So far this season, the Air Canada Centre has been anything but Home Sweet Home for the Leafs. Toronto has lost 10 of their 12 games at home to this point, garnering only 5 points. The Leafs will have to be at the top of their game tonight, as Atlanta comes in riding a four game win streak on the road. After a franchise existence that has epitomized futility, the Thrashers are finally showing signs of life.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Nik Antropov are both off to great starts – Kovalchuk has 16 goals, Antropov has 21 assists, while the virtually unknown Rich Peverley is tied with Kovalchuk for the team lead with 26 points. Atlanta’s also gotten solid goaltending from both Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg this year. Hedberg has won his last three starts, while Pavelec has a very respectable 8-6-3 record so far.
Toronto’s goaltending, on the other hand, has been one of their sore spots all year. Vesa Toskala will get his first start tonight after missing the last few games with a re-aggravated groin injury. Toskala has been mediocre at his very best this season, and has only 1 win in 11 appearances this season. He gave up 3 goals in the 3rd period of Saturday night’s debacle in Boston, making only 7 saves. Jonas Gustavsson has been the Leafs’ best shot at a reliable goaltender this season, but the Monster will be out for at least a couple more days after having another heart procedure this past weekend. Until he gets back, it will be up to Toskala and Joey MacDonald to keep the Leafs afloat.
The Leafs will hope to bounce back after the Bruins unceremoniously welcomed Phil Kessel back to Boston with a 7-2 drubbing of the boys in Blue and White this weekend. Let’s hope Saturday night was nothing more than a hiccup in the Leafs’ solid play as of late. Toronto is 5-2-1 in their last 8 games, and have outscored their opponents 29-25 over that stretch, 27-18 if you disregard Saturday’s game.
The Leafs will need to keep up their newfound offense if they hope to have a chance against the redhot Thrashers. Atlanta is 5-1-0 in their last six games after ending a three game losing streak in late November, and are among the top teams in the league with a 9-2-1 record on the road.
As a sidenote, Pavel Kubina and Nik Antropov will both play the Leafs for the first time since being traded. Antropov has 2 goals and 23 points already this season, while Kubina has fit in nicely with the Thrashers, posting 12 points and a stellar +16 rating, good for second in the league behind New Jersey’s Zach Parise. Kubina had 40 points and a -15 rating with the Leafs last year.