Game Preview #61 - Leafs vs Sharks

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs (29-24-7) will look to continue their march towards their first playoff birth in eight calender years tonight as they host the reeling San Jose Sharks (31-20-7). While the Leafs' struggles have been garnering the amount of media attention that a natural disaster would receive elsewhere, the Sharks enter tonight quietly losers of four straight games having dropped five of their last six contests. San Jose's troubles are similar to Toronto's in the sense that they have allowed 24 goals in their past six games capped off with an ugly 6-3 loss to the cellar dwelling Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Goalie Anti Niemi will start in goal tonight versus the Leafs. The Leafs will catch a break tonight as the Sharks imposing shut down defenseman Douglas Murray will miss tonight's clash with injury. The Sharks have a scary offense led by veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, so expect the beleaguered Leafs blueline to face a serious test tonight. 

While the Leafs' penalty killing has been on fire in 2012, they will be in tough tonight against the 3rd ranked power play in the NHL. Conversely Toronto will look to capitalize on the 28th ranked Sharks penalty kill.

Goalie James Reimer will be the Leafs goalie of the night tonight, and following Jonas Gustavsson's horrific showing the other night Reimer will most likely play the lion's share of the 21 games left this season. Other than Reimer replacing Gustavsson, the Leafs will play the same lineup that played a hard fought game against the Devils on Tuesday. That means that alternate captains Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek will once again be healthy scratches.

With this being a match-up between teams of opposite conferences the Leafs need to find a way to end the night with two points. Considering their struggles and a wounded opponent in San Jose, Toronto needs to display some killer instinct on home ice. 

Lineups

Leafs

Forwards 

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

Defense

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf 
Gardiner - Schenn 
Liles - Franson

Goalies

Reimer
Gustavsson

Sharks

Forwards

Marleau - Thornton - Pavelski 
Wingels - Couture -  Clowe
McGinn - Handzus - Ferriero 
Winchester - Desjardins - Mitchell 

Defense 

White - Boyle 
Vlasic - Burns 
Demers - Braun

Goalies

Niemi 
Greiss

Players to Watch

Leafs: Tim Connolly - With two goals in his last three games, Connolly seems to be coming around from his slump. Aside from his goal against New Jersey on Tuesday, the veteran pivot had multiple chances to light the lamp the other night. Toronto needs secondary scoring, and Connolly finding his groove will be a pleasant sight.

Sharks: Logan Couture - The all-star is a dynamic scorer, who possesses all the tools to punish the Leafs. If the Leafs defense gives him space in the offensive zone tonight, the talented centre will have a productive night. 

Game Time: 7:00 at the Air Canada Centre. TV - TSN. Radio - AM640.