The Anaheim Ducks are the perfect team to play the Maple Leafs tonight at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m., TSN, AM640, Leafs TV Interactive)
At least as far as storylines go.
The Ducks hit town in the midst of an unforeseen sputter. They are 1-5, last in the Pacific Division. They have been outscored 20-13 and Teemu Selanne and Corey Perry have one goal between them.
“I have confidence in this group,” General Manager Brian Burke told reporters, Tuesday. “We went 1-3 last year and had over 100 points. I’m not going to panic.”
A year removed from the Stanley Cup, the Ducks remain potent, especially with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer logging around 25 minutes a night.
“They’re big and physical and their strength is how they move the puck,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “Obviously they have two Hall of Famers on the back end. They are as good as any defencemen, if not the best pair of defencemen in the NHL.”
Throw in the intrigue over the future of Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke and you have a pretty full storyboard.
Certainly, the Leafs could use a win. They haven’t won since their season-opening victory over Detroit and so far two of Ron Wilson’s main goals have not been met.
The team’s 18 goals against is tied for second worst in the East. The penalty kill rate of 71.4 percent is 28th in the 30-team NHL.
The Leafs will trot out a first line of Nik Antropov, Jason Blake and John Mitchell. For Mitchell, a three-year Marlie who hadn’t played an NHL game before this season, things are sweet. Mitchell stepped into the spot previously occupied by Alexei Ponikarovsky. The veteran Ukrainian has fallen in disfavor with Wilson.
“I wasn’t a shoe-in to get this opportunity,” said Mitchell. “I spent better than 1,000 days in the minors to get here. It feels really good to know I was able to make the team and be given the opportunity to be on the first line.”
Mitchell likes to bang, which will come in handy.
“With Anaheim you know you’re in a game. Their game involves a lot of forechecking, getting in your defence, a lot of physicality,” Wilson said.
The Leafs coach continues to run defencemen in and out of the press box. Carlo Colaiacovo is expected to join Ian White on the sidelines against Anaheim.
“A couple of guys should play every night which is Kaberle and Kubina,” Wilson said. “We want Luke Schenn
and Anton Stralman to get a lot of ice time. After that it’s kind of by committee. At the end of the week we expect Jeff Finger
to be ready and that will make the decision process more difficult.”
Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren will round out the Leafs defence tonight.
Wilson is hopeful of a fast start.
“We want to get on them as quickly as possible. I know, when you coach a West Coast team and you play on a Sunday and then Tuesday on the East Coast, you spend one whole day travelling. Hopefully they won’t have their legs under them the first 10 minutes of the game. We have to take advantage of that.”