Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to host the Florida Panthers at the ACC, and are looking to erase a three game losing streak. While the team has lacked an ability to score after their first two games, Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur continue to be the team's offensive powers with little to no help around them. This has sparked line-up changes from head coach Ron Wilson.
Third line grinding centerman, Tim Brent, is third in the goals category on the Leafs squad with 2. Mikhail Grabovski and Tyler Bozak have yet to find the back of the net, and the off-season acquisition of Kris Versteeg have allowed Leafs fans to watch him receive plenty of opportunities but succeed on those chances just once in seven games.
Enough is enough. The Leafs opened the year with a four game win-streak, and euphoria poured itself all over fans across North America. Days later, the Leafs are falling out of the top 8 in the East and the same goal-scoring questions that were asked over the summer are now proving to be the team's catalyst.
It's not as if the Leafs were never going to lose, but the way in which they have lost has left little to be desired. An overtime loss to the Islanders saw the Leafs fire 30 shots on aging netminder Dwayne Roloson, resulting in just one goal late in the third period, earning the Leafs a point in the affair. A 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers had the Leafs out-shot in two of the three periods, leading fans to understand that season to season, things definitely change. Last year, the Leafs were excellent at getting shots on net, but lacked the ability to keep the goal's on the outside of their own goal line. Finally, a lackluster loss to the Philadelphia Flyers have nearly put the Leafs right back to square one.
The main question surrounding the Leafs winning streak was how the team would react when it finally faced a loss. Unfortunately, the team has been falling faster than a star, and if they are unable to capitalize on their scoring chances tonight, it is possible they may not see another victory until they visit Florida on November 10 as the schedule certainly does not get easier any time soon. Toronto visits the Bruins on Thursday, hosts the Rangers on Saturday, play the Senators next Tuesday, then visit the Capitals the following night, head back home to host the Sabres, then shoot out to the Sunshine State where they play the Lightning and Panthers back to back.
If the Leafs cannot rediscover chemistry, things are sadly looking down once again. Ron Wilson hopes to correct that early and has switched up his lines in preparation for tonight's outing. Kris Versteeg has been demoted to the second line, while Nikolai Kulemin finds himself back with two familiar faces (Kessel and Bozak) on the top unit.
Luke Schenn will likely be handling all shutdown duties once again tonight. He lead the team in ice-time against Philadelphia with 24:49, finishing the game -1. Of those minutes, he played 16:58 five on five, 1:52 on the powerplay, and 5:59 short handed. He has been one of the few bright spots on the Leafs through all of the team's first seven games. His new size (he gained about 15 pounds in the off-season) and confidence has made him an absolute rock for the back end.
J.S. Giguere is expected to get the start tonight. He will have to put on a better performance than what he displayed against the Flyers on Saturday. The Leafs offense, on the other hand, need to find a way to get their shots through. Perhaps it is predictability or lack of puck movement, but Saturday the Leafs registered just 14 shots on net, while the Flyers blocked 18. That is a stat that needs to be improved on in order to start securing more points in the standings.
I will be liveblogging tonight's game, so be sure to join in on the discussion. It all gets underway at 6:45 EST.
Micheal A. Aldred