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Canes at Leafs: Uncertainty and expectations

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The Canes will need to play much better in front of Ward tonight than we've seen lately: via <a href="">Jamie Kellner</a>
The Canes will need to play much better in front of Ward tonight than we've seen lately: via Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes go back to work tonight in Toronto, coming off the longest break between games since Kirk Muller took over the reins of the team's 2011-12 season 15 days ago. The Canes have won only once in six tries under Muller, most recently losing 4-2 in Winnipeg Friday night.

Two full practices Sunday and Monday have allowed Muller to try different looks and get into the details of how he wants his team to play. With a few key injuries and so much still untested, it is hard to know what this group will bring to the ice tonight when the puck drops at 7pm at the Air Canada Centre.

Cam Ward will be looking to get his game back on track following a couple of rough outings last week in Calgary and Winnipeg. He will start tonight for Muller. Rookie Mike Murphy is still with the team while Brian Boucher is on the IR with a lower body concern.

Chip Alexander tweeted from the Canes skate that GM Jim Rutherford told him the Checkers goaltender Justin Peters will go on re-entry waivers today, which suggests he will be the back-up to Ward Thursday night vs the Vancouver Canucks in Raleigh. This is obviously assuming another team doesn't claim him - we'll know the answer to that at noon tomorrow.

In addition to Boucher, a few other key elements of the Carolina roster are out with injury for the Hurricanes tonight: Jeff Skinner (undisclosed injury) and two of their best defensemen in Joni Pitkanen and Jay Harrison. Pitkanen, Harrison and Boucher are in Raleigh.

This morning on Toronto radio, Rutherford said that the team won't know more about the nature of Skinner's injury until he is evaluated by the team's doctors here in North Carolina. Rutherford did say Skinner has not been feeling well the last few days.

As expected, Eric Staal is back with the team after returning to Raleigh for the birth of his second child, Levi John, Sunday. With Skinner out, Drayson Bowman was called up Sunday as the 12th forward.

The Maple Leafs (15-11-3) are currently sitting at 6th in the standings, but have several teams only 1 or 2 points behind them. A loss tonight could drop them below the redline, and on the outside looking in. This is not the direction they need to go if they expect to make the postseason this year.

Young goaltender James Reimer returned last week after sitting out six weeks with a concussion. He seemingly hasn't yet found his game, going 0-2-1 and allowing 11 goals in those 3 games. He will start tonight.

Hurricanes: lines and links

Even with Tomas Kaberle's departure, there are still a few former Maple Leafs who will be part of the Canes line-up to night: Tim Brent, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jiri Tlusty.

Somewhat guesswork on my part, particularly as it pertains to Drayson Bowman, but I'll give you lines based on the game in Winnipeg:

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Andreas Nodl - Brandon Sutter - Chad LaRose
Drayson Bowman - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Jaroslav Spacek - Justin Faulk
Bryan Allen - Derek Joslin

Special teams have been a focus this weekend, and with Kaberle gone, and Pitkanen and Skinner out, Chip also gave us the two units from this morning's practice.

Some PP work has Staal, Ruutu and Brent with Faulk, McBain at points.

PP2 has Jussi, Poni, Dwyer with Gleason and Spacek.


Extra time in the Centre of the Hockey Universe means a few extra media spots

Focus on Spacek

Jaroslav Spacek’s biggest regret about being traded by the Canadiens last Friday was that, when he got the news, all of his teammates were in full uniform and heading out onto Brossard practice ice.

"I’d have liked to cut all their laces, but they already had their skates on," Spacek said Monday from Toronto. "I was mad that I couldn’t do it, everything was happening so fast.

Strategies and stories to get through the season

View from the other bench

The Leafs are returning to the ACC following a long weekend off as well; their last game was Friday night, losing to the Capitals in Washington. The team has only won one game in Toronto since October 29, with a 1-4-2 home record since then. That single win was a memorable 7-1 beatdown of the Caps on November 19th, when Bruce Boudreau was still in charge.

The Canes hosted the Leafs the night following in the only prior meeting between these two teams this season. Back on November 20th, Paul Maurice's team held on to win 3-2.

Leaf Notes

  • The combination of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul continue to be the headline for Toronto's scoreboard success this season, combining for 31 goals and 69 points total through 29 games. Eight of those combined 31 goals came on the power play.
  • Kessel is 2nd only to Claude Giroux in scoring in the NHL. Kessel's 18 goals is tied with Steven Stamkos for first.
  • Dion Phaneuf has brought the heavy hits, most recently leveling the NY Rangers Michael Sauer in New York last week. His 18 points (3 G, 15 A) puts him at second on the team for scoring. Deadspin had their take on the Sauer hit here: Dion Phaneuf's Dad Gets High Fives After His Son Decapitates A Ranger
  • The Leafs special teams are a mixed bag of extremes with a Best-in-the-East Power Play clicking at 21.7%. Their Penalty Killing is dead last in the East with only a 74.3% success rate.
  • Toronto will be without Matthew Lombardi (dislocated shoulder) and Mike Komisarek (broken arm).

For insight and the latest updates, head over to Pension Plan Puppets or the Leafs pages at the Globe & Mail or Toronto Sun.

Links from TO

Just a couple

Planning your evening

The team is back in the East, so the game will start at work-day friendly 7pm. The TV broadcast will be over Fox Sports with 99.9FM picking up the radio coverage. We will have our open thread good to go around 6:30pm.