarke MacArthur (6 points in his last 10 against ATL) and Colby Armstrong (2 points in his last 3).
Ondrej Pavelec will ensure the Leafs have their work cut out for them tonight. Â The Atlanta tender has risen to stardom this season, after tantalizing fans with unrealized talent over the last few years. Â Pavelec plays a determined game that sees him rarely fazed, regardless of the amount of rubber coming at him. Â He has posted a sparkling 0.936 SV% this campaign (0.907% against the Leafs in recent years). Â Toronto defenders will need to focus on Rich Peverley, a notoriously streaky player that appears to be coming on after a slow start to the season. Â Peverley has also had recent success against Toronto in particular with 5 points in his last 6 games against the Blue and White.
Fans will be hoping to see Toronto’s blueliners step up to their coach’s mandate, and become more engaged in offensive play. Â This will include the challenge of getting pucks past the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive line Thrashers’ defense, which is 1st in the league in blocked shots. Â These same Leafs defensemen will need to control the big bodies of Atlanta’s forwards. Â Luckily, the Thrashers will be without one of their goliaths as Evander Kane is sitting out of tonight’s matchup. Â Toronto will still need to be wary of an Atlanta team that is 6th in goals/game with the 8th best powerplay.
In a display of great wisdom, Phil Kessel commented on last night’s game:
“We had a 5-2 lead and we didnâ€™t play well there. We need to bear down more and get our game in shape.”
Let’s hope the Leafs repeated this absurdly obvious mantra to themselves last night. Â They will need to come out hungry, but defensively attentive against Byfuglien and co. Â If they exhibit more ineptitudeÂ in their own end, they will likely lose this road battle against a rested Thrashers team, regardless of how many sexy shootout moves Mikhail Grabovski has up his sleeve.