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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Leafs playing for pride on home ice vs. Carolina

TORONTO – A season that once held so much promise for the Toronto Maple Leafs is drawing to a disappointing close with just six games remaining. A regulation loss on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight would officially end Toronto’s faint playoff hopes.

The Maple Leafs have lost a franchise record nine straight home games (0-6-3), part of a late season collapse that knocked them out of a playoff position and led to the firing of coach Ron Wilson.

Wilson’s replacement, Randy Carlyle, has challenged his team to end the skid.

"We have to demonstrate more will, pride, passion, because it’s gone on long enough," said Carlyle. "That was our message after practice yesterday, that it’s unacceptable to have the home record that we have right now. And that’s what we’re going to ask of our players, and we as a coaching staff have to find a way to motivate this group to play to a higher level. It has to start tonight."

Carlyle, 4-6-2 since taking over on March 2, has put his squad through a number of grueling practices in recent weeks and hopes to see that extra work pay off in game situations.

"When people go into slumps it’s usually hard work that takes them out of it," said Carlyle. "When you’re in pro sports, either a team or an individual, you go back to the basics and you go to work.

"We’re the ones that are responsible for our record. Now it’s time for us to make a statement."

Goaltender James Reimer, who will make his seventh start in eight games, refused to give up on the Leafs playoff hopes, no matter how remote: "We’re trying to focus on winning the game and keeping our chances alive," he said.

Forwards Mike Brown (knee), Matt Frattin (ankle) and Clarke MacArthur (shoulder) are expected to return to action tonight, while Carlyle will likely dress seven defensemen.

Here are tonight’s projected lineups:

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Drayson Bowman
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain

Cam Ward
Brian Boucher

Matthew Lombardi – Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail GrabovskiMatt Frattin
Tim Connolly - David SteckelJoey Crabb
Jay RosehillMike Brown

Dion PhaneufCarl Gunnarsson
John-Michael LilesLuke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Mike Komisarek

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:15 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Bruins wait to see if veteran Turco clears waivers

TORONTO -- With backup goaltender Tuukka Rask out four-to-six weeks with a groin/abdomen strain, a position of strength for the Boston Bruins has turned into a concern. Rask had been expected to see significant action in the final month of the regular season in order to keep starter Tim Thomas fresh for the playoffs.

With the Bruins scheduled to play 18 games in the next 33 days, the plan to lighten the load on Thomas is in jeopardy -- especially considering the Bruins have struggled recently and sit just three points ahead of Ottawa in the Northeast Division standings. General manager Peter Chiarelli signed veteran Marty Turco to a one-year deal Monday to fill the void; Turco must clear waivers Wednesday before officially joining the Bruins.

"It's an unfortunate injury at a real bad time of year, but we hope to have Turco with us by tomorrow," coach Claude Julien said. "He'll give us that experience and the type of backup goaltender that we need to keep moving forward down the stretch."

After a disappointing season with the Blackhawks in 2010-11, when he went 11-11-3 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .897 save percentage, Turco did not sign with an NHL team leading into this season.  He has stayed sharp by playing in the Spengler Cup for Team Canada, and more recently a 10-game run with EC Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian First Division. 

Julien is optimistic about the potential addition of Turco.

"When you're in that position where you're past the trade deadline, you've got to find solutions," Julien said. "There's no doubt if Turco comes to us tomorrow it will be a great solution to a tough situation."

Julien was guarded when asked about how many games he would like to see Thomas play in the coming month.

"I go day by day, I've always said that. We'll see how everything turns out, we don't know whether Marty is going to be with us, so for me to answer that, I can't."

Thomas will start tonight against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, with Michel Hutchinson called up from Providence to back him up.

And if all goes well for the Bruins, they will add an experienced backup to the fold on Wednesday.

Here are tonight's projected lines:
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Tyler Seguin
Brian Rolston - Patrice Bergeron - Brad Marchand
Benoit Pouliot - Chris Kelly - Jordan Caron
Lane MacDermid - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg - Joe Corvo
Greg Zanon - Adam McQuaid
Tim Thomas
Michael Hutchinson
Posted On Thursday, 01.19.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Wild, Maple Leafs must find way back into fast lane

TORONTO -- Expect to see two desperate teams at Air Canada Centre tonight, as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Minnesota Wild. Both teams are struggling lately and sit in ninth place in their respective conferences, falling out of playoff positions they have held for much of the season. The Leafs have lost three straight games, while the Wild have lost 10 straight on the road and have won just two of their last 16 overall.

Toronto coach Ron Wilson isn't happy with the defensive play of his club and will split up the high-scoring combination of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul for the first time this season, coming off Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Ottawa when the top line was victimized for two key goals. Matthew Lombardi will join Tyler Bozak and Kessel, while Lupul will skate with Tim Connolly and Nazem Kadri.

"We have to pay more attention to detail on defense," said Wilson, whose team has been outscored 9-4 on the current losing skid. "We have to stop the other teams. Sometimes you can't control how well the other goalie plays. All they hear here is 'secondary scoring, secondary scoring, you've got to score more goals.' If you're giving up three, yes you do; if you only give up one or two or none, you don't."

Wilson stressed that though the goaltender or defensemen often take the blame for goals against, the forwards are often just as culpable.

"Half the time it's a forward not getting the job done in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, a bad turnover, a poor decision, not backchecking properly or not winning a battle on the boards to help the 'D' get the puck out," he said.

With Mike Komisarek returning after one game in the press box, the defensive pairings will shift as well. Komisarek will play with Carl Gunnarsson, Dion Phaneuf joins Luke Schenn, and Jake Gardiner pairs with Cody Franson. Keith Aulie appears to be the odd man out.

Jonas Gustavsson, who gets the start in net, does not foresee any issues with the new pairings.

"I trust all our (defensemen)," Gustavsson said. "If I have to worry about who is out there I might lose focus on my own game. No matter who is out there I trust them to do their job and I'm going to focus on doing mine."

Of note for the Wild, goaltender Niklas Backstrom returns to action for the first time since Jan. 7, having missed the last four games with a stomach virus.

Coach Mike Yeo will make adjustments up front as well. With top center Mikko Koivu still sidelined with a shoulder injury, Warren Peters will get a shot at the top line between Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.

Yeo is confident Peters can get the job done.

"Despite being very inexperienced in the NHL, he is an experienced player and has a pretty good idea of what his foundation is as a player and the way he has to play the game," Yeo said of Peters, who has played eight seasons in the AHL but just 62 career games in the NHL. "It's not an easy thing for a lot of players to get thrown up to the top line. It's important that he doesn't try to change his game or get outside of what he has to do, and we think he's capable of that."

Much like Wilson, Yeo wants his team to go back to defensive fundamentals to break out of its recent funk.

"We have to understand that we have a lot of skill guys out (Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse). Offense isn't going to come as easily, so we have to have a much stronger focus on the defensive part of our game," Yeo said. "When we were winning games, we were a team that was real tough to play against defensively."

As for the Wild having fallen out of a playoff spot, Yeo had a quick answer.

"It’s not how you drive, it's how you arrive," he said.

Both the Wild and the Leafs need to get back in the fast lane soon, or their playoff hopes could be in jeopardy.

Posted On Tuesday, 01.17.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Plenty at stake as Maple Leafs host Senators

TORONTO -- Much more than provincial bragging rights will be on the line in tonight's edition of the Battle of Ontario. The surprising Ottawa Senators sit in a tie for fourth spot in the Eastern Conference with 56 points, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are seven points behind, in ninth place, just one point back of Pittsburgh and Washington.

Ottawa's fantastic 8-0-1 run came to a halt last night on home ice, as the Senators were shut out for the first time this season, 2-0 by the Winnipeg Jets. Tonight's game is the start of a tough six-game road trip that will take the Senators out west to face all three California teams, Phoenix, and then back east to finish against the defending Stanley Cup champions in Boston.

Center Jason Spezza, Ottawa's scoring leader with 47 points, is looking forward to taking on the Leafs.

"It's an exciting game, both teams are in the playoff picture," Spezza said. "Coming off a loss last night it's nice to get back playing right away. We expect them to give us their best tonight, and we need a better game than we had last night."

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson expects a fast pace.

"Both teams play an up-tempo game, a lot of skating," Alfredsson said. "We know Toronto, especially at home, they like to get on the forecheck and create turnovers. For us it's a matter of being good in our own end, breaking the puck out as quick as we can, and hopefully bypass their first two or even three forecheckers and get some chances that way."

Like the Senators, the Leafs were shut out on home ice in their last game, a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers Saturday night. Coach Ron Wilson will make a number of lineup changes after two consecutive losses.

Of particular note, Toronto's high-scoring duo of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who have been held without a point in three straight games, will have a new centerman. Tyler Bozak, who has missed the last seven games with a shoulder injury, will replace Tim Connolly as the No. 1 pivot.

Bozak, who has developed good chemistry with Kessel and Lupul this season, is happy to return to action between the two wingers, both of whom sit in the top 10 in League scoring.

"They're usually not going to be held off the scoresheet for that long, it's exciting to be back for them on a night like tonight," Bozak said. "They're both due for a really good game, and I got lucky enough to be slated in between them. So hopefully I can get them the puck and try to get them out of this little funk they're in."

James Reimer, who has a 3-0-1 career record against Ottawa, will make his first start since Dec. 31 in Winnipeg. Reimer, who has been supplanted as the starter by Jonas Gustavsson, gets an opportunity to win back the No. 1 job.

"It's a huge four-point game," Reimer said. "We can't give them any more points and let them widen the gap. We want to close it as much as possible. Seeing the standings, it makes it more important of a game and adds excitement. There should be good energy out there."

Defenseman Jake Gardiner and winger Jay Rosehill will also be back in the lineup, but Wilson wouldn't tip his hand on who would come out, citing a game-time decision.

Mike Komisarek and Nazem Kadri are most likely to sit.

According to coach Paul MacLean, Ottawa will ice the same lineup as last night in Winnipeg. Goaltender Craig Anderson, the NHL's Third Star of last week, will make his 10th straight start.

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

Colin Greening - Jason Spezza - Milan Michalek
Erik Condra - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Nick Foligno - Zack Smith - Chris Neil
Kaspars Daugavins - Zenon Konopka - Bobby Butler

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Sergei Gonchar
Chris Phillips - Matt Carkner

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld

Joffrey LupulTyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew LombardiTim Connolly - Joey Crabb
Jay Rosehill - David Steckel - Mike Brown

Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Carl Gunnarsson - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 2:12 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Discipline key to Maple Leafs' recent run

TORONTO -- Tonight at Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs will aim for a perfect 4-0 homestand as they host the Buffalo Sabres in the first game of a home-and-home series. Jonas Gustavsson, 8-3-0 in his last 11 starts, gets the nod in goal for the fourth straight game.

"It's all about finding that push everyday," Gustavsson said of the Leafs' drive for a playoff spot. "You can't relax or take any nights off, you've really got to fight every game because it's going to be tight the whole way."

One of the keys to the Leafs' recent run has been discipline, limiting opposition power-play chances against their penalty kill, ranked 30th in the League at 73.6 percent. In each of the last two games, wins over the Jets and Red Wings, they have been shorthanded just once and killed off that chance.

Coach Ron Wilson commented on the keys to staying out of the penalty box.

"Using good position, moving your feet is important, but the most important thing is keeping your sticks on the ice, which is good defense anyway," Wilson said. "It's an extra obstacle for the other team to pass around. When you raise your sticks and go at hands and arms or cross-check across backs, one of your weapons is up in the air and you give up a passing lane."

Ryan Miller starts between the pipes for the Sabres, who have won just twice in their last 10 games and lost six straight road games. According to Miller, the Sabres need to remain positive.

"Once you get a little too fixated on looking for mistakes and how to fix that, you get away from playing the way you should be playing," Miller said. "You've got to go out there with a clear mind, free and easy, enjoy the game and work hard. We've got to focus on the things we have to do to be a good team, getting above the puck, staying tight as a group, sticking up for each other and just playing some hockey."

Buffalo's struggling offense could get a boost with the return of center Derek Roy, who injured his shoulder Friday against Carolina and missed Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss to Winnipeg. Roy will be a game-time decision.

"He was better this morning than he was yesterday," coach Lindy Ruff said following the game-day skate. "We'll let him go for warmup and see where he's at. He feels he's close."

Ruff stressed the importance of the game for the Sabres, mired in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 41 points, facing a team six points ahead in the standings.

"We've got to step forward, it starts with one game. Urgency has to be at a premium," he said.

Here are the projected lineups for tonight:


Thomas Vanek - Jochen Hecht - Jason Pominville
Brad Boyes - Ville Leino - Drew Stafford
Patrick Kaleta - Paul Gaustad - Nathan Gerbe
Matt Ellis - Luke Adam - Cody McCormick

Tyler Myers - Brayden McNabb
Robyn Regehr - Jordan Leopold
Mike Weber - Marc-Andre Gragnani

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth


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

Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Carl Gunnarsson - Luke Schenn
Cody Franson - Mike Komisarek

Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
Posted On Thursday, 01.05.2012 / 1:54 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Leafs, Jets battle for top-eight spot at ACC

TORONTO – The matchup tonight at Air Canada Centre sets up as an important one in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs are tied for 9th place with 43 points and identical 19-15-5 records. The winner will jump back into the top eight and could finish the night as high as sixth in the standings. Jonas Gustavsson and Chris Mason will be between the pipes.

The Leafs are coming off an impressive 7-3 home win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, and could build some momentum with nine of their next 10 games at the ACC.
Captain Dion Phaneuf, fresh off the news of his election to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, emphasized the importance of consistency in the tight playoff race.
 “The main thing that our team wants to concentrate on is staying even keel and playing our game, day after day, night after night," Phaneuf said. “Whether you’re in or you’re out you’ve got to win hockey games to either keep pace or move up, that’s our focus and we’re going to keep doing that.”

The Jets had an impressive run in December with a 10-3-1 mark, capitalizing on a schedule which featured 12 home games, but could not continue that success on the road Wednesday night in Montreal. The Canadiens spanked the Jets 7-3 in the first game of a four-game road trip that will see Winnipeg take on each member of the Northeast Divison.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd spoke about his club rebounding from the tough loss.

“We looked at the tape this morning and some of the things we need to be a lot better at,” Ladd said.  “Our play away from the puck (needs to improve). We need to get the puck back quicker and obviously (we had) a couple turnovers that we don’t need.”

Jets center Bryan Little, out since Dec. 17th with a foot injury, skated with the team for the second straight day but is not expected to play tonight.

On the injury front for the Leafs, coach Ron Wilson revealed that defenseman John-Michael Liles is dealing with bronchitis along with the effects of a concussion from Dec. 22nd. Only when the bronchitis subsides will the team be able to assess Liles’ status.

Here are the projected lineups:


Blake Wheeler - Tim Stapleton - Evander Kane
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Eric Fehr - Alexander Burmistrov - Chris Thorburn
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec


Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Phil Kessel
Joey Crabb - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur - Matthew Lombardi - Nazem Kadri
Darryl Boyce - David Steckel - Matt Frattin

Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Carl Gunnarsson - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Jonas Gustavsson
James Reimer
Posted On Thursday, 12.22.2011 / 1:42 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Leafs, Sabres have battled injuries, inconsistency

TORONTO -- Tonight's Battle of the QEW features a pair of faltering squads hovering around the playoff bubble. Both the Sabres and the Maple Leafs sport 3-5-2 records in their last 10 games, and have nearly identical records on the season -- the Leafs are currently tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 36 points, one point up on the Sabres, who are tied for ninth. Ryan Miller and James Reimer will be between the pipes.

Injury problems have plagued both teams; Buffalo currently has seven players on IR, and forwards Tyler Ennis (ankle) and Jochen Hecht (lower body) are questionable for tonight. On the plus side, forward Patrick Kaleta is expected to return to action after missing a month with a groin injury.

With the Leafs placing forwards Colby Armstrong (concussion) and Philippe Dupuis (upper body) on IR Tuesday, highly-touted prospect Nazem Kadri was among the call-ups from the Toronto Marlies. The seventh pick in the 2009 draft has failed to make a strong impression with the Leafs, producing just 13 points in 33 career games (1 assist in three games this season), but his play in the minors this season has drawn raves. The AHL's player of the month for November will get a chance, starting tonight, to earn a permanent spot on the big club. Kadri will skate on a line with Tim Connolly and Clarke MacArthur.

Also of note for Toronto, rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner is expected to be scratched in favor of Keith Aulie. Gardiner has been impressive this season, but has struggled recently. In the last three games he has a minus-5 rating and has seen his ice-time steadily reduced, down to just 16:39 in Monday's loss to the Kings. 

Here are tonight's projected lineups.

Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Luke Adam - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta
Derek WhitmorePaul Szczechura - Drew Stafford
Cody McCormick - Matt Ellis - Zack Kassian

Robyn Regehr - Andrej Sekera
Christian Ehrhoff - Brayden McNabb 
Jordan Leopold - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

Scratches: C Jochen Hecht, LW Tyler Ennis, D Marc-Andre Gragnani

Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Matt Frattin - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Darryl Boyce - David Steckel - Joey Crabb

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Keith Aulie - Luke Schenn
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson

Scratches: D Jake Gardiner, RW Colton Orr, LW Jay Rosehill

Posted On Monday, 12.19.2011 / 2:04 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Leafs, Kings find themselves in need of a win

TORONTO -- Tonight's matchup at the Air Canada Centre features two struggling teams in desperate need of a win. The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost four of their last five games, while the Los Angeles Kings have lost six of their last eight contests.
Kings interim head coach John Stevens will try to even his record after losing two of three games since taking over the reins after Terry Murray's dismissal. Darryl Sutter is expected to be officially introduced as the new head coach on Tuesday. 
James Reimer and Jonathan Quick will start between the pipes, both looking to rebound from poor performances. Reimer gave up five goals on 29 shots in Toronto’s 5-4 loss to Buffalo Friday night, while Quick got the early hook after surrendering three goals on eight shots in Los Angeles’ 8-2 loss Saturday night in Detroit.
Tim Connolly will center Toronto's top line for the first time in over a month, joining Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. Tyler Bozak drops down to the third line.
For the Kings, defenseman Willie Mitchell returns to the lineup after missing six of the last seven games with a groin injury.
Here are tonight’s projected lineups:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Simon Gagne
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Justin Williams
Trevor Lewis - Andrei Loktionov - Brad Richardson
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Kevin Westgarth

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Jack Johnson - Willie Mitchell
Matt Greene - Davis Drewiske

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
Scratches: D Slava Voynov, D Alec Martinez, RW Trent Hunter
Center Mike Richards, recovering from the effects of a concussion suffered Dec. 1, skated with the team again today but has not yet been approved for contact.
Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matt Frattin - Tyler Bozak - Colby Armstrong
Jay Rosehill - Philippe Dupuis - Joey Crabb

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
John-Michael Liles - Cody Franson

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
Scratches: D Keith Aulie and RW Colton Orr

Center David Steckel is still out with bronchitis.
Posted On Tuesday, 11.08.2011 / 1:09 PM

By Dennis Ryan - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Projected lines for Maple Leafs

Here's how the lineup is projected to look for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they face the Florida Panthers tonight at Air Canada Centre:
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Matt Frattin - Matthew Lombardi - Joey Crabb
Mike Brown - David Steckel - Phillippe Dupuis
Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles - Mike Komisarek
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
Jonas Gustavsson is back in goal after Ben Scrivens had started two straight. Schenn is back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Saturday against the Bruins. Cody Franson will be scratched.

Frattin was called up from the Marlies and enters the lineup to replace Tim Connolly, who is out 10-14 days with an upper-body injury.
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Quote of the Day

It's not just going to happen on its own. We have to have guys commit to the areas we need to improve on. We're going to be better than last year but there is still a long way to go. But I really like the pieces and where we're headed.

— Sabres forward Tyler Ennis on the progress of Buffalo's rebuilding process