The 19-23-5 Toronto Maple Leafs are preparing for back-to-back road games beginning at the host rink in Raleigh, North Carolina against All-Star captain Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, before visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
The Leafs have gone 5-4-1 in their past ten games, with the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line leading the way with eight points combined in the past five games.
Although he is the only Leaf voted into the All-Star game, Phil Kessel has struggled as of late posting just two assists in his past give games – both coming against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 20.
In the most recent NHL All-Star Mock Draft featured on NHL.com, Kessel was projected to be the very last pick in the draft going to Niklas Lindstrom’s team, meaning he and Staal would be foes both times they meet this week.
One major change in the Toronto line-up is the absence of enforcer Colton Orr, who is out with a head injury he suffered in a recent fight. Toronto Marlies tough-guy Jay Rosehill has be summoned to take his place, and in his first game with the Leafs since Dec. 18, 2010, Rosehill posted an assist on a Tim Brent goal while also pleasing coach Ron Wilson with several hits and solid physical play.
After facing the Hurricanes Monday evening, the Leafs will face a decent test in their final game of the week against a Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning the very next night.
Even with captain Vincent Lacavalier having a possible career-worst season, the enhanced play of the Lightning squad coupled with the brilliant management of Steven Yzerman has the team placed first in the Southeast Division with a 30-15-5 record.
For Toronto fans, games like this should be something to pay attention to. Although the Leafs have pretty much written off their chance at a post-season, games against top-seeding teams will provide a good look at which players are hungry to perform, and which players Brian Burke can afford to move either before the trade deadline or over the summer.
If Burke can conjure up some deals, Leaf fans can look forward to possibly having more players in next season’s All-Star game.