Preview #18: Injury-ridden Leafs make trip to Nashville
Toronto Maple Leafs 10-6-2
Nashville Predators 9-5-3
The slumping Toronto Maple Leafs visit Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night. Toronto is 5-4-1 in their last 10 but have only won a single game in their last five efforts. On Tuesday, the Leafs lost to Phoenix 3-2 in a shootout. The Leafs struggles coincide with an injury to starting goaltender James Reimer who came out of nowhere a season ago to claim the starting goaltending gig. The Leafs started the season 4-0-1 before losing their first game in regulation, a 6-2 decision to Boston on October 20th.
Reimer has been out of action since October 22nd when he suffered what appears to be a concussion as a result of a hit from Montreal Captain Brian Gionta. In goal for the Leafs in place of Reimer have been Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens. Neither have excelled. Gustavsson has a 4-4 record with a 3.78 goals against average and a .878 save percentage. Scrivens is 2-2-1 on the season with a 2.92 GAA and .904 save percentage.
Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz is looking for Nashville to improve on its 3-2-2 home record with three games left at Bridgestone Arena before heading on the road over Thanksgiving week with visits to Minnesota and Detroit looming.
“Our schedule was really front-loaded with a lot of road games and we were able to navigate through that and end up with a pretty good road record after 10 games. We were .500 at home, and now we’re a little over .500. I always say that if you want to make the playoffs, you need to get 20 wins on the road and be almost .666 at home. If you do that, you’re hovering around 100 points. If we can do something at home here, they’re all going to add up at the end of the year,” Trotz said.
Against the Maple Leafs, maintaining momentum will be easier said than done.
Last season, the Predators faced the Maple Leafs during another trying time for Toronto. In the midst of an eight-game losing skid, the Leafs hosted the Predators and found themselves down 4-1 early in the third period. Toronto scored four unanswered power play goals in the final frame, including two by Kris Versteeg (currently with the Florida Panthers), to win the game 5-4 in regulation.
This season’s NHL leading scorer had two assists in that five-goal game for Toronto against the Predators. Phil Kessel leads the league in points and goals this season with 25 and 13 respectively. In four games against Nashville, Kessel has a goal and two assists for three points.
Toronto could be coming into Nashville missing more than just their starting goaltender. Both Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski are listed by TSN as questionable for Thursday’s contest with upper body and lower body injuries respectively. MacArthur left Tuesday night’s game in Phoenix, missing the third period.
Nazem Kadri and Colby Armstrong are both on injured reserve and will miss the game. Kadri suffered a torn ligament in his knee while Armstrong has a sprained ankle.
Leafs forward Tim Connolly is expected to be activated off injured reserve for the game.
David Legwand is likely to miss the game for the Predators. Legwand has been out of the lineup since sustaining a hard hit on open ice from Kings Captain Dustin Brown last Tuesday in Los Angeles. Legwand led the team in points at the time of the injury and is still tied for the team lead with 14 points, including 5 goals and 9 assists. Rookie Craig Smith shares the team lead in points with 7 goals and 7 assists.
Thursday night’s game also marks the return of Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi to Nashville. Lombardi signed to a three-year deal in 2010 during the off-season, but only played a game and a half for the Predators before suffering a season-ending concussion against the Chicago Blackhawks in the second game of the season last fall.
Unsure if Lombardi would ever play again, Predators General Manager David Poile traded the contract, along with defenseman Cody Franson, to the Maple Leafs for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney this off season. Nashville bought out the Lebda contract. The Stanley Cup winning defenseman is currently playing with the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.
Lombardi has returned to the ice and in 18 games for the Maple Leafs has 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points. Lombardi played 22 career games against Nashville as a member of the Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes and has 11 points against the Predators, including 6 goals and 5 assists.
The puck drops at Bridgestone Arena shortly after 7 pm CT.
Photo credit: Getty Images