As the Leafs get set to enter the post-Kaberle era tonight against Ottawa, Joe Colborne has been busy making a big first impression down on the farm, scoring in regulation before adding a tally in the shootout to lead the Marlies to a 4-3 victory over Grand Rapids.
The theme of change applies to both opponents tonight as the Leafs and Senators have made a combined eight trades over the last week and a half. The current trajectories of the two clubs in the standings are much less similar; the Senators, tanking with enthusiasmÂ (1-7-2 in their last ten), now occupy last place in the league standings entering tonight after Taylor Hall’s hat trick led Edmonton over Atlanta this afternoon. The Leafs are 6-3-1 in their last ten and will be happy to hear of that Atlanta loss as they remain four points back of tenth-placed Atlanta and now have two games in hand.
Two teams nearby in the Eastern Conference playoff race in Florida and Buffalo both lost last night, but eighth placed Carolina beat Philadelphia late off of a Kris Versteeg turnover. The Leafs sit eight back of Carolina with a game in hand and four back of ninth-placed Buffalo. Carolina welcome the hottest team in the league, New Jersey, to the RBC Centre tonight.
Why breakdown the playoff situation for a team that has in the span of two weeks traded two top four defencemen and a 20-goal scorer and brought in five draft picks and two prospects? Well, because without a first round pick of their own the Leafs have no real reason not to keep working towards the playoff goal. There’s also the possibility Burke takes one or more of those draft picks – essentially described by Burke as placeholder assets – and tries to flip them for a roster player before the deadline.
The different rebuilding approaches the Sens and Leafs are taking should make the Leafs a much more motivated team down the stretch. It will be interesting to see if Wilson was right about the impact of losing Kaberle being as not as serious as you’d think (I have my doubts) and if the belief is still there in the locker room that the Leafs can make this interesting in the final two months of the season. If they’re going to, a game at home against the Senators is a “gotta win” scenario.
The Senators will be trying out Craig Anderson (3.28GAA, .898 SV%) for the rest of the season after Murry completed a struggling goaltender swap with the Avalanche that saw Brian Elliot headed to Denver. He’ll get the start tonight.
The Leafs’ goaltending situation tonight is also interesting – James Reimer will get the start (2.39GAA, .928SV% ) and will be backed up by Ben Scrivens, who has traveled from from the ECHL to the NHL in one season. The injured Jonas Gustavsson and Jean Sebastien Giguere should return to practice early next week, meaning Scriven’s NHL stop will be short lived but it should be a good experience for the Cornell University product.
It would be nice if Carl Gunnarsson and Brett Lebda could step up as admirably as Keith Aulie has thus far in wake of the Francois Beauchemin deal. Gunnarsson will be paired with Luke Schenn tonight, who yesterday said goodbye to his defence partner of the better part of two seasons. The idea is that Gunnarsson and Schenn will be able to complement each other in a similar fashion as Kaberle and Schenn, but Gunnarsson made an important point after practice today in emphasizing his need to stay within his capabilities. He can’t be Kaberle offensively but he can bring solid two-way play to the table.
Brett Lebda will be tried alongside Dion Phaneuf on the first powerplay unit with Kaberle out of the picture, so there should be a lot of cringing when the Leafs get the man advantage tonight. To his credit, Lebda has screwed up a lot less lately.