As great as last night’s win over the B’s was, for a number of reasons not the least of which was Phil Kessel finally getting back on the scoresheet after 14 games without a goal, against his former team no less, tonight’s game is much more important to the Leafs’ current situation. Despite a number of slumps during the season, the Leafs still hold hope for a playoff berth in this year’s tournament, sitting just 8 points behind the 8th place Hurricanes.
Between them and the Canes sit three teams at the moment – the Florida Panthers (1 point ahead, playing Philadelphia tonight), the Atlanta Thrashers (6 points ahead, idle tonight) and the Sabres, who are tied with the Thrashers at 60 points. Game Three of Division Rivalry Week will be a big test for the Leafs, as they head to the HSBC Center, where they haven’t won in so long it’s almost laughable. JS Giguere was slated to get the start, but after James Reimer’s strong performance in Beantown last night, don’t be surprised if Wilson goes with him again tonight.
There’s reason to hope that the Leafs can break their winless streak in Buffalo tonight. With Kessel’s reputation as a “streaky shooter” firmly intact, he should be due for a hot streak after his latest slump. He played with a bit more jump in his step, and I, for one, have been at least moderately impressed with Joffrey Lupul so far. He had 2 assists last night, his first points as a Leaf, and if he can continue to add a bit of grit to the Bozak-Kessel tandem, he might be just what the doctor ordered for the two speedsters.
If Lupul can gel with Bozak and Kessel, it allows Wilson to leave the “Mac ‘n the USSR” line intact, which has been, without question, the Leafs’ best unit all year. Mikhail Grabovski’s game-winner last night was his 24th of the year, and came after he was absolutely buried by Zdeno Chara, not once, but twice over the course of the game. After the second hit, Grabbo couldn’t even get back to the bench, and there was speculation that he may have suffered a concussion. Instead of heading for the locker room, Grabovski gutted it out and turned in this beauty to win the game.
I’m pumped Christian Hanson is back in the lineup. The kid’s having another strong year with the Marlies, with 29 points already, but his goal-scoring ability isn’t what he’ll be called upon for up with the big boys. The 6’4, 225 lb. center knows how to use his size well, and adds some much-needed height and weight up front. Against a relatively small Sabres’ club, look for Hanson to have a pretty sizable impact on tonight’s outcome, depending on how much ice time he sees. Hanson and Mike Zigomanis are both players I think should have gotten more time up in the NHL this season.
Tonight’s game will be a good test for the Buds, and they’ll need to bring the same effort they took into Boston last night. A win tonight, followed by a game on Saturday against the Senators could help this week be quite a significant one in the Leafs’ season.
Topics: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Christian Hanson, Florida Panthers, HSBC Arena, James Reimer, Joffrey Lupul, JS Giguere, Mikhail Grabovski, NHL, Phil Kessel, Tim Thomas, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Bozak, Zdeno Chara