The last time the Leafs came into town, I was singing songs about friendship and reunions and how nice it was the see Coach Mo behind the bench again. Also, Bates Battaglia was back in town along with buddy Jeff O'Neill. Wasn't life grand? The only problem was that we ended up losing the game! So this time when they visit, I won't be rolling out the red carpet for our old friends. The Canes find themselves in 6th place in the conference with 58 points just 2 points behind Ottawa, but still 6 points behind the division leading Thrashers who lost to the Flyers Sunday night. Thank you Jeff Carter! The Maple Leafs have 52 points and for now are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. Like Washington, that makes them a desperate and dangerous team.
Toronto is 6-4 the last 10 games, but a couple of those losses were blow outs. They have been even more inconsistent than Carolina has been. To be fair, they also have had several injuries. They lost Michael Peca for the year and one of their leaders, Darcy Tucker for several weeks. Andrew Raycroft has been less than spectacular in goal. Jeff O'Neill is 3rd on the team in scoring with 17 goals and 36 points. Matts Sundin is first in scoring for them of course. Defensemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle are the most dangerous players of this team though.
As all of us know who have been watching the Hurricanes this year, they have been up and down like a rollercoaster. The players of the team just can't seem to get on the same page. One week Brind'Amour is red hot, but Staal is cold. Lately, Staal seems to have found his game, but Cole and Stillman are both off. In my opinion, Whitney, Williams, and Brindy are the only forwards who have been pretty consistent most of year. Of course Rod has been fighting injuries that have affected his game for at least a couple of weeks prior to the All Star break and he wasn't performing at his best at that time. Wouldn't it be nice to see them all on the same page, all playing well? It still might happen. There are still 30 games to go, plenty of time to right the ship and be more consistent.
Speaking of Cole and Stillman, what's up with them? I guess they could both be playing through injuries, but they are making tons of unforced errors lately. Neither of them look like their typical selves. Cole's funk seemed to hit him right after the All Star selections were made. Could he be a little angry over what he feels is an oversight by the league? Regardless of the reasons, the Canes need them both to put their heads on straight and stop making dumb plays. Leaving the puck behind you when you cross the blueline is what I would put in the "not smart" category, if that's what they are doing on purpose anyway. They both have also been guilty of taking foolish penalties at inopportune times, especially Cole. Please stop it guys, we know you can play better! The Canes also could use a big game from a goalie. While I wouldn't specifically blame either goalie for any recent loss, neither of them have stepped up and stolen a game for us in awhile either.
Frantisek Kaberle is still out for the Canes. He was hoping to come back tonight but had some more work done on his shoulder yesterday and needs more time. Hedican returned to practice yesterday but will remain out of the line up. Nic Wallin is supposed to return tonight though. My bet would be that Letowski remains in the pressbox while Lavi plays 7 defensemen. I have no idea who will be in net though. Is it time to give Cam a rest, or should they put him right back out there so he doesn't dwell on Saturday night?
Having said all of that, I think the key to winning this game is pretty simple. Don't take penalties and stay out of the box. I feel that while playing 5 on 5, the Canes are the dominant team. But Toronto is deadly on the powerplay. That's where Sundin, McCabe and Kaberle make their livings and that's how the Canes lost last time in Raleigh. Stay out of the box boys and you win! Simple, right?