The Maple Leafs kickoff 2015 with a date in Minnesota. Here are Toronto’s three keys to a victory.
Don’t let recent struggles fool you
The Wild have just one win in their last seven games, and they have had a hard time keeping the lead. Toronto managed to win their last game of 2014, having given up another two-goal lead. Minnesota is loaded with talent and are fourth in the NHL in shots per game with 31.6. The Leafs will face a lot of rubber unless they play a pressure-packed game in Minnesota’s end of the ice.
Jonathan Bernier returned in a big way, helping the Leafs beat Boston 4-3 in a shootout. Darcy Kuemper has had a pair of back-to-back solid performances for Minnesota, allowing the opposition to score just twice in each contest. Goals could come at a premium, despite the Leafs league best goals/game rate. The goaltending battle has been the deciding factor for both teams over the last couple of weeks and Friday night should be no different. Bernier has played well against Minnesota. He’s 3-1-3 lifetime against the Wild with a .956 save percentage and his 1.11 goals against average is the lowest against any other opponent.
Lean on the top line
The loss of Joffrey Lupul and Peter Holland to injuries mean the top line could be relied on heavily to keep producing points. James van Riemsdyk finished the month of December with eight goals. The reunion of JVR with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel proved to pay off for the Leafs and they may see more minutes as other lines look to find chemistry due to change. The loss of Lupul will be difficult, having registered 14 points in 17 games since he returned from a broken hand.