Barring a newly discovered injury to Carlo Colaiacovo or Alex Steen, the Toronto Maple Leafs will debut their newest acquisition tonight in an ACC date against the Atlanta Thrashers. I will be your blogmeister.
Drop in as often as you like for piercing analysis, expert observation and anything else I can steal from Jim Ralph.
Winger Lee Stempniak, swapped for the two former first-rounders, will skate on a line with Dominic Moore and Jason Blake. Stempniak passed his physical Tuesday morning.
Stempniak, Blake and Moore should be one of the fastest units in the NHL. Blake and Moore are speed merchants and if the 25-year-old Stempniak doesn’t qualify for that that title, it’s by a half-step.
“He’s fast,” said Jamal Mayers, a former teammate of Stempniak in St. Louis. “You’ll see. He’ll definitely help our team speed.”
“Obviously we coveted a right-hand shot and someone who can play on the power play,” said Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson. “Over the last three or four weeks, he has been St. Louis’s best player. He’s found his confidence again. He’s got a very good shot, sneaky hard, and he’s a very hard worker.”
Stempniak had a 27-goal campaign two seasons ago but he slumped to 12 last year.
“The goalscoring just wasn’t there last year,” he said. “It was disappointing and frustrating. I think I had one goal after 21 games and I got deflated. It was a really hard year.”
This season, Stempniak has three goals and 13 points in 14 games.
“I feel really good this season. I was playing well and I felt very confident.”
The shock of being traded has quickly worn out, Stempniak said.
“It’s been easier than I thought it would be. I spent four years in St. Louis and I enjoyed my time there but it quickly turned into excitement about coming here. It’s the capital of the hockey world. Who wouldn’t want to play here?”
The Leafs have just one win in their last five games and are coming off a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in which the club blew leads of 3-0 and 4-2.
They run into an Atlanta team going the same direction. The Thrashers are 7-10-2 and have lost three straight under former Leaf John Anderson. Prior to that, the mercurial Thrashers won five straight.
Toronto will give Curtis Joseph only his third start of the season. Joseph is 0-2 with a goals against average of 3.21.
Wilson wanted to use rest starter Vesa Toskala and ready him for a heavy leg of the schedule. The Leafs play Thursday in Ottawa and Saturday at home to Philadelphia. After that comes a Western swing where the Maple Leafs play in Los Angeles, San Jose and Phoenix over a four-day span.