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.

 

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Maple Leafs Vs. Senators: The Battle of Ontario to Resume Tonight

The Battle of Ontario will resume tonight in Ottawa, as the Senators host the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time this season.

The Maple Leafs will be going for their fifth straight win tonight against the Senators, the last one coming on March 16th. The Leafs took the 2009-2010 season series four games to two. If the Buds win tonight, it will not only mark their fifth straight over the Senators, but it will have been the first time they won two straight games to start the season since 1999.

The Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Thursday night, with goals from Phil Kessel, Tim Brent and Clarke MacArthur. Jean-Sebastien Giguere stopped 26 of 28 shots, earning him a second consecutive start tonight.

The Senators, however, lost to the Buffalo Sabres 2-1.

Giguere owns a 5-2-1 regular season record with a goals against average of 1.96 against the Senators, while Phil Kessel has at least one goal in each of his last seven games against the Senators and has scored 16 points in his last 11 games against the black, red and gold.

The Senators will once again be without Filip Kuba due to a sore groin, while Sens coach Cory Clouston says Jason Spezza will be a game time decision with a sore groin. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, will have to play without veteran defenceman Jeff Finger and off-season signing Brett Lebda.

The Maple Leafs lines will be the exact same as they were against the Habs, meaning John Mitchell will sit once again.

Coach Ron Wilson said on Thursday night that tonight’s game will “be another energetic affair.”

**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.

Information from MapleLeafs.NHL.com was used in this post.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs To Battle Montreal Canadiens in Season Opener

It’s finally here─the season opener.

For the first time in almost six months, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs will go head to head, this time at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

After making little to no significant moves in the 2010 off-season, the Canadiens will ice a roster eerily similar to last season’s. Unfortunately for Habs fans, that roster does not include playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. Instead, Carey Price is expected to start in goal for the majority of the Habs’ 82 games.

However, Price may not be starting in goal tonight for the bleu, blanc et rouge. According to TSN.ca, the 23-year-old, as well as veteran defenceman Andrei Markov, didn’t practice with the team on Wednesday due to illness. If Price isn’t available to start tonight, the newly signed Alex Auld will get the nod. If Auld does indeed get the call tonight, Curtis Sanford will be called up from the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.

Mike Cammalleri was handed a one game suspension for his slash on Nino Niederreiter of the New York Islanders last Saturday. Without Cammalleri, the Canadiens, already an offensively handicapped team, could have trouble scoring goals.

With Cammalleri out, youngster Lars Eller is expected to skate on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta. Eller played in seven games last season with the St. Louis Blues, scoring two goals. He was acquired from the Blues along with Ian Schultz in the very same trade that saw Jaroslav Halak get dealt.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, will start veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net, choosing to sit sophomore Jonas Gustavsson. Giguere was named the Maple Leafs starting goaltender before training camp even began, and will look to build on a strong finish to last season.

Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg will make up the Leafs top line tonight. Nikolai Kulemin, now in his third season, and Mikhail Grabovski will skate on a line with Clarke MacArthur. Kessel led the league in goals during the pre-season, with Nikolai Kulemin breathing right up his neck.

The Leafs finished dead last in the penalty killing and power play departments last season. With the addition of two-time 20+ goal scorer Kris Versteeg and the return of PK specialist Fredrik Sjostrom, the Leafs should be, at least, somewhat improved when it comes to both scoring on the power play and keeping the puck out of the net while shorthanded.

After being left out of all captaincy positions, fans and writers alike have been speculating about Tomas Kaberle, and whether or not this will be his final home-opener as a Maple Leaf. Kaberle has played for the Maple Leafs his entire career, scoring 45 or more points in a season six times.

Tonight’s players to watch

Toronto – D – Dion Phaneuf

Phaneuf was named the 18th captain in franchise history during the off-season. He had a less-than-stellar training camp and pre-season and will be looking to rebound with a good start to the season.

Montreal – RW – Brian Gionta

Just like Phaneuf, Gionta was named team captain during the off-season. Will he be able to follow in the footsteps of some of the best Habs of all time? Only time will tell.

**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.