Heavyweights to Battle When Leafs Face Flyers Tonight

Daniel Carcillo vs. Mike Brown or Colton Orr vs. Jody Shelley? Take your pick, because all four are expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the struggling Philadelphia Flyers.

Tonight’s game will be the first of four between the two. The Maple Leafs lost all but one game last season against the Flyers, including both games in Philadelphia, where they will play tonight.

After starting the 2010-2011 season 4-0-0, the Leafs have lost two straight games. On Monday, the Buds fell 2-1 in overtime to the surprisingly good New York Islanders, followed by a 2-1 regulation loss at the hands of the New York Rangers on Thursday. The Leafs were more than impressive against the Islanders, firing 30 shots at an impressive Dwayne Roloson, but couldn’t find their way against the Rangers.

Tyler Bozak will be trying to rebound tonight after being benched for part of Thursday’s game against the Rangers. Coach Ron Wilson says that his decision to sit the sophomore centre for the majority of the third period was due to the fact that he was not feeling 100 percent after taking a shot in the ear at practice earlier in the week.

Wilson will make a change in the lineup tonight to try to change things up a little, by putting John Mitchell in for the first time this season while taking faceoff specialist Mike Zigomanis out, according to Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV.

Every Maple Leaf forward will look to contribute tonight, as the Leafs have only scored two goals in their last two games. As a team, they scored 15 goals in their first four games. Ten of the Leafs’ 17 goals have come from Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel.

“We never went to the front of the net and won a battle,” Wilson said after Thursday’s loss. “You’re not going to score when the other team is going to pack five guys around their goaltender.”

Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the start tonight for the Leafs. The 33-year-old is 3-0-1 this season with a 1.96 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

If things go bad, Jonas Gustavsson will be ready to enter. He is 2-1-1 this season and owns a goals against average of 2.52 and a save percentage of .912.

Colton Orr and Mike Brown will be looked to when trying to keep Daniel Carcillo quiet and off the score sheet.

The Flyers, on the other hand, will be trying to snap a three game losing skid in which they have fallen to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – C – Tyler Bozak

Bozak has yet to score a goal this season. The 24-year-old had 27 points in 37 games last season. He will be looking to rebound tonight after being benched for most of the third period on Thursday against the Rangers.

Philadelphia – RW – Danny Briere

Briere has scored four goals in his first six games, but has yet to pick up an assist. The former Sabre has an even plus/minus rating this season.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs Bottom Six is Extremely Underrated

 

Fredrik Sjostrom has been silent but good this season

So much focus has gone towards the top-six forwards on the Toronto Maple Leafs. So much, in fact, that lost in all of the commotion has been the impressive play of the third and fourth lines.

Consisting of Colby Armstrong, Fredrik Sjostrom, Mike Zigomanis, John Mitchell, Colton Orr, Mike Brown and Tim Brent, there is always an extra specialty forward to stick into the lineup.

Armstrong, 27, is used as an energy player who can put the puck in the net. In six games this season, Armstrong has one goal and is a minus-1. However, in 366-career NHL regular season games, he has scored 79 goals and 100 assists, while going plus-31. The native of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan was known as an impact player during his time in Atlanta, and was even one of the team’s assistant captains.

Sjostrom, meanwhile, is not only a good third/fourth line player, but is also a penalty killing specialist. The 27-year-old is just one point shy of 100 for his career. He is pointless in five games so far this season.

Zigomanis, who has also appeared in all six games this season, has recorded one assist so far and has won 55.9 percent of the faceoffs he’s taken. In seven NHL seasons, the 29-year-old has played for the Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins and, of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Mitchell just made the team out of training camp, with the coaching staff choosing him over Luca Caputi, who was more than impressive during training camp. The decision now seems to be the right one based on team success, but he has yet to play this season. Although most fans didn’t see it or think much of it, Mitchell was one of the hardest workers on the Maple Leafs last season.

Orr and Brown can be thrown into the same category as enforcers.

Orr was one of just three players to play in all 82 games for the Leafs last season, scoring a career high four goals, while going minus-4 and accumulating a total of 239 penalty minutes. The 28-year-old was nothing but valuable to the men in blue during the 2009-2010 season.

Brown was acquired from Anaheim during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and was expected to be used as an extra who would be thrown in the lineup when facing division rivals and other threats. However, the 5’11”, 205 pound veteran hasn’t missed a game so far this season and has a plus/minus rating of plus-2. In six games, Brown also has a total of 17 penalty minutes. He’s been using his speed and toughness to impress the Maple Leafs coaching staff and fans.

Finally, Brent, 26, scored two goals in his first two games but has not scored in his last four. Brent isn’t a fighter and has managed to keep his penalty minutes low, with just two through the first six games. Brent has been used in both a shut down and energy roles and has excelled in both areas.

In six games this season, the Maple Leafs are allowing just 2.17 goals against on average. Although goalies Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, as well as every defenceman deserve credit, the third and fourth lines deserve a large part as well.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @SportsHazeLukas for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs Benefiting From Kaberle Trade That Never Happened

 

Tomas Kaberle

 

On August 15th, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and media all over North America were going crazy in anticipation for a trade that would see veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle pack his bags and leave the Maple Leafs. Just over three months later and many fans are happy to see Kaberle wearing the blue and white.

General manager Brian Burke’s decision to keep Kaberle now seems to be a very good one, for more than one reason.

The 32-year-old has begun the 2010-2011 season by assisting on three goals in his first four games and posting a plus/minus rating of +3. If one was to watch his defensive play as well, they would notice that he has also been more-than-impressive without the puck.

However, his quick start is not the only way the Maple Leafs are benefiting from the Kaberle trade that never happened.

It’s no secret that Clarke MacArthur is off to a hot start this season. Scoring six points (five goals, one assist) in his first four games, as well as a +2 rating, MacArthur has exceeded expectations.

There were many top-six forwards, wingers and centremen, rumoured to join the Maple Leafs in return for Kaberle. With players like Ryan Clowe, Brad Richards and Marc Savard involved in those rumours, it’s highly unlikely MacArthur would be playing with Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski right now, a line that has been highly successful.

In fact, MacArthur may not have even signed with the Leafs had Kaberle been traded, due to a lack of salary cap space.

That’s not to say Clowe, Richards, Savard or any other player that may have come to Toronto in a trade involving Kaberle wouldn’t be playing extremely well, but as of right now, with a 4-0-0 record, it appears as though the Maple Leafs are better off with Kaberle and MacArthur in the lineup.

The line of MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin may not be the only one benefiting from the Kaberle trade that never happened, though.

Although Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak haven’t looked all that impressive on the top line together, they did have a good game against the Rangers on Friday night. All three have great potential to put up big numbers, with many fans, the coaching staff, management and media expecting at least 50 points from Bozak, 60 points from Versteeg and 40+ goals from Kessel.

It’s likely that the three would not be skating together had Burke of traded Kaberle, acquiring a top-six forward.

With a good game from the trio on Monday against the New York Islanders and another on Thursday against the Rangers, Versteeg, Kessel and Bozak will have some serious confidence instilled in them, leading to some good, if not great production.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Clarke MacArthur The New Phil Kessel?

Clarke MacArthur has been more than impressive this season

There is a new sniper in Toronto, at least for now.

25-year-old Clarke MacArthur has been scoring at a rapid pace so far this season, averaging over a goal per game. With a total of five goals in four games, MacArthur has scored one more goal than $5.4 million man Phil Kessel, and has the same amount of points, with six.

So is Clarke MacArthur the new Phil Kessel? Can he score 30+ goals this season?

MacArthur is no stranger to quick starts. The former Sabre began last season by scoring four goals in his first six games, but finished with a total of 16 in 81 games. The season before, he began by scoring three goals in his first six games, but finished with 17 in 71 games.

So with Thursday night’s home game against the New York Rangers being his sixth game (barring injury), the question must be asked: can he keep it up?

Yes.

In each of the four games he has played in, MacArthur has skated on the second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, both of whom seem to be finding their way this season as well. MacArthur praised Grabovski and Kulemin for their willingness to get into the corners and do the dirty work, all the while feeding him the puck.

With line mates like Grabovski and Kulemin, boat loads of confidence and no end of the trio’s success in sight, MacArthur could easily score 25-30 goals for the first time in his National Hockey League career. If that happens, Brian Burke will be praised for his work in signing MacArthur to a $1.1 million contract after he was awarded $2.4 million by an arbitrator.

However, the key to MacArthur’s success this season is his line mates, who, if they keep playing this way, could rack up the points themselves as well.

Kessel, meanwhile, has been playing on the top line, receiving top line minutes with Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak. If Kessel, Versteeg and Bozak can find their way, which they appeared to do on Friday night against the Rangers, the spotlight probably won’t shine on MacArthur as much as it is right now.

With that being said, it’s improbable that MacArthur will become as good a goal scorer as Phil Kessel.

What do you think? With Clarke MacArthur finish the season with more goals than Phil Kessel?

**Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.


Maple Leafs Look to Start 4-0 With Win Over Rangers

The Toronto Maple Leafs will go for their fourth straight win tonight against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. If the Maple Leafs win, it will mark the first time they have opened the season with four straight wins in 17 years.

With goals from Clarke MacArthur, Francois Beauchemin and Colton Orr, the Leafs managed to score four times on just 14 shots Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

All but three players, not including goalies, have recorded at least one point in the three games the Leafs have played. MacArthur has been a pleasant surprise for the Buds, scoring four goals and adding one assist in three games. Phil Kessel, the team’s second leading scorer, has accumulated two goals and an assist in three games.

Aside from Kessel, the Maple Leafs’ top line has been struggling to produce. Kris Versteeg has just one goal and one assist so far, while centre Tyler Bozak has just one helper. Coach Ron Wilson will be looking for more production out of the three tonight.

The second line, however, has been far from disappointing. Nikolai Kulemin (one goal, two assists), Mikhail Grabovski (no goals, three assists) and Clarke MacArthur (four goals, one assist) have combined for a total of 11 points through three games. The line has been counted on when a goal is needed and used to inject some life into the team with a good shift.

As far as the bottom-six goes, Tim Brent, Mike Brown and Mike Zigomanis have all impressed in their own ways. Brent has scored twice in three games, while Brown has used his speed and pugnacity effectively. Zigomanis, meanwhile, leads the team in faceoffs, winning 71.4 precent of his draws. All three will play important roles in shutting down Marian Gaborik and company tonight.

A part of Gaborik’s company will be Brandon Dubinsky, who is off to a great start this season. With three goals and an assist in two games, Dubinsky will be key to the Rangers’ success tonight. The 24-year-old scored 20 goals in 69 games last season.

Gaborik has yet to score in two games, while rookie Derek Stepan scored a hat trick in the first game of the season.

Tonight will be New York’s home opener, a game that they have not lost since the 2005-2006 season. They finished with a home record of just 18-17-6 last season.

The Leafs will be without defenceman Brett Lebda tonight due to a shoulder injury, but coach Ron Wilson says that he should be available for Monday’s home game against the Islanders. It is unclear whether enforcer Colton Orr will be in the lineup, since he did not return to Wednesday’s game after being dropped by Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland in a fight.

The Rangers could be without Erik Christensen. Chris Drury will make his season debut tonight after breaking his finger.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – LW – Clarke MacArthur

MacArthur has scored four goals and an assist in three games this season and will try to continue scoring at such a rapid pace tonight.

New York – G – Henrik Lundqvist

Lundqvist has been struggling this season, going 1-1-0 in two starts, posting a goals against average of 4.03 and a save percentage of .881.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

Toronto Maple Leafs Improve to 3-0: How Long Can They Keep It Up?

J-S Giguere has been more than impressive this season

The Toronto Maple Leafs improved their 2010-2011 season record to 3-0-0 on Wednesday night with a 4-3 victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. During their three game winning streak, the Leafs have also defeated their biggest Northeast Division rivals in the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.

But with a second line made up of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, and a top line in which no player is over the age of 24, just how long can the Maple Leafs continue their winning streak?

Many fans are already jumping to conclusions, saying that the Maple Leafs will have a big season, make the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. Although the playoffs are a possibility, the Stanley Cup is not a reality.

In order for the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs, both Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson need to remain healthy, find consistency and stay consistent. So far, Giguere has done exactly that through two games, while Jonas Gustavsson showed plenty of upside Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.

Giguere, who won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, is the perfect goalie to play with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old is still a very good player in the NHL, and knows what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. Gustavsson, who played well in his rookie season, posting a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .880, can learn a few things from Giguere.

However, in order for the two to put up good numbers, they will also need some help in front of them, something the team has not improved on this season.

The Maple Leafs’ defence has allowed 71 shots against through three games, 13th best in the NHL. Last season, the Maple Leafs allowed 2440 shots against, also 13th in the league.

In order for the Maple Leafs to play better defensively, Dion Phaneuf will need to step up his game if the way he played Wednesday is any indication of his play in the future, while Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek will all need to keep playing the way they are, at the very least.

If there is a bright spot when it comes to the Maple Leafs defence early in the season, it’s the penalty killing units. With a success rate of 90 percent, the Leafs are the fifth best penalty killing team in the league. Last season, the Leafs killed off just 74.6 percent of their penalties, which put them 30th in the league.

The Maple Leafs can keep playing the way they are and be successful for now, but once they start running into teams like the Washington Capitals, the defence will need to become stronger.

The Maple Leafs’ forwards, on the other hand, have been nothing short of impressive.

Clarke MacArthur has at least one goal in each of his three games as a Leaf so far with a total of four goals and five points, Phil Kessel has two goals and an assist, Nikolai Kulemin has a goal and two assists, Mikhail Grabovski has three assists and Kris Versteeg has scored one goal while adding an assist. In short, the players who are expected to put up a decent amount of points have been.

But what has gone unnoticed by a lot of fans and media members is that the Leafs have been spreading the scoring up and down the lineup.

Luke Schenn, Tim Brent and Mike Komisarek all have two points, while Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Mike Zigomanis and Tyler Bozak each have a point. Keep in mind that the season is only three games old.

Nevertheless, if the Maple Leafs’ top line is going to become their best line, Tyler Bozak will need to start producing in order for Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel to put up big numbers.

All in all, the only area to be more than normally concerned about is the defence. As long as the forwards can keep putting up the numbers they have been, the Maple Leafs will be in good shape for another week, at least, though it is still too early to start getting excited

Now, this is not to say that it will happen, but let’s not forget, the last time the Maple Leafs started a season 3-0, in 1999, they won the division.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.

 

 

Maple Leafs Travel to Pittsburgh For First Road Game of 2010-2011

The Toronto Maple Leafs will hit the road for the first time this season tonight, when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins to play at the all-new Consol Energy Centre.

The Maple Leafs, who lost all but one game against the Penguins last season, are off to a quick start this season with a 2-0-0 record, leading the Northeast Division. The last time they started the season 3-0, they won their division.

Jonas Gustavsson is expected to get the start, according to Paul Hendrick. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has been holding down the fort in the Maple Leafs net so far this season, has been more than impressive with a 2-0-0 record, a goals against average of 1.51 and a save percentage of .935. Unfortunately for Giguere, coach Ron Wilson plans on giving sophomore Jonas Gustavsson at least one start per week.

Gustavsson went 16-15-9 in 42 games last season, posting a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .902.

Although 82 goals are unlikely to happen, Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur and even Tim Brent are all scoring at an 82-goal pace with two goals in the first two games. All three will look to extended their goal scoring streak to three games.

Kris Versteeg, meanwhile, has been silently impressive this season, with two points (one goal, one assist) in two games and an even +/- rating.

As far as the opposition goes, the Penguins will be playing their fourth game of the season. Pittsburgh is 1-2-0 and owns the 19th best power play in a 30 team league. They have yet to win in three games in their new arena this season.

Pittsburgh’s seven goals have not been enough so far and they must begin producing soon if they want to avoid an early season slump.

The Penguins might have to play without Zybnek Michalek (arm) and Brooks Orpik (groin), while the Maple Leafs may have to do without veteran Brett Lebda due to a shoulder injury.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – RW – Phil Kessel

Kessel has scored two goals and an assist in three games this season. Watch to see if he can continue scoring at such a high pace.

Pittsburgh – C – Sidney Crosby

Crosby has only one point, an assist, through three games. A former 50 goal man, look for Crosby to pick up his play tonight.

**Follow Buds In Blue on Twitter @BudsInBlue for frequent blog updates. You can also follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs game updates. You can contact him at lukas@gacksports.com.