Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play host to the Ottawa Senators at the ACC in a game that could be a nail biter for all the wrong reasons. For fans who are looking for a tight game, the Leafs have provided endless periods of "so close!" The Senators? They seem to be running down a similar path, despite blowing out two of their opponents last week with five goals for in each game (vs. Panthers and Coyotes). Unfortunately, they are coming off a shutout loss to the Bruins (surprise) and if they had not put up 10 goals in two games last week, their goals for totals (26) would tell the true tale of two cities who simply cannot score.
“We have to expect bigger things offensively,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said. “We’ve had some guys chip in offensively, but tension will be on the main guys. We need other guys to start scoring. They have to help out. There’s definitely room for improvement, but it will be a process.”
If you replaced Cory Clouston and Senators from that quote with Leafs and Ron Wilson, it would be the same answer to the same questions. The fact is, similar stats run for both clubs. The Leafs have Phil Kessel (7 goals) and Clarke MacArthur (6) doing all the work when it comes to the score sheet. For the Senators, it's Daniel Alfredsson (6) and Milan Michalek (4).
Then we move down the depth chart a bit, and the Senators have a bit more luck with the puck as Alex Kovalev (3), Mike Fisher (3), Erik Karlsson (2), Ryan Shannon (2), and Chris Kelly (2) have found the back of the net a few times so they recognize what a goal tastes like. That's alright though, because the Leafs secondary scorers are sure to out-duel the "sometimes but not really" deadly offensive Senators. The incredibly speed and soft hands of dangler Tim Brent will get the Leafs past their slump, as will the power forward scoring dynamo, Colton Orr, who runs over (literally) anyone who gets in his way. He's going for gold!
With all that said, there is one stat the Leafs can be proud of this year, and it would make Cory Clouston's quote mean that much more for the Senators if they could even come close to matching it (the Leafs goaltending this year), but they can't.
Robin Lehnar has come in to relieve his goaltending partners twice this year (played the last five minutes against the Canadiens on October 16, and the final half of the October 18 match-up against the Pittsburgh Penguins), stopping all ten shots he has faced in just over 34 minutes of ice-time. The other two? Well... Pascal Leclaire has appeared in four games this season, posting an acceptable 0.903 save percentage and a 3.24 goals against average. He is the better of the two, yet posts a 0-3-1 record.
Insert the savior - Brian Elliot. He is expected to get the start tonight, and he will hit the ice with a 0.894 save percentage and a 3.39 goals against average. His numbers are weaker than Pascal Leclaire (who is now back on the shelf with an injury [surprise! yes, I did a double bracket]), yet he has a record of 4-4-0.
Toronto, on the other hand, has been nothing short of solid in net. Despite the few mistakes Jonas Gustavsson (0.921 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average) and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (0.909 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average) have made here and there this season, neither has cost the Leafs a victory. Every goaltender in the league has shots they wish they had a second chance on, but mistakes happen - as per human error - and the game goes on. Toronto has had more bailouts this year than Lindsay Lohan.
Toronto has better goaltending.
Toronto has not scored in over 122 minutes.
The Leafs could make Elliot look like a God in net.
The Senators could make the Leafs look like a playoff team again.
It's not as if they aren't trying though, and tonight both teams will try to make an example of the other. Ron Wilson has been looking for ways to improve his lines from within the organization, and the Senators are just hoping the on-again off-again talent of Jason Spezza and Alex Kovalev show up tonight.
The Leafs have found a new piece to their puzzle with the addition of Luca Caputi to the top line. He is expected to park himself in front of the Senators net tonight, take the abuse and generate more scoring opportunities. This is a great decision - if the pucks would get past the two or three other players looking to block more Leafs shots. According to the Toronto Star, Caputi has been studying tapes of Tomas Holmstrom. If he can be even half the net presence that man is, the Leafs win this experiment hands down.
The action gets underway tonight at 7:00 EST. I will be liveblogging the event on The Checking Line.com so be sure to join in on the discussion.
Micheal A. Aldred