Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes
7 p.m., PNC Arena
TV: FS-Carolinas, Leafs TV
The Hurricanes finally return home after twelve long days on the road and they come into tonight's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on a high note, winning four of six games on the road trip. Getting those wins were huge, but the Canes did not come out of this trip unscathed as not only did defenseman Joni PItkanen sustain an injury but fellow blue-liner Tim Gleason is also banged up and did not skate with the team today. Neither injuries appear to be anything serious according to reports so that is good news, but they are still likely going to miss tonight's game, adding more strain to a defense corps that wasn't great to begin with.
To fill Gleason's spot in the lineup, the Hurricanes called up Michal Jordan from Charlotte. Jordan has been one of the Checkers best defensemen all season long and stepped into an even bigger role after Justin Faulk and Bobby Sanguinetti were called up to the NHL. He's known more for his puck-moving skills but he has been a tough-minute player in Charlotte and has killed penalties, as well. Seeing how this will be his NHL debut, I'm not sure how many minutes he will be playing but he might end up getting significant playing time with Bobby Sanguinetti playing tonight as well. That is unless Kirk Muller plans on icing Justin Faulk & Jay Harrison for 30 minutes each.
Jordan will be one of four players in Carolina's defense corps tonight who are under 25 years of age and there are two ways you can look at this. If you're a glass half-empty guy, you might be excited about how Jordan looks and the fact that the Canes have a young defense corps with a ton of upside. If you're a glass half-empty person, then you'll probably be worried that Carolina's defense corps tonight will consist of two AHL-ers and five guys who would probably be on most club's third pairings. Let's hope they can keep the puck in the Leafs zone more times than not. The Leafs are also far from 100% right now but they have been rolling the past week or so with six straight wins, so tonight's game being at home might not have as much of an advantage as one would think.
What Happened Last Time?
The Leafs ran over Carolina for the first 20 minutes in their last meeting and then the Hurricanes just took over the game for the second and third period. They ended up winning 4-1 and outchancing the Leafs by two at even strength despite giving up 11 scoring chances in the first period. Carolina saw a great performance from their top-line that night and their special teams helped them over the top as they went 2/4 on the powerplay and killed off all four Toronto penalties. They were able to limit Phil Kessel's line but had some trouble containing Grabovski, Kulemin and Macarthur along with Nazim Kadri and Matt Frattin.
Toronto's suffered a couple of key injuries since then and one of them is to Frattin, who scored their only goal in their earlier meeting with the Canes this year. Even with his unsustainably high shooting percentage, Fratting was playing well on the Leafs third line and losing him will obviously hurt them a lot. They are also going to be without goaltender James Reimer, who suffered a lower body injury in their game on Monday against the Flyers. Reimer was posting a .940 save percentage at even strength this season so that's going to be another big hole to fill. Starting in his place will be Ben Scrivens, who has a solid .928 save percentage in only five games and has played well in the AHL. Toronto has been very hot lately winning their last six games and they have been especially good on the road this year with a 6-1-0 record.
Tlusty – E. Staal – Semin
Skinner – J. Staal – Dwyer
Bowman – Jokinen – LaRose
Nodl – Brent – Wallace
Harrison – Faulk
Corvo – McBain
Jordan – Sanguinetti
Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
Komarov – Grabovski – Kulemin
Macarthur – Kadri – McClement
McClaren – Stecek – Orr
Phaneuf – Hozler
Liles – Kostka
Franson – Fraser
Five Things to Watch For
– Both of Toronto's special teams units are mediocre and their powerplay success rate is a miserable 13.5%. They're average in generating shots, so they are probably a little better than what they've shown thus far and they might see their numbers inflate against a Carolina penalty kill that is missing a key cog in Tim Gleason. Carolian's PK is already in a sad state right now and it could be in for another rough night if they are forced to play a lot.
– When the Leafs signed Jay McClement, I expected Randy Carlyle to use him as part of a shutdown line. The Leafs have a shutdown unit this year, only they are using Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin as part of it. These two have been great tough-minute players over the years but this is the first time that I can remember them ever being in a role like this. I understand the strategy, but I feel like it kind of limits how effective these two can be offensively since they are known for being terrific two-way players. Grabovski appears to be doing fine in these minutes but Kulemin is struggling big time. Expect them to see plenty of Eric Staal's line tonight, regardless.
– Kadri, Macarthur and Komarov have the potential to be a very dangerous third line and all three have played very well in this role so far. Kadri has been one of the Leafs' best players, Macarthur is an excellent possession driver and Komarov has shown flashes of great play along with Kadri. With how miserable the Hurricanes third line has played lately, expect this to be a matchup that will not go in the Hurricanes favor.
– Faulk and Harrison are going to do a lot of heavy-lifting tonigh as the only two defensemen in the lineup who have regularly played top-four minutes for the last year. You could probably add McBain to that grouping as well but the only time he is used in the top-four is when he is with Pitkanen. He may have to play at least 20+ minutes a night if Corvo isn't up to the task and the youngsters struggle. Jordan is used to logging big minutes in Charlotte, but not against NHL competition, so this will be a new game for him. Excited to see how he looks.
– A way for the Hurricanes to make up for their defense corps is to forecheck hard, keep the puck in Toronto's zone and limit neutral zone turnovers. That should put less pressure on the blue-liners just like it did against New Jersey for the first fourty minutes. Carolina is a better even strength team than the Leafs, but I'm not sure how much better they are without Ptikanen and Gleason. Pitkanen's aggressive play and offensive instincts were a big reason why their forecheck was so strong against the Devils. Can they do the same thing without him in the lineup? They certainly have enough puck-movers to replace Pitkanen but none of them are as smart or as good as him. It will be interesting to see how the Hurricanes play to accommodate their defense tonight. They had a lot of trouble with the Leafs forecheck the last game but that faded quickly after the first period. Will it be the same tonight?
It will be an exciting night with the Canes finally back at the PNC Arena and hopefully they can get a real winning streak going to build off their strong road trip.