Fresh off the Christmas break, the Toronto Maple Leafs braved a blizzard to get to New Jersey, where they will face the Devils in a match featuring two struggling teams looking for a fresh start.
The Devils, widely expected to be a contender this season following the much-heralded re-signing of Ilya Kovalchuk, have suffered through injuries to key players, a defense riddled with holes, and an inability to score en route to last place overall in the NHL standings.Â The Leafs, initially expected to battle for a playoff spot, have also experienced their own share of scoring woes en route to sitting 13th in the East.
- Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has allowed 13 goals in his past three starts, all losses. With Jean-Sebastien Giguere expected to be out for a while, the burden is now on The Monster to prove he has the ability to be a full-time starter in the NHL. No better place to start than against the lowest-scoring team in the league.
- Brett Lebda, who has been nothing short of a disaster this season, will sit this one out. While he was acquired presumably to fill the shoes of Tomas Kaberle (who ultimately never was traded), it is interesting to note that while Lebda is on the ice, the goaltenders have a combined .888 SV%. With Kaberle on the ice, meanwhile, that number jumps to .934. Bet you didn’t anticipate that one. (Glove tap to Joe Cino for some terrific statistical analysis earlier in the week.)
- Mikhail Grabovski continues to roll, riding a 4 game points streak (4G, 1A). In his last 8 games, Grabovski has scored 7 goals while adding 2 assists. In that same 8 game span, Phil Kessel has 2 goals and 4 assists. Even against a defense as inept as that of the Devils, the Leafs will need a wider balance of production if they hope to pull out a win.
- Nazem Kadri returns to the lineup tonight, after sitting out the final two games prior to the break. Ostensibly, the message being sent is he needs to work harder on his conditioning — which is somewhat ironic considering the play of the rest of the team (Grabovski’s line excluded). An inspired effort by Kadri tonight would go a long way toward securing a more permanent spot in the lineup.
- The Leafs won their previous meeting with the Devils this season, 3-1 at ACC. Of note: Gustavsson stopped 29 of 30 shots for the win, and Kadri had 2 assists.
- With a mere 60 goals for in 34 games, the Devils are the league’s lowest scoring team by a wide margin. The next-lowest scoring team? The New York Islanders, with 72 goals scored.
- In New Jersey’s last 10 games (in which they are 1-9-0), Ilya Kovalchuk has tallied 4 goals, 4 assists, and a minus-14 rating. No player better symbolizes the problems in New Jersey this season; even when their stars are producing, they cannot find a way to outscore the opposition.
- Speaking of which, is Martin Brodeur’s season from hell the result of age finally catching up, or simply a woeful defensive unit? A quick look at the Devils’ defense sees their other major acquisition, Anton Volchenkov, ranking an inexplicable 5th in ice time among the team’s defenders … with the likes of Henrik Tallinder, Andy Greene, Matt Taorima (who?) and Colin White ahead of him.
- After 34 games, New Jersey’s leading goal-scorer is Jason Arnott with 9 goals. Which pretty much sums up the Devils’ season.
- Lou Lamoriello has once again pulled the safety net, bringing back former Devils’ coach Jacques Lemaire for a third stint with the team. It’s an interesting move, given the rumours of team discord under his watch last season … although to be fair, things can’t get much worse for the Devils at this point anyway. The Leafs need to be careful here, as coaching changes can often result in a short-term boost off the bat.
|Overall||9-23-2, 20 pts (15th East)||12-17-4, 28 pts (13th East)|
|Goals For||60 (30th)||75 (28th)|
|Goals Against||108 (t-27th)||102 (19th)|
|Powerplay||15.7% (26th)||16.9% (t-17th)|
|Penalty Killing||83.9% (8th)||76.5% (29th)|
|Faceoffs||51.7% (8th)||48.8% (22nd)|
|Blocked Shots||363 (30th)||517 (11th)|
|Leading After 1st||6-2-2||5-0-3|
|Trailing After 1st||1-16-0||4-14-0|
|Leading After 2nd||6-0-1||9-0-2|
|Trailing After 2nd||1-21-0||1-16-2|
|Shootout||2-1, 4 goals||2-2, 4 goals|
Anticipated Leafs Lines
Kulemin – Grabovski – MacArthur
Kadri – Bozak – Kessel
Versteeg – Mitchell – Armstrong
Sjostrom – Brent – Orr
Phaneuf – Beauchemin
Kaberle – Schenn
Gunnarsson – Komisarek
Looking forward to your thoughts as always,