Maple Leafs Down Minnesota Wild, Play Montreal Saturday
With his team in a three game losing funk, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson switched up his lines Thursday night in an effort to get his troops to play better defense and spread out his scoring.
One of the riskier moves saw Wilson separate Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul—the NHL’s most potent duo this season. Lupul (who now leads Phil Kessel in team scoring with 51 points on the season to Kessel’s 50) had a three point night, while Kessel scored his 25th goal of the season, albeit on the power play with Lupul notching an assist on the goal.
At the end of the day, Wilson’s changes helped catapult the Buds past the slumping Minnesota Wild (2-6-2 in their past ten games) to the tune of a 4-1 victory.
Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson was near perfect on the night, stopping 20 of 21 shots, earning second star honors on the night. Gustavsson’s win put a stop to his personal two game losing streak, improving his overall record to 14-9-0 record on the season.
Thursday nights win brought the Maple Leafs record to 23-18-5 on the season, bringing the Blue and White within one point of the Florida Panthers who hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Maple Leafs will now set their sights on Saturday nights tilt against the Montreal Canadiens, who are 4-5-1 in their past ten and sitting in 13th spot in the Eastern Conference standings—well below off-season expectations.
As poor as the Habs have been playing this season, it rarely seems to matter where these two teams are in the standings as one can always expect a spirited game between two of the games most beloved franchises.
The Canadiens will enter Saturday nights game with a league-worst power play (12.3 percent) and the 22nd ranked offense at 2.50 goals per game. The Canadiens have just three players scoring in double digits (Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, Andrei Kostitsyn, with Cole leading the way at 17 on the season. *Rene Bourque has 17 on the season, all of which came with Calgary.
High-priced talent Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta continue to be huge disappointments for the Habs, posting an alarming seven goals and 20 assists and a minus-11 rating between them.
Fact is, the only player keeping the Canadiens in games has been goaltender Carey Price, who, despite having little offensive support on more nights than not, has earned a respectable 15-17-8 record, while posting a 2.45 goals against average and a .912 save percentage.
With Toronto set to play four games in six nights (they will play back-to-back games against the New York Islanders on Monday and Tuesday), it is imperative that they come out hard against the Habs on Saturday night. Thursday’s victory over the Wild had a lot to do with the way the Blue and White dominated early, which saw the Buds get ahead early to the tune of a 2-0 lead.
If the Maple Leafs can get off to a good start against the Habs there is little hope the Canadiens will mount a comeback—not with that paltry offense!
Look for Gustavsson to get the nod between the pipes on Saturday night, with little to no changes throughout the lineup. Wilson may be quick to make changes, but he has also demonstrated a measure of loyalty to his troops when things are going well this season.
Until next time,