Toronto Maple Leafs Game Preview: Returning Home to Play the Carolina Hurricanes
Dec 18, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Zach Boychuk (22) is checks by the Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Stephane Robidas (12) during the 2nd period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
We have all waited patiently and now it is time to drop the puck on a new season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here at the Tip of the Tower we strive to give you as much content on your Toronto sports teams as humanly possible. This series will preview every single Toronto Maple Leafs game and what you should know for the game that night.
Carolina Hurricanes (15-25-5) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (22-21-3) 7:30 p.m. TSN.
Leafs lost their last game against the Hurricanes 4-1
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Leafs Injury Report
Peter Holland is out with an upper-body injury
Joffrey Lupul is out with a lower-body injury
Leo Komarov is doubtful with a shoulder injury
Hurricanes Injury Report
Dec 18, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Andrej Sekera (4) is congratulated by teammates defensemen Justin Faulk (27) and forward Victor Rask (49) after his 3d period goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
The last time the Leafs faced the Hurricanes it was a more pleasant time where the Leafs scored goals and were on a nice winning streak. Then in a game that most people called the “trap game”, the Leafs got outplayed by a Hurricanes squad that was dealing with injuries and some poor play to start the season. The Leafs were never the same since then as they fired head coach Randy Carlyle upon returning from a four game road trip in which the Leafs were winless and got shutout three times. They are 2-8 in their last ten games where a couple of bounces have not gone the Leafs way and it looks like another “collapse” could be upon the Leafs which is exactly what Tim Leiweke promised would not happen.
Jan 17, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Ryan Reaves (75) pushes Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) during the third period at Scottrade Center. The Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Now it has not been a lack of effort that has hurt the Leafs, but untimely mistakes in the defensive zone has led to easy goals for the opposition. The Leafs currently rank 24th in win percentage when trailing first in the game at 23 percent. One of the teams below them are the Hurricanes who are 12.5 percent when trailing first in the game this season.
Jan 2, 2015; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal (12) celebrates his second period goal with teammate forward Jordan Staal (11) against Philadelphia Flyers at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
The Hurricanes are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games but still hold third position in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. They would actually be worse if goaltender Cam Ward had not been improving his play and the return of Jordan Staal from a broken right fibula. Now that could all change if the Hurricanes decide to trade Ward and other players that have been rumoured in trade talks. But with the Buffalo Sabres currently on a 10 game losing streak and the Edmonton Oilers playing poorly, it would take a lot for the Hurricanes to have a chance at the top pick.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Dec 18, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Dion Phaneuf (3) checks the Carolina Hurricanes forward Patrick Dwyer (39) into boards during the 2nd period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Kessel career vs CAR: 30 GP – 7 goals – 8 assists – 15 PTS
Nazem Kadri career vs CAR: 8 GP – 2 goals – 2 assist – 4 PTS
Tyler Bozak career vs CAR: 16 GP – 2 goals – 8 assists – 14 PTS
Dion Phaneuf career vs CAR: 18 GP – 5 goals – 9 assists – 13 PTS
Jonathan Bernier career vs CAR: 4 GP- Record: 2-2 2.53 GAA- .924 SV%
James Reimer career vs CAR: 8 GP- Record: 4-2-1 2.69 GAA- .912 SV%
Oct 17, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) skates with the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Josh Leivo (32) at the Air Canada Centre. The Hurricanes beat the Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Staal career vs TOR: 36 GP- 17 goals- 22 assists- 39 PTS
Jordan Staal career vs TOR: 25 GP- 11 goals- 9 assists- 20 PTS
Jeff Skinner career vs TOR: 13 GP- 4 goals- 9 assists- 13 PTS
John-Michael Liles career vs TOR: 7 GP- 6 goals- 3 assists- 9 PTS
Justin Faulk career vs TOR: 10 GP- 3 goals- 6 assists- 9 PTS
Cam Ward career vs TOR: 26 GP- Record: 15-9-2, 2.73 GAA- .910 SV%
Anton Khudobin career vs TOR: 4 GP- Record: 2-1, 2.23 GAA- .906 SV%
Keys to Victory
Jan 17, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) defends the net against Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Daniel Winnik (26) during the first period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs need to find a way to get the first goal in the game. They have not scored the first goal in the game under Peter Horachek which would probably explain why the Leafs have struggled the last six games.
When the Leafs play with more of an edge they are succesful in turning over the puck which gives them prime scoring chances. If they continue to do that they will get more scoring chances and hopefully a goal.
Jan 15, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Tommy Wingels (57) scores an open net goal as Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) looks during the final minutes of third period at SAP Center at San Jose. Sharks won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Gardiner may have good possession numbers but he still needs to play with more awareness in the defensive zone by covering the open player in front of the net. Even if it means having a more active stick. He needs to make it harder for the opposing forwards to get chances in prime scoring spots.
May 13, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) abd Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) celebrate a goal during the third period in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
It might be time to get Kadri playing with Kessel and either James van Riemsdyk or Daniel Winnik. Bozak has not been doing much offensively and using Kadri against top lines in defensive match ups has not worked out. Against the Staal brothers it would be best to have Bozak with Mike Santoreilli and Winnik play the defensive role. Plus Kadri is better at creating space in the offensive zone than Bozak which may benefit Kessel and JVR.
The best way for the Leafs to come away with the win is by scoring the first goal. Being at home may make it easier for the Leafs but at the same time it is uncertain how they will be greeted by fans given their recent struggles.