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Daily Primer Dec. 14: Tough task for Maple Leafs

Saturday, 12.14.2013 / 3:00 AM
John Kreiser  - NHL.com Columnist

The Toronto Maple Leafs end a week against the NHL's elite with their toughest test yet.

The Maple Leafs complete as tough a seven-day stretch as any team could imagine when they host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. Toronto will be trying to avoid a four-game losing streak after dropping games to the Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, three of the top six teams in the NHL standings.

To do so, they'll have to cool off the Blackhawks, who own the top spot in the overall standings and have scored 19 goals while winning three in a row. Chicago has won the past eight games between the teams since a 3-1 loss at United Center in February 2003; it hasn't lost at Toronto since Dec. 1, 2001.

Here’s a look at all the action on a busy Saturday:

Calgary Flames at Buffalo Sabres -- Two organizations that have undergone major shakeups this season meet at First Niagara Center. Calgary defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime Thursday night, a few hours after general manager Jay Feaster and assistant GM John Weisbrod were fired. The Sabres are still struggling to score four weeks after general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston were fired; Buffalo lost 2-1 to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and has scored more than two goals twice in 12 games under interim coach Ted Nolan.

Los Angeles Kings at Ottawa Senators -- It doesn't seem to matter who plays goal for the Kings; the opposition struggles to score. Rookie Martin Jones is 4-0-0 with two shutouts after Ben Scrivens went 6-1-3 in 10 starts following a groin injury to starter Jonathan Quick. Coach Darryl Sutter isn't saying who will get the call here; the one who doesn't play could see action Sunday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. Ottawa split a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres, with each team winning 2-1 at home.

Dallas Stars at Winnipeg Jets -- There aren't a lot of must-win games at this time of year, but this might be one for as these teams try to stay in the Stanley Cup Playoff race. The Stars, Jets and Nashville Predators are tied with 33 points but are eight points out of a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Dallas won its previous visit to MTS Centre but is coming off a 3-1 loss in Nashville. Winnipeg is 0-1-1 entering the finale of a three-game homestand after a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

Chicago Blackhawks at Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Blackhawks are down to their third goaltender, but rookie Antti Raanta has done everything coach Joel Quenneville could have asked. He's 5-0-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average. Chicago has outscored its opponents 19-6 during its three-game winning streak. The Blackhawks are second in the NHL with an average of 33.4 shots on goal per game; that number could go up against the Maple Leafs, who allow a League-high 36.6 per game. They were outscored 14-6 in the losses to the Bruins, Kings and Blues.

Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings -- The Penguins looked like world-beaters in the first period against the New Jersey Devils on Friday, grabbing a 3-0 lead before the game was 15 minutes old. But they needed 37 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury to escape with a 3-2 victory. The Red Wings will be without starting goaltender Jimmy Howard for at least two weeks due to a knee injury, but backup Jonas Gustavsson is 6-1-2 with a 1.93 goals-against average. Detroit's biggest problem has been shootouts: The Red Wings are 0-6 in tiebreakers, including a 2-1 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, and are 0-11 going back to last season.

Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils -- The broken leg that knocked Steve Stamkos out of the lineup has taken a lot of the Lightning offense with it. Tampa Bay defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in a shootout at home Thursday, but even coach Jon Cooper admits, "We've got to find a way to get more than one goal a game." They'll be trying to do so against Martin Brodeur, who watched as Cory Schneider played in the loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Brodeur limited the Lightning to one goal in a 2-1 win at Prudential Center on Oct. 29 and has a 38-16-3 career record against Tampa Bay.

Montreal Canadiens at New York Islanders -- The Canadiens started the week on a 9-0-1 run, but they come to Long Island losers of two straight, a 6-0 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings and a 2-1 road loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday that had coach Michel Therrien juggling line combinations at practice Friday. The Islanders might also look a little different in their first home game after a 1-4-0 road trip: Rookie forward Ryan Strome, the fifth player taken in the 2011 NHL Draft, is expected to make his NHL debut; he was leading the AHL in scoring before being called up. Starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov may also be back in the lineup.

St. Louis Blues at Columbus Blue Jackets -- Columbus goaltender Mike McKenna's folks will be able to watch their son on TV; he's a St. Louis native, and his father is an off-ice official at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. McKenna is expected to get the start because each of Columbus' regular goaltenders, Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney, are out with an injury. McKenna played the final two periods of a 4-2 win against the New York Rangers on Thursday after McElhinney got hurt. The Blues just keep rolling along; they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 Thursday and are 21-6-3 through 30 games.

San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators -- The Sharks start a three-game road trip after a 3-1 home victory against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday ended a four-game losing streak. San Jose has the NHL's top rookie scorer, Thomas Hertl (15 goals); Nashville has been getting solid play from a pair of rookie goaltenders, with Carter Hutton allowing one goal each in wins this week against the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars.

Carolina Hurricanes at Phoenix Coyotes -- The Hurricanes end a four-game trip through the West in which they have yet to win but have gotten points in two of three games, including a 2-1 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Phoenix comes off a 6-3 victory against the New York Islanders on Thursday that continued its domination of teams from the Eastern Conference. The Coyotes are 8-1-1 against the East, not a bad thing for a team that plays its next four games after Saturday on the road against teams from that conference.

Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche -- The road hasn't been kind to the Wild, which comes to Denver after losses earlier in the week to the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks in which Minnesota managed a total of two goals. The Avalanche spotted the Jets a 2-0 lead in Winnipeg on Thursday but rallied to win 4-3 in a shootout. Matt Duchene, who had struggled to score after returning from an oblique injury, had two goals, an assist and the shootout winner.

Boston Bruins at Vancouver Canucks -- For the Canucks, the best thing about their 4-0 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night was that they were able to give some of their top-line forwards a rest in preparation for the Bruins' first visit to Rogers Arena since Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, a game Boston won 4-0. The Bruins are looking for a sweep of their trip to Western Canada; they had Friday off after a 4-2 win at Edmonton on Thursday.

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