Game Preview #59 - Canucks vs Leafs

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs (29-26-3) will finish their brief three game road trip as they take on the Vancouver Canucks (36-15-6) in a rare late afternoon affair. Tonight's game will see a four o'clock puck drop in the city of Vancouver. The Leafs will be looking to shake off some of the bad habits that saw them lose four straight games and which caused them to barely escape Edmonton with a 4-3 overtime win. Although the Leafs did snap that ugly and season long four game streak against the Oilers on Wednesday night, they still were guilty of poor defensive zone coverage as well as an inability to create enough traffic in front of the oppositions goalie. Toronto must be on top of their game tonight as they will face a red-hot Canucks team that has gone 8-0-2 in their past ten games. Vancouver is once again having a fantastic season, and are one of the top teams in the league. This will be the second match-up between these two squads this season with the Canucks having taken a close 5-3 decision late in December. In that game the young Leafs were schooled on how to win games by the veteran Canucks. Vancouver scored goals a minute into both the first and second periods as well as late goals in the second and third on their way to a victory. Those early and late goals deflated the Leafs who were also stoned repeatedly by the solid goaltending of Robert Luongo. The Canadian Olympic gold medal winning goalie is expected to start once again versus the Leafs tonight. 

Goalie James Reimer will start his second straight game following a shaky win over the Oilers. Reimer's performance on Wednesday wasn't picturesque, but it got the job done as he made 29 saves for his 11th win of the season. The Leafs are going to need one of their goalies (preferably Reimer) to get on a roll as they face a tough 24 final game push for the playoffs. With both the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets winning last night the Leafs have only a one point cushion over the Capitals and a two point lead on the Jets making tonight's game a crucial one. Over the remaining 24 games 14 of them will be against current playoff teams, they will play an even 12 at home as well as on the road. The line of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will be reunited tonight following a two game trial with Tim Connolly replacing Kulemin. Connolly will move back down to third line flanked by Matthew Lombardi and Colby Armstrong. Lombardi played a solid game down the middle against the Oilers, and has been his best this season when he plays in his natural centre ice position. Toronto needs some secondary scoring to step up tonight as the Phil Kessel, Bozak and Joffrey Lupul were the only line that scored against the Canucks in the previous game. For the Leafs to be successful they require some help from both the Grabovski and Connolly lines. Defenseman Luke Schenn will re-enter the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last game. He will take Mike Komisarek's place on the blueline alongside sensational rookie Jake Gardiner. Schenn has played his best hockey this season when paired with Gardiner as their games mesh well together. 

Lineups

Leafs

Forwards

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel 
Kulemin - Grabovski - MacArthur
Lombardi - Connolly - Armstrong 
Brown- Steckel - Boyce  

Defense

Aulie - Phaneuf 
Liles - Franson 
Gardiner - Schenn

Goalies

Reimer 
Gustavsson

Canucks

Forwards

Sedin - Sedin - Burrows
Booth - Kesler - Raymond 
Higgins - Hodgson - Hansen 
Malholtra - Lapierre - Bitz

Defense

Hamhuis - Bieska 
Salo - Edler 
Alberts - Rome

Goalies

Luongo 
Schneider

Players to Watch

Leafs: Jake Gardiner - The leading scorer among rookie defenseman scored a big goal against the Oilers. In the absence of Carl Gunnarsson Gardiner has seen his ice-time rise even higher (averaging 21:07 on the season), can he keep it up tonight against the opportunistic Canucks? 

CanucksAlex Burrows - The third member of the spectacular top line, Burrows has been a Leafs killer over the last little while. He had the game winning goal in the December 17th game as well as an assist. Burrows is also a very key member of the Canucks penalty killing which ranks 6th in the league. 

Game Time: 7:00 at the Rogers Arena. TV - CBC. Radio - AM640.