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Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:29 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Gunnarsson, Lupul in as Leafs face hot Devils

The New Jersey Devils are on a roll and they would like to keep it that way as they head into Air Canada Centre to face the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Devils have an impressive 8-1-1 record in their past 10 games.

Their post All-Star surge has them sitting in fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings and they are tied with the second-place Bruins at 72 points.

“Before the break (we went on) a little bit of a slide.” said Calder Trophy candidate Adam Henrique after the morning skate.  “The guys came out of the All-Star break and played really well, started finding ways to win, different ways to win, and we’ve kept that rolling.”

Henrique spent a good portion of the morning skate working on face-offs with assistant coach Adam Oates. Henrique leads all rookies with 39 points.

“That’s something we do every day, he’s one of the best faceoff guys to ever play," Henrique said. "He knows so many little things about the game that he tries to teach us and I’m just like a sponge out there and try to take it all in...He’s been a huge part of my improvement over the year.” 

Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal for New Jersey. He has won his past three starts, allowing only four goals in that span. Kurtis Foster, who is dealing with a back injury, participated in drills this morning and while coach Peter DeBeor indicated he would be a game-time decision, there is reason to believe Peter Harrold will lace up in his place for the second straight game.

Anton Volchenkov was also on the ice for the morning skate, sporting a nasty cut from a puck in the face he received in a victory Sunday in Montreal.

Meanwhile, Toronto still holds onto eighth place in the East after Washington failed to pass the Maple Leafs for the final playoff spot with a shutout loss to Carolina on Monday.

Ron Wilson confirmed that both Joffrey Lupul and Carl Gunnarsson will be in the lineup tonight for the Maple Leafs. Lupul missed practice Monday with a foot injury but didn’t show any problems on the ice Tuesday morning. Gunnarsson’s ankle injury kept him from the Leafs' three-game Western Canadian tour, and they took home only two of a possible six points.

“We didn’t play so well on that Western swing against some tough teams. Back home we have to make things count, obviously in a dog fight,” said Toronto forward Colby Armstrong, who is happy in knowing that Lupul and Gunnarsson will be good to go tonight versus the Devils. “Both those guys are warriors. I think Gunner is one of the more underrated players on our team for sure. Obviously Loops (Lupul) is a big time player for our team ... those guys in our lineup is huge for our success.”

Meanwhile, the game of musical chairs continues in the Toronto crease continues as Jonas Gustavsson gets the start.  He made a relief appearance for James Reimer in the Maple Leafs' last game, a 6-2 loss in Vancouver on Saturday night.
Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Likely lineups for Devils, Maple Leafs

TORONTO -- Here is what the lineups could look like when the Devils and Maple Leafs take the ice tonight at Air Canada Centre:

Petr Sykora - Patrik Elias - David Clarkson
Zach Parise - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Dainius Zubrus - Steve Bernier
Eric Boulton - Jacob Josefson - Nick Palmieri
Bryce Salvador - Anton Volchenkov
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Matt Taormina - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur will start in goal, with Johan Hedberg the backup.
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Darryl Boyce - David Steckel - Mike Brown
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn

Jonas Gustavsson will start in goal, with James Reimer the backup.
Posted On Monday, 02.06.2012 / 4:55 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Lineups for Maple Leafs, Oilers

TORONTO -- Here are the lineups the Maple Leafs and Oilers likely will use tonight when the teams meet at the Air Canada Centre:

Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Mathew Lombardi - Tim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Colby Armstrong
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
James Reimer will be back in goal. Jonas Gustavsson will serve as the backup


Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle
Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Ales Hemsky
Ryan Jones - Eric Belanger - Ryan Smyth
Lennart Petrell - Anton Lander - Ben Eager

Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
Cam Barker - Andy Sutton
Ryan Whitney - Corey Potter

Devan Dubnyk will start in goal, with Nikolai Khabibulin the backup.

The game also marks the return home for Gagner, named the NHL's First Star of the Week for his record scoring outburst last week.
Posted On Monday, 02.06.2012 / 4:03 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Gagner brings hot stick home to face Leafs

TORONTO -- Call him Sam the Record Man.

On Thursday, Edmonton center Sam Gagner tied a club record with eight points in an 8-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, and he followed that by factoring in on his team's first three goals Saturday's 5-4 shootout win against the Red Wings. Gagner's outburst set a new club record with points on 11 straight Oilers goals.

On Monday, he was named the NHL's First Star of the Week as he prepared to play against his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night

Gagner said he's hungry to continue to make a large-scale impact.

"When you get an opportunity, you want to be the guy that steps up and takes it," said Gagner. "Over the last few games, I have gotten the opportunity to play with Taylor (Hall) and Jordan (Eberle), both great players. I enjoy playing with skilled players, especially of their caliber. I think it brings out the best in me. When you play with guys that skilled, you kind of have to have the mindset that you want to be the guy."

Tonight, Gagner will be playing in front of friends and his family who reside in nearby Oakville, Ont., and include his father, former NHL player Dave Gagner. The senior Gagner was an assistant coach under Dale Hunter with the OHL's London Knights, and has had a massive impact on his son's career.

"He's a guy I owe everything too," said Sam. "We talk so much about the game, and the ups and downs of what it brings. Obviously it took him a few years to become a regular NHLer that put up really good numbers. I try to listen to him as much as I can about what it takes to get through those slumps."

Gagner was in his own slump prior to his record-setting scoring outburst, with no goals and four assists in the 11 prior games.

"I think the advice he has given me, if I didn't have it, I don't know where it would be," said Gagner.

Talk of his scoring has at least changed the discussion from the trade rumors that had surrounded the 22-year-old, now in his fifth NHL season.

"It's tough to deal with that, I've never really dealt with it before," he said. "I think as long as I can continue ... where I am not worrying about the outside factors I can't really control and just worrying about my game and relishing the opportunity that I get every night, than hopefully things can continue to work out and I can continue to grow as a player."
Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 7:11 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Pens go for sweep of Leafs

After overcoming a 4-1 third-period deficit to beat Toronto 5-4 in a shootout on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins will go for a sweep of the Leafs at Air Canada Centre in the second half of a back-to-back series.

"We're very fortunate, we feel - to have gotten the two points," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said late Wednesday afternoon. Pittsburgh was down by three goals in the third but managed to erase the deficit in regulation on Evgeni Malkin's late goal in the dying seconds, he scored the only goal of the shootout to win it.

"We certainly tap out goalie on the pads for a number of the big saves he made throughout the game, especially in the third..."

After making 35 saves last night, Marc-Andre Fleury will get a rest; backup Brent Johnson gets his first start since Jan. 10, when he was pulled in a loss two the Senators. Defenseman, Ben Lovejoy will also play tonight -- his first game since Jan. 17. Deryk Engelland will have the night off.

James Reimer will get the start in goal for Toronto. While he has not started in two weeks, he has used his time backing up Jonas Gustavsson to absorb as much as he can. "In every situation there is a chance to learn, when you are on the bench you get to see the game from a difference perspective," he said. "Overall, when you watch the really successful goalies, they play with a lot of intensity and they do anything to stop the puck, maybe that is something I will try to put more into my game."

Posted On Monday, 01.23.2012 / 3:40 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Islanders hit Toronto on a hot streak

TORONTO -- The New York Islanders, winners of three straight games, head into Toronto tonight playing their best hockey of the season. They boast the League's hottest player in John Tavares, who has a season-long 12-game point-scoring streak; an up-and-coming play maker in PA Parenteau, who enters tonight's action fifth in the League in assists; and the NHL’s Third Star of the past week, goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

"We're executing more, we're starting to put 60-minute games together more frequently," said Tavares who has eight goals and 13 assists during his streak.

"When we are having tough stretches I feel like we're bouncing back and responding with solid shifts, big goals, big penalty kills and big saves, and we are coming up in those key moments in games and making some plays where overall it's making a difference for the end result."

Toronto will be playing their last of nine home games this month. They started the new year with four straight victories at Air Canada Centre but have tumbled recently, losing four of five and three of their last four at home.

"Their power play is just behind ours in the League and over the last 10 games or so it's about 35 percent," said Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "A lot of their offense is coming from the power play. By playing the way we have been, and not taking penalties will help, if we do take a penalty, (we need to) continue to be as aggressive as we have."

Wilson also acknowledged the play of Nabokov and his impact on the Isles. Wilson knows Nabokov well from their time together in San Jose.

"Nabokov is giving them solid goaltending (and) that's a huge plus," said Wilson. "A veteran presence in net who doesn't really get rattled. And when you get that kind of goaltending, your offence perks up and all areas of your game gets a little better."

Toronto enters the game two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, while the Islanders can pull within five points of the ninth-place Leafs with a victory.

The Maple Leafs took the teams' only other meeting this season between the two clubs, skating away with a 5-3 victory Dec. 23 on Long Island.
Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 2:43 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Lupul honored to be named Chara's assistant for ASG

Joffrey Lupul has been having a stand out season, and Saturday he found out he was named as an assistant captain to Zdeno Chara at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa.

The 28-year-old sits near the top of League scoring and has set a career high in assists in the process.

“It’s an honor and to even have my name thought of was pretty cool,” said Lupul after the morning skate on Saturday.  “They told me to just try and have fun with it and I will try to make it as fun as possible for the fans.”

At the 2011 All-Star game in Raleigh, Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel was selected last.  With Lupul in a position of influence, it seems that things won’t shake down as they did a year ago.

“Chara can be an intimidating guy, I think we’ll take his guy first,” joked Lupul. “Obviously I want to try and take Phil and Dion (Phaneuf), if we can work that.”

Lupul has always been known to have a tremendous upside – he was drafted seventh overall in 2002 – but was long plagued by injury trouble.  The fact that he is finally 100 percent healthy is an obvious reason for his success this season.

“Definitely I was a step behind last year,” Lupul said. “It was good to get those games in at the end of last year and then having a full off season to just train and feel confident about my body, that was big for me.”

Toronto plays a Montreal squad that is coming off a tough 5-4 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Friday night and when the final whistle sounds, will have played their third game in four nights. 

“You want to definitely try and jump on the team early,” Lupul said. “They’re going to be tired a little bit but being tired doesn’t mean you can’t play a solid team game.  After a loss last night, we expect them to come out and play well but we should have a little more jump.”

It will be the third meeting of the rivals and the Leafs have won twice, but the two squads have not faced off in nearly three months.  That span of time has been tumultuous for Les Blue, Blanc et Rouge.

They have fired their coach and traded a cornerstone player.  With all the distractions and adversity Montreal has faced, Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is still weary of the threat they pose.

“The biggest thing for them is they just haven’t gotten results this year,” Phaneuf said. “They’ve got talent in their lineup; they’ve got a lot of speed.  We know they are going to come out and expect a big game here. It’s Saturday night and it’s Toronto-Montreal in Toronto, they’re fun games to be a part of.”

Here’s the projected lineup for the Maple Leafs:

Matthew Lombardi - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Joey Crabb - David Steckel - Mike Brown

Dion Phaneuf - Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

Jonas Gustavsson

Posted On Saturday, 01.14.2012 / 3:18 PM

By Neil Acharya - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Biron starts, Dubinsky remains out for Rangers

TORONTO -- The Maple Leafs have had the Rangers number this season, and so tonight the Blueshirts will switch things up slightly. After suffering a pair of 4-2 losses to Toronto, coach John Tortorella has elected to start Martin Biron -- who has yet to face the Leafs this season, but sports an impressive 8-2-0 record as Henrik Lundqvist's backup. 

"It's been easy for both of us because we've been winnng, the team has been playing really well in front of us and when the team is winning, I think as a goalie you don't think too much," Lundqvist said after the morning skate. "It's been an adjustment for me not to play as much, but so far it's been working for me and I think it's a good thing for the team in the long run to have two fresh guys. Going into the season, I knew I would play less."

Lundqvist was in net for both Leaf victories at Madison Square Garden earlier this season. He feels the presence of Biron, whose prior start in Toronto was a 2-1 victory early last season, drives both of them to be at the top of their game.

"Marty, he is playing so well, I need to push myself to get minutes and I think he feels the same way -- if he wants to start, he needs to play well," Lundqvist said. "So we push each other to work really hard and get better and it's a healthy competition."

Meanwhile, Rangers forward John Mitchell returns to Toronto for the first time as a visitor since being traded to New York almost a year ago. The soon to be 27-year-old spent his first three NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs.

"It's fun and it's exciting, it's cool to be back in the city where it all began," said Mitchell, who grew up in nearby Waterloo, Ontario.

In the 23 games he has played for the Rangers, it has become evident why his club has been successful: "They have a good team identity here and I think everyone knows what their identity is, so it makes sense," Mitchell said.

Brandon Dubinsky, who was questionable to play Saturday, did not partake in the morning skate and will miss his second straight game recovering from a shoulder injury. That means Wojtek Wolski will remain in the lineup. The highly-skilled Wolski played nearly 15 minutes against Ottawa on Thursday, his first action since playing under five minutes versus Anaheim on Nov. 3. He has yet to score a goal this season in seven games.

While the Rangers study video to figure out their power play woes (1-for-20 over the last eight games), Toronto is coming off a 3-2 loss Friday in Buffalo. It was their first loss this month and the club had a sparsely-attended optional skate this morning. After playing last night, Jonas Gustavsson will start again tonight for the Maple Leafs.
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