Gameday Preview: Toronto at Calgary – The Captain Returns

After getting his first goal of the season on Tuesday night in his hometown of Edmonton, the most meaningful road trip of the season for captain Dion Phaneuf continues tonight in Calgary, where he’ll make his firt appearance since being traded to Toronto last year. Phaneuf spent five years with the Flames and put up some monster numbers with the team, including a 60-point, 182-penalty minute campaign in 2007-08. The Leafs will look to string together 3 wins for the first time since their 4-win streak to start the year.

Phil Kessel now has goals in two straight games after busting out of a long slump, while Mikhail Grabovski has centered the Leafs’ most effective line, and has four goals in his last five games, including the game-winner against Edmonton. His goals have been timely, and the edge he’s played with has helped him evolve into more of the player that we thought we were getting when he was traded from Montreal.

I gotta say, the return of Colby Armstrong and Dion Phaneuf seems to be the catalyst for the Leafs’ recent improvement. it’s not surprising that the biggest struggles of the year so far came with two of the biggest character guys out of the locker room, off the bench and in the press box. Adding two gritty guys that play with an edge has certainly rubbed off on the rest of the team, and we’ll have to hope it continues.

No official word yet, but I’d expect Jonas Gustavsson to get the start tonight, since Jiggy started the last three games. If he does start, we’ll have to hope the Leafs can give him a bit more goal support than they have in the past. Despite playing very well in most of his starts, Gustavsson has been hung out to dry by a usually inept offense, and has seen his record fall to 4-8-2 on the year, with the Leafs barely averaging even 2 goals a game when he starts.

Even with Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes, the Flames have struggled defensively, giving up the 5th most goals in the Western Conference, so the Leafs will hope that they can continue to develop their offensive game at the Saddledome tonight. Emotions will certainly be running high, and since the Leafs seem to benefit from a more open, run and gun style game where their speed and youthful creativity find more opportunities, that could be a good thing.

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