The Toronto Maple Leafs hope to continue their winning ways on home ice as they take on the Dallas Stars at Air Canada Center on Tuesday night. The matchup is the first of two meetings between the Leafs and their Western Conference foe this month, as the two clubs face each other just prior to the Christmas break in Dallas.
Dallas is currently under .500(9-10-5) and have performed below expectations after making the playoffs last season in coach Lindy Ruff’s first season with the young club. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza provide most of the Stars offense. Seguin leads the NHL with 18 goals and is third in the league behind Sidney Crosby and Jakub Voracek with 31 points, while linemate Benn has 23 points and Spezza(who recently signed a four-year contract extension) has 19 points.
Forward Valeri Nichushkin is out indefinitely with a hip injury and defenseman Alex Goligoski is questionable with a lower body injury but participated in the morning skate at ACC.
Kari Lehtonen is expected to get the start in goal for Dallas. The former Atlanta Thrasher top pick is 9-5-5, 3.03 GAA and .905 Sv % in 20 starts, but has a losing career record(3-6-2) vs Toronto for Dallas.
The Leafs have turned things around at home, with three straight victories in the aftermath of the 9-2 thrashing by Nashville two weeks ago. Jonathan Bernier left the ice first at the optional morning skate will be making his sixth straight start in goal. Bernier is 3-1-1 in the last five games appears to have the confidence of the coaching staff after James Reimer surrendered 12 goals in 100 minutes against Buffalo and Nashville.
“We felt that (Bernier) has been riding the hot hand, he’s been good for us and given us a chance.” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said on Tuesday.
Toronto does not play back-to-back until December 9(Calgary) and 10(at Detroit) and it is quite possible that Bernier will start the remainder of the home stand with days off in between.
Winger Leo Komarov did not participate in the optional morning skate and will not play against Dallas, but it appears that it is more for precautionary reasons than experiencing post-concussion symptoms after being hit by Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin on Saturday.
Komarov relays message to media “tell everyone I’m fine.”
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) December 1, 2014
Phil Kessel left Monday’s practice early due to the nagging injury that has plagued him all season, but the Leafs leading scorer is expected to be in the lineup on Tuesday.
Joffrey Lupul will replace Komarov on a line with Nazem Kadri and Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winnik moves to the line with Peter Holland and David Clarkson and Richard Panik gets back into the lineup on the fourth line with Trevor Smith and David Booth.
Leafs center Nazem Kadri continues to be a focal point of attention for the Maple Leafs, whether it is criticism for talking off the ice, his performance on the ice and or his future in Toronto.
Kadri backer Don Cherry indicated in a radio interview on Monday that the young forward needs to focus more on his game and less on making comments to the media.
“Every time I look in the paper, he’s doing all his yapping,” Cherry said to Sportsnet Fan 590 on Monday. “For five goals, for Christ sakes, he’s got more to say than anybody. Just shut your mouth and play hockey, that’s what I’d say.”
TSN’s Darren Dreger indicated on Monday that he would be surprised if Kadri is a member of the Leafs past the March NHL trade deadline. The 24-year-old is in the final year of his two-year bridge deal and the expectation is that Kadri will be looking for a long term deal in excess of $5 Million per season as a restricted free agent next summer.
Leafs management has not seen the level of consistency from Kadri and have had to resort to tactics like removing him from the power play to get the young center to play with the effort and intensity they are looking for.
Kadri’s offensive numbers are not up to expectations averaging near a point per game in 2013 and a 20 goal, 50 point campaign in 2013-14. While his game has improved in some areas, there are signs that the organization sees more potential in Peter Holland, who makes $775,000 and is under contract through the 2015-16 season.
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