Maple Leafs and Senators to Battle on HNIC

Just hours from now, the Ottawa Senators will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs in what will be the Leafs’ 22 game of the season, and the Senators’ 24th.

Tonight’s game will be the third meeting between the two teams this season. The Maple Leafs won the first meeting 5-1 on October 9th in Toronto before falling 3-2 at home on November 2nd.

The Maple Leafs have won three of their last five games, including three straight at home. Unfortunately for the Buds, they have also dropped six consecutive games on the road. With a Maple Leafs win, a Senators loss and a Sabres loss tonight, the three teams will be tied for third in the Northeast Division.

Jonas Gustavsson, who will start tonight, has been nothing but impressive during Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s time out. The 26-year-old is 3-5-1 this season and has a goals against average of 2.39 to go along with a .919 save percentage. Gustavsson’s recent success has earned him another start, as he will get the nod tonight against the Senators.

Phil Kessel, who was benched for most of the second period of Tuesday’s victory over the Dallas Stars, had an assists in last night’s 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. He leads the team with 10 goals and will be expected to help lead the Maple Leafs to victory tonight. Nikolai Kulemin, meanwhile has four points in his last five games, but has just one goal during that same span. He has 13 points in 21 games this season.

For the Senators, goalie Pascal LeClaire has played extremely well since returning to the lineup, allowing just two goals in his last three games.  He has a save percentage of .938 in those three games.

Mike Brown will be a game-time decision for the Maple Leafs, while Ron Wilson would not confirm that Brett Lebda, who has been a healthy scratch for the last four games, will draw back into the lineup. Colby Armstrong and Dion Phaneuf are still on the injured reserve and will not play.

**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.hardonk@gmail.com.

 

Burke Still Looking to Trade, Could Use Goalies as Bait

Despite the recent success the Toronto Maple Leafs have been experiencing (winning three of their last four and three straight at home), general manager Brian Burke is still looking to make a trade, according to TheFourthPeriod.com (via the Toronto Sun).

The report suggests Burke still wants to add an “offensive-minded” forward, be it a centre or a winger.

The speculation has led many to wonder what Burke might use as potential trade bait, naming Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and, of course, Tomas Kaberle as options. However, with sophomore Jonas Gustavsson, the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere and surprisingly impressive minor leaguer Jussi Rynnas all under contract, the goaltending position could be a focal point.

Gustavsson has been getting plenty of playing time during Giguere’s absence. In nine games this season, Gustavsson is 3-4-1 and has a save percentage of .922 to go along with a goals against average of 2.30. With a career record of 19-19-10, save percentage of .906 and goals against average of 2.77, Gustavsson could be in line for a much bigger role with the Maple Leafs.

Giguere, meanwhile, has also been impressive. The 35-year-old is 5-5-2, has a save percentage of .895 and has a goals against average of 2.78 in 12 games this season. Unfortunately, however, he earns $6 million this season and could be feeling the pressure from Rynnas, who has a GAA of 1.79 and a save percentage of .941 in 12 games with the Toronto Marlies this season.

The problem with trading Giguere is that he has a no-trade clause, meaning he gets to block any trade he is involved in. Any deal would be hard for the Maple Leafs to complete before Christmas, however, as Burke’s self-imposed holiday trade freeze goes into effect on December 9th.

**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.hardonk@gmail.com.

Richards to Maple Leafs Becoming More Likely Each Day; Ribeiro Also a Possibility

For months now, people have been talking about a potential trade between the Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs that would see Stars’ centre Brad Richards become a Maple Leaf, possibly in return for Tomas Kaberle.

However, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has yet to speak publicly about a trade involving the two teams, and has not yet been spotted at a Stars game, not that it really matters anyways.

But even though Burke hasn’t been speaking of a trade, does that mean it won’t happen? Of course not. As everyone knows, Burke is the kind of general manager who likes to keep his mouth shut, and give very little information involving transactions.

With that being said, the chances of Richards becoming a Maple Leaf could be increasing each day, given the way he has been playing, his contract situation, and the Stars’ ownership/revenue situation.

Richards, 30, is off to a blazing start this season. In 18 games, the former Tampa Bay Lightning forward has nine goals and 15 assists, a total of 24 points, to go along with a plus-10 rating. He is earning $7.8 million in this, the final year of his contract with the Stars.

Also well-documented has been the Stars’ current ownership situation, which will make it extremely hard for general manager Joe Nieuwendyk to re-sign Richards. Stars owner Tom Hicks has reportedly set an internal budget that is well below the league mandated $59.4 million salary cap, meaning it will be next to impossible since Richards will likely want about $8 million per season.

That’s not to say the Maple Leafs will want to pay him that much, although their salary cap room next season may allow them to.

Richards would be a nice addition to a team that does not currently have a top-six centre.

The addition of Richards could also mean good things for the development of Nazem Kadri, who, with three assists in four games, appears to be becoming more of a play maker than a goal scorer, although his career is only five games old.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reported on Saturday not only that the Maple Leafs are interested in Richards, but Mike Ribeiro as well.

Ribeiro, a three-time 20+ goal scorer, is currently the Stars’ second line centre. He is earning $5 million per season, but still has two more years left on his contract following this season. With that and the fact that the Stars would get a greater return for Richards in mind, Nieuwendyk would likely rather trade Richards over Ribeiro.

However, Garroich said the New York Rangers are also interested in both Richards and Ribeiro. Both have a no-trade clause, meaning they can block any trade they’re involved in. Unfortunately, for the Maple Leafs, that could be a problem, as the Rangers have four more wins in two more games 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.hardonk@gmail.com.

Teeing It Up: Maple Leafs and Canadiens to Battle on HNIC

The Toronto Maple Leafs will visit the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre for what should be a spirited affair.

The Canadiens will be looking to enter the second quarter of the 2010-2011 season on a high note. The Habs are currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 12-6-1 record, good for 25 points. It won’t be an easy task for them, however, as the Maple Leafs are 4-0-1 in their last five meetings.

The Canadiens are coming off of a 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators, the team Toronto came back against after being down 4-1 on Tuesday evening. Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta combined for a minus-8 rating on Thursday night.

Toronto has won two straight games. A win tonight against the Canadiens would be a huge confidence booster after losing their eighth straight a week ago today.

To win, the Maple Leafs will need to beat red hot Carey Price. Price has a goals against average of 2.11 and a save percentage of .928 this season, each of which are seventh best amongst NHL goalies.

At the other end, Jonas Gustavsson will get the start. Gustavsson is 2-3-1 this season with a goals against average of 2.55 and a save percentage of .913. He made 29 saves against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, a game that the Maple Leafs won 3-1.

Jussi Rynnas will back him up as Jean Sebastien Giguere is expected to miss another week or so with a groin injury. Giguere’s injury gives Gustavsson some time to prove that he can be a starting goalie in the NHL.

“It’s awesome, you want to play those games when the crowd is going nuts and it’s really loud,” Gustavsson said after Thursdays’ win.

Nazem Kadri will play again tonight. Kadri has three assists in as many games this season, but is still looking for his first NHL goal. Tonight will be his fifth-career NHL game.

Phil Kessel has four points in his last three games, while Kris Versteeg has five points in his last four games, including three goals.

The Canadiens will host a short pre-game ceremony tonight on the life and death of Pat Burns, who died Friday evening at the age of 58. He coached both the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens.

**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.hardonk@gmail.com.

They Did it Again: Maple Leafs Loose to Canucks; Moves Coming?

Another day, another loss.

The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their eighth straight game on Saturday night, losing 5-3 to the Vancouver Canucks. The game was defenceman Keith Aulie’s first of his career, and the second of Nazem Kadri’s after the two were called up from the Toronto Marlies to give the team a spark.

The move seemed to work at first, as the Maple Leafs quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Fredrick Sjostrom and Phil Kessel. They held that lead for two minutes before Daniel Sedin scored on the power play and Ryan Kesler followed up with his eighth of the season.

Each team scored a goal in the second frame, as Kesler netted his second and Mikhail Grabovski picked up his third of the season with a beauty over the shoulder of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.

Mason Raymond’s fourth of the season came 13:36 into the third, giving the Canucks a 4-3 lead on shot in which Maple Leafs goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere should have been able to save. Dan Hamhuis iced the victory with an empty netter from the opposite end of the ice.

Kadri and Aulie both looking impressive, more so the latter. Kadri, as expected, made some mistakes passing the puck, but never looked bad enough to send him back to the American Hockey League after the game.

Aulie, meanwhile, looked very strong against the Canucks’ attackers, including the Sedin twins. He also proved why so many believe he is one of the best skating defensive prospects in hockey.

However, even with the additions of Kadri and Aulie, the Maple Leafs were not able to pull off a victory, although the game was relatively even.

So, with that and the Maple Leafs’ eight game losing streak being put into consideration, is it time to make a trade?

No.

Last season, the Maple Leafs lost to the Canucks on January 30th. The morning after, general manager Brian Burke traded Vesa Toskala, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan, and acquired Dion Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and others.

From that day, January 31st, 2010, on, the Maple Leafs were the seventh best team in the Eastern Conference.

Nevertheless, the Maple Leafs cannot begin making trades out of desperation. Grabovski and Kessel looked very impressive tonight, each scoring a goal, while Grabovski also had an assists and an even plus/minus rating.

Kadri, who also had an even plus/minus rating, will also build on what was a good first game with Nikolai Kulemin and Tyler Bozak. The three should be able to gain more confidence and chemistry skating together over the next week or so.

With the exception of the fourth goal, Giguere had a good game, making 27 saves. In 11 games this season, Giguere owns a goals against average of 2.62 and a save percentage of .899. Sophomore Jonas Gustavsson has been having another inconsistent but good season, meaning the Maple Leafs are set in goal.

With that being said, all the Maple Leafs need to do is build on a good game against a team that is one of, if not the hottest in the NHL right now.

Notes and stats:

Shots on goal were dead even at 32…announced attendance was 19,534…Kesler, Luongo, Grabovski named three stars…Kesler, Raymond, Edler, Samuelsson, D Sedin, H Sedin, Beauchemin, Grabovski all had two point nights…Giguere made 27 saves, Luong made 29 saves.

The Maple Leafs’ next game is on Tuesday when the host the Nashville Predators.

**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.