Jonas Gustavsson looks to keep his shutout streak alive tonight against an Original Six rival in the Detroit Red Wings. We at MLHS have done him the favour of using the same picture as the Thursday night Jets GDT. It seems we’re far more reluctant to get into Gus’ corner than we are Reimer’s but there seemed to be a discernible air of confidence, a swagger even, about his game on Thursday. Let’s hope he keeps it rolling.
Tonight’s game marks the midpoint of the 2011-12 NHL season as the Leafs look for their 21st win in their 41st game of the season. Depending on how Washington does against San Jose, it could also determine if the Leafs are in or out of a playoff spot at the half way point. Not that it means a lot at this stage. The Eastern Conference has somehow found a way to get even tighter than usual, with six points separating fifth from 11th. A three game losing streak for Pittsburgh and just like that the fifth-placed Pens are only one point ahead of the eight-placed Leafs.
The Red Wings are, as to be expected, a good team again this season. Goaltender (and starter for tonight) Jimmy Howard leads the league in wins at 23. It’s a pace that would put Howard in the history books if kept up. The Wings have accumulated most of their 25 wins via prolonged winning streaks, and are coming off of two straight wins entering tonight. Fortunately, the Wings have been human on the road with a 10-11-0 away record, starkly contrasting their unbelievable 15-2-1 home record.
The Red Wings will pose a great challenge for the Leafs as probably (in contention with Vancouver) the best puck possession team in the league. Their top 5 offense takes advantage of defensive breakdowns with the best of them. The Leafs struggle defensively when they can’t get the puck back and out of the zone, as it seems their coverage falls apart quicker than most. Good clearances, clean breakouts and good puck management will be the keys to success for the Leafs tonight, as they’ve got to get the puck going in the right direction and play to their offensive strength.
The Wings’ second line of Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler and Valterri Filppula have the hot sticks at the moment with 11 points in their last two games.
The Leafs will get Mike Komisarek and Mike Brown back tonight for a boost in the grit department. Dion Phaneuf will play despite looking like this (courtesy of Ryan Fancey):