With the youthful Edmonton Oilers coming to town tonight, currently tied with the stumbling Leafs at 20 points, there will be no end of trouble in Toronto if the Buds should drop this one. For a team that is expected to at least be in the mix come playoff time, a loss to the Oilers will be simply unacceptable. The collapse against Tampa Bay will be difficult to overcome on its own, as will the injury to Mike Brown, but a loss to one of the few teams not ahead of the Leafs in the standings would be a crushing start to a month that Toronto desperately needs to make a strong showing in.
The Leafs, despite all their shortcomings, remain just a few wins away from jumping right back into the playoff picture. A win tonight would go a long way to restoring some much-needed confidence, especially with the Boston Bruins coming to town on Saturday. Jonas Gustavsson, who’s been very good in Giguere’s absence, will likely get his last start before Jiggy’s expected return on Saturday, and it would be nice if the Leafs could reward their young netminder with a win for all the work he’s put in over the past few weeks. In the six games since Giguere was injured, the Monster has gone 2-3-1, with a .927 save percentage and 2.33 GAA.
With Brown out of the lineup after some heroic shotblocking in the final minute of Tuesday’s game (all of which was for naught, anyways), Colton Orr should be back in the lineup, while it’s expected that Joey Crabb will remain on the 2nd line with Grabbo and Kulemin. Nazem Kadri was pretty much a non-factor in his first game at center on the top line, aside from the giveaway that resulted in the 2nd Tampa Bay goal of the evening.
Nikolai Khabibulin is expected to make the start for the Oilers tonight, while Leaf fans will get their first look at future stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. The Buds’ struggling offense will look to benefit from a game against the most defensively inept team in the league, as the Oilers have already surrendered a whopping 92 goals on the season, 11 more than the Tampa Bay Lightning, who rank 29th with 81 goals against. Still, if there’s anything I’ve learned from being a Leafs’ fan, it’s never to take anything for granted, and the Buds better not be walking into this one like they’ve already won it.