There’s nothing like another Tuesday night showdown against a Western Conference team to really get your emotional blood boiling! In all seriousness, it’s been very enjoyable having the opportunity to see a few teams from the West so far this season after the league didn’t include inter-conference play in the shortened schedule of 2012-13. The Leafs will get another opportunity to see an unfamiliar foe tonight as the Minnesota Wild come to town.
The Wild are coming off a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo last night. Josh Harding got the start; so backup-to-the-backup Darcy Kuemper looks in line to be in the crease for the Wild tonight. That’s good news for the Leafs, as Harding has been phenomenal since filling in for the injured Niklas Backstrom, sporting a .966 even-strength save percentage in four games. Kuemper has only six games of NHL experience on his resume from last year, but performed pretty well in those games, putting up a save percentage of .916.
The Wild’s offense hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire so far this year, but they are a very strong possession team. That’s the polar opposite of what they were last year, as, much like the Leafs, they rode high shooting and save percentages to make the playoffs despite being poor in the possession category. This year, however, they sit fifth in the league with a fenwick close (unblocked shot differential in close-score situations) percentage of 58.93. The Leafs have shown mild improvement in that category this year, but still sit sixth-worst in the league with a fenwick close percentage of 45.57. In other words, Leafs starter James Reimer will need to be sharp tonight, as chances are he’s going to be facing a lot of rubber shot his way.
- Van Riemsdyk is listed as questionable for tonight’s game. He missed practice yesterday for what was deemed as nothing more than regular maintenance, but whatever the issue is, it apparently hasn’t gone away. Human yo-yo Trevor Smith was called up from the Marlies again today, so if JvR can’t go, Smith will get a spot in the lineup. The Leafs can’t really afford to lose another member of the top six so let’s hope JvR can play.
- Rielly will play his fifth game of the season tonight. The 19-year-old (did you hear he’s only 19?) has averaged 17:25 of ice time in his four games, and that’s basically all at even strength. He still has five games left before his entry-level contract kicks in, so the Leafs have until then to make a decision on whether or not he gets sent back to Junior. His extended tryout continues tonight.
- Reimer will make his first start in ten days tonight. I like the move; I think it’s important to keep Reimer sharp, and facing a team playing their third-string goalie on the second night of a back-to-back is a pretty good situation to gain some confidence. He was pulled in his last game against the Ottawa Senators after allowing four goals midway through the second period, so he’ll have plenty of motivation to put up a strong performance tonight.
- Puck drop is set for just after 7 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on Rogers Sportsnet Ontario and heard on TSN 1050.