Toronto Vs. Carolina II: The Return Of Walker

[caption id="attachment_2222" align="alignright" width="100" caption="Walker"]Walker

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The Canes and Leafs finish off the back end of a home-and-home series tonight at the Air Canada Centre (7:30 p.m., TV: FS Carolinas, Radio: 99.9 FM), with Carolina having held up their end of the bargain Sunday in a come-from-behind 6-4 win. While Sunday's matchup featured backup netminders Michael Leighton and Curtis Joseph, it's expected that No. 1's Cam Ward and Vesa Toskala will be in net for their respective teams tonight. Also in the lineup will be Scott Walker, who is returning from hand surgery. Here's the link from LSB.

The Hurricanes exorcised many of their early season demons in Sunday's win, going three for five on the power play and scoring six goals — the first time they've scored more than four since their season-opening 6-4 victory over Florida. But the one thing that remained the same was the injuries: Patrick Eaves (illness; though he's expected to play tonight) was the latest to leave a game early, while Sergei Samsonov — who got his first point of the season vs. Toronto — and Rod Brind'Amour both had scares in Sunday's outing. Matt Cullen remains day-to-day.

The good news is newcomers Dwight Helminen — who got his first NHL goal and assist — and Patrick Dwyer — in his NHL debut — filled in admirably in expanded roles, surely contributing to the decision to put Dan LaCouture through waivers (LaCouture cleared waivers today and was assigned to Albany, which made room to activate Walker from injured reserve). Also, the hodge podge line of Helminen, Chad LaRose and Tuomo Ruutu — assembled out of necessity Sunday — provided a huge spark in the comeback win. The N&O has an article today about the line's performance and LSB says the line will be intact to start the game tonight.

As for the Maple Leafs, they return home to the ACC where they are 2-2-2 to start the season. While Toskala has put up decent, if unspectacular, numbers early in the season (5-2-2, 2.81 GAA, .895 S%), he has struggled at home. In six games, he is 2-2-1 with a 3.27 goals-against average and woeful .863 save percentage. Ward's numbers, on the other hand, stack up very well. While just 3-2-2, Ward's save percentage is .925 and he's allowing 2.39 goals per game. That being said, he and the team has been stung by a couple soft goals this season. Like Toskala, the Leafs' special teams have struggled at home: the PK is registering at a 73.9 kill rate, while the power play has just a 12.9 percent success rate. Carolina's special teams have been better when traveling early in the season: the penalty kill is at 85.3 percent and the power play is 16.1 percent on the road.

The Leafs continue to bring a balanced attack every night, with Niklas Hagman leading all forwards in ice time at just 17:48 a night, but there are eight forwards averaging at least 15 minutes a game for Ron Wilson's team. The best of the bunch has been Nik Antropov, who leads the forward corps in goals (four), points (nine), plus/minus (plus-5), and hits (17). However, Antropov has been held without a point in his last six games against the Canes. Alex Ponikarovsky is also off to a fast start with nine points (3-6-9) through 12 games (by the way, congrats to him and his wife, who welcomed a new son, Ron, early Monday morning — Ponikarovsky is still expected to play tonight). Mikhail Grabovski had two goals Sunday in Toronto's loss.

Ian White — who scored the first goal of the game Sunday in his season debut — remains in the lineup while Carlo Colaiacovo will be scratched. White, who plays both forward and defense, will again start the night at forward, and Anton Stralman will take Colaiacovo's place on the blueline. Thankfully, that means checking-from-behind connoisseur Ryan Hollweg will be in the pressbox again tonight.

Tomas Kaberle, who is off to a bit of a slow start this season with a goal and five assists in 12 games, has fared well vs. Carolina recently. He has three goals and seven assists in nine games against the Canes since the start of the 2006-07 season. Rookie Luke Schenn showed poise beyond his years Sunday. He's a very impressive newcomer, even if Samsonov undressed him once Sunday with some of his typical razzle-dazzle moves. The same can be said for freshman Nikolai Kulemin, who looks like a promising young player.

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As an aside, more original thoughts from some North of the Border clowns. This time it's Pension Plan Puppets, who have decided "No One In The South Cares About Hockey." It includes your standard fare: people in the South need bells and whistles to enjoy hockey, a Dale Earnhardt/NASCAR joke, the announcers stink, and — of course — "why didn't the Leafs get more recognition."

Original one, guys. Keep up the hard work. In your honor, maybe we'll do a "Where will Mats wind up?" post. Even better: how about a "No Stanley Cup in more than 40 years (and counting)" entry. You know, so we can come up with a new angle like you.

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