The Leafs return home after a successful road trip that saw them go 3-0-0 and absolutely dominate the Montreal Canadiens in the final game of the swing. However, they’re likely to face much stronger competition tonight in the Philadelphia Flyers, who want to capitalize on their own recent homestand that saw them win three of four contests. The Leafs’ winning streak goes on the line when the puck drops at 7:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in their path to victory:
1) As mentioned already, the Leafs just completed a strong road trip that saw them go undefeated. That success only adds to their already impressive road record in which they have now won all but one game in seven attempts. Unfortunately, the team’s home record is essentially the complete opposite: they’ve only won one game in five attempts under the Air Canada Centre’s critical gaze. If the Leafs want to capitalize on their recent road success and make a legitimate run at the playoffs, then it’s absolutely imperative that they start winning at home. Can they start a new trend in that direction tonight?
Things got off to a rocky start as Philadelphia scored just 38 seconds into the contest. Afterwards, however, it was all Leafs as they raced to a 5-2 final. That’s four wins in a row!
2) James Reimer stole the show in Montreal, stopping 37 shots to earn his first shutout of the season and the seventh shutout of his young career. Reimer’s strong play throughout the current season has seen him retake the starter’s job – a title that briefly fell out of his hands due to mediocre play last season (once again, you can blame Brian Gionta and his cheap shot on Reimer for this). The lovable goaltender loves playing at home and I can think of no better place for him to thank the faithful for their patient confidence in his abilities. He can also help the team reverse its horrible home record. Does Reimer – assuming he gets the start – deliver?
He started the game, but it was finished by Ben Scrivens. Reimer left in the second period with an apparent leg injury. Fortunately, Scrivens did an admirable job in relief. Both goalies were solid.
3) Last week the easy question was negative and reflective of the Leafs’ general struggles: Will Kessel finally find the back of the net? Now the question has been reversed and reflects the Leafs’ recent strong play: Can the Flyers keep Kessel off the board? The young American sniper has six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in his last three games and 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) overall in 12 games this season to takeover the team lead in points from Nazem Kadri (3 goals, 6 assists in 12 games). Kessel is also a relatively healthy +1 on the season (compared against -10 for last season), which speaks to his improved defensive play under new head coach Randy Carlyle. When Kessel gets hot, few players in the NHL are better than him. Let’s hope the trend continues!
The offence in this game was led by the secondary scorers – Matt Frattin scored another goal, bringing his season total to 7 – but the first line did connect on the Leafs’ final goal of the game. Kessel fed JVR a nice pass, which the big forward then powered into the net.
4) The aspect of this game getting the most attention, however, is the return of Luke Schenn to Toronto. Schenn was traded in the off-season for power forward James van Riemsdyk. Both players have quietly adjusted to their new homes, but thoughts and regrets from the past are likely to surface tonight. I’m sure both players will want to make some type of impression on their former teams while it will be interesting to see if any of the long suspected tension between Schenn and Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf finally spills out. In short, how does the night play out for Schenn and JVR?
Schenn made an early appearance on the scorecard, assisting on the Flyers’ first goal, but JVR stole the show with his impressive goal. In the end, there was no fight between Phaneuf and Schenn though Phaneuf did wrestle with Zac Rinaldo – it just wasn’t the same.
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