The points are now at a premium with under 20 games to go and the group that has the Leafs sitting fifth in the East has been trusted with closing out the job.
A vote of confidence? Maybe not quite, but there’s certainly a big test ahead for this group down the stretch.
Speaking of which, Peter Holland and Carter Ashton have been recalled while Nikolai Kulemin has been returned to a line with Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri. The Leafs poked the tires on a center but opted to play Peter Holland as their 3C for now while Bolland continues to recover. This is an opportunity for Holland to run with it.
Ashton will skate alongside Troy Bodie and Jay McClement on line four, while Holland will center David Clarkson and Mason Raymond on line three. Those changes give the Leafs’ bottom 3 forward lines a much different look than what we saw on Monday versus Columbus. Hopefully it also results in a secondary scoring presence beyond the Leafs’ top line.
New Rangers acquisition Marty St. Louis is expected to skate on old linemate Brad Richards’ wing in his first game in the Big Apple.
The unknown with a trade such as today’s by NYR and Tampa Bay is what swapping Captains (for the first time since ’95) does to the respective teams. The Rangers look the better team on paper after the trade, beyond a doubt, but St. Louis is a much different player than what’s leaving and there may be a feeling out process trying to find the right fit. Hopefully the adjustment isn’t seamless and takes a few games, for the Leafs’ sake.
The Rangers, like Columbus, have had the Leafs’ number this season. The Leafs scraped a point out of a Christmastime meeting but were soundly outplayed for much of the game. In early January, New York blew the Leafs out of their own building by a score of 7-1.
It’s all about dealing with the forecheck for the Leafs, which they did a good job of in the first period against Columbus before getting snowed under in the 2nd. The prescout on the Leafs is pretty obvious, and it is that a hard forecheck and cycle will get the Leafs D pinned in and scrambling, and from there they sometimes struggle to recover and break out as a team.
JvR – Bozak – Kessel
Lupul – Kadri – Kulemin
Raymond – Holland – Clarkson
Ashton – McClement – Bodie
Gunnarsson – Phaneuf
Gardiner – Franson
Gleason – Rielly