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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Buffalo Sabres

The Canes carry a three-game winning streak into a three game week before Christmas.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs

Tuesday, 2:00 p.m. at Air Canada Centre

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

For the second and final time of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes head to the capital of NHL hockey as they join the Toronto Maple Leafs for a special Tuesday matinee to celebrate the “Next Century Game” for the Maple Leafs. Tuesday is the Centennial anniversary of the original NHL contest between the Toronto Arenas and Montreal Wanderers on December 19, 1917. While there will certainly be plenty of ceremony leading up to and during the 2 p.m. start, the Hurricanes have their eyes squarely focused on extending their current three-game winning streak.

The most significant factor in Tuesday’s game is likely a “will he play” question regarding the highest profile Leafs. Auston Matthews continues to battle a hand injury, and his lack of practice on Monday suggests that he is very much doubtful for Tuesday’s contest. Without Matthews, the Leafs are certainly still a dangerous offensive unit, led by Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and James van Riemsdyk, but are undoubtedly less dynamic minus one of the best pure scorers in the NHL.

In net, Frederik Andersen has continued his solid season with a save percentage of .922 in his 28 starts. The overall improvement in net and on their blue line to around league average has provided reason for optimism that the Leafs are legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The current situation for the Leafs has been a minor hiccup as they have struggled offensively during a current three-game losing streak, averaging only one goal a game during the skid.

While the game will be a terrific opportunity to showcase the emerging Hurricanes on a grand Canadian stage, it is also just another grind for two points within the Eastern Conference. Expect the Cane to try to continue to execute their hard working philosophy that has provided them success over the past week.

What to Watch For

  • Scott Darling should be back in net after his best performance as a Hurricane on Saturday in the 2-1 win against Columbus.
  • To point it out again, this game is at 2:00 p.m. EST. Rare Chuck Kaiton at the office opportunity for folks at work.

Nashville Predators

Thursday, 8:00 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena

NHL: Nashville Predators at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes make their lone trip to Music City on Thursday to take on the Nashville Predators. On a three-game winning streak themselves, the Predators continue to prove that last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final was no fluke as they have sprinted out to a 21-7-4 record, good for first place in the Central Division.

Veteran netminder Pekka Rinne is turning in a tremendous season at age 35 with a .930 save percentage, good enough for a 18-4-3 record in his 25 starts. While his return and future was a question mark leading into the season, his play has halted those discussions for now.

On offense, the Predator attack has been led by Filip Forsberg who paces the Preds with 32 points in 32 games. The impact for the former all-star continues to grow, and his success continues to make the Washington Capitals trading Forsberg for a rental of Martin Erat even more egregious. With the help of a balanced and deep attack behind Forsberg, the Predators are certainly a team that can make noise again in the Western Conference this coming spring.

The Preds own the second-best power play in the league coming in at 26.45%. Not surprisingly, Forsberg leads the way with nine power play goals. In order to compete in a tough environment in Nashville, the Canes must stay out of the box, as the Preds’ potent PP will almost certainly be a game-changer if given the opportunity.

What to Watch For

  • As mentioned before, special teams are going to be a huge factor on Thursday. The league’s second-best power play is coupled with the sixth-best penalty kill. Once the special teams are inevitably brought into play, it will be imperative that the Canes at least play even to compete on the road.
  • Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm have been a dynamite top defensive pairing. Watch these two and compare them to the growing pairing of Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. This is what that type of elite talent can become.

Buffalo Sabres

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Not too much has changed with the Sabres since we last profiled them prior to last Friday’s matchup against the Canes. The 5-4 overtime win for the Canes was finished by a Jaccob Slavin OT tally, but one of the highlights of the contest was the spectacular hat-trick performance by Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. Eichel managed three goals, but was even more dangerous as he was able to create 11 shots on goal and provide constant pressure in the Carolina zone all night.

In order to combat Eichel and his linemate Evander Kane, who combined are the most dangerous forces in the Sabres attack, expect to see Bill Peters use his last change abilities at home to marry Pesce and Slavin with that group as often as possible.

If Carolina can suppress that pair of scorers, their odds of success against the basement-dwelling Sabres increase dramatically.

What to Watch For

  • The final home game prior to Christmas is always an opportunity for those in attendance to grab that jersey, hat or jacket that is the last item on their Christmas shopping list, so watch for lines, big crowded lines, at The Eye on Saturday.
  • Buffalo will be playing the second of a back-to-back on Saturday. As we often see, expect the Sabres to be sharp early, but if the Canes can match their flow early, the advantage is theirs as they try to push the pace late in the contest.