While I think that the term ‘must win game’ is one of the most overused ones in professional sports, the Toronto Maple Leafs (28-23-6) are playing one of them tonight as they face the Edmonton Oilers (22-28-5) continuing their Western Canadian road trip. Just last week these two teams met in Toronto as the Leafs emerged with an unspectacular 6-3 victory. That win was Toronto’s third straight and capped off a stretch that saw them go 5-0-1. Since that game though the Leafs have failed to register a point and now see them themselves clinging onto the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by the skin of their teeth.
The Leafs enter tonight’s game having lost four consecutive games for the first time this season. While fans thought the blue and white bottomed out Saturday night on their home ice in a 5-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, last nights abysmal effort in Calgary where the Leafs were slaughtered 5-1 was worse. As has been demonstrated on many occasions this season, the Leafs struggle on the back end of back to back games. Hopefully they remedy that problem as a loss tonight will most certainly add more speed to Toronto’s downward spiral towards an 8th straight season without playoff hockey.
James Reimer is expected to get the nod in goal as both he and Jonas Gustavsson keep spitting the bit. The starting job is available for whichever one of these two talented, yet enigmatic ‘keepers wants it. Alberta born blueliner Keith Aulie is expected to return to the lineup as unsung hero Carl Gunnarsson will once again be out of the lineup with a sprained ankle. There hasn’t been word as to which defenseman comes out of the lineup to make room for Aulie, but Mike Komisarek was dreadful last night as was Luke Schenn. As this is the second game in two nights the Leafs did not have a morning skate today, so lineup changes will be announced prior to puck drop. I would expect alternate captain and ‘character guy’ Colby Armstrong to also find a way into the lineup following two straight games of being a healthy scratch.
The Oilers are coming off of a 4-3 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and are hoping that the trio of Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall can cause as much headaches tonight as they did last week at the Air Canada Centre. Edmonton’s defense is absolutely horrendous, so they might be the perfect tonic for the struggling Leafs. There is no word as to which Oilers goalie gets the nod tonight. Considering the Leafs lit up Devan Dubnyk last week as well as Nikolai Khabibulin getting the W in Ottawa Saturday we should expect the Bulin wall to start tonight.
Lupul – Bozak – Kessel
Connolly – Grabovski – MacArthur
Kulemin – Lombardi – Crabb
Brown – Steckel – Armstrong
Aulie – Phaneuf
Gardiner – Schenn
Liles – Franson
Hall – Gagner – Eberle
Paajarvi – Horcoff – Hemsky
Smyth – Belanger – Jones
Eager – Lander – Petrell
Whitney – Barker
Smid – Petry
Sutton – Gilbert
Players to Watch
Leafs: Dion Phaneuf – A true captain inspires his team when the chips are down. Phaneuf has been playing his worst hockey of the season during this four game losing streak. He played over 24 minutes last night, so is there enough left in the tank to face the offensively dangerous Oilers tonight?
Oilers: Jordan Eberle – Quietly emerging as a Leafs killer. Eberle has scored every time he has played the blue and white, capped off with an inspiring two goal performance last week. With the absence of Gunnarsson Eberle can very easily punish the Leafs tonight.
Game Time: 10:00 at The Rexall Centre. TV - LeafsTV. Radio – AM640 .