REMEMBER ME? (PRE-GAME OPINIONS)
It's been a long wait for the Leafs to return to action, but starting tonight, the Leafs will begin a home and home series with arch-rivals Detroit. The Red Wings did have the better record against the Leafs, but the Buds did win a memorable Winter Classic match last New Years. With a renewed sense of excitement surrounding the two teams, these match-ups should be fun to watch.
Prior to this home and home series, the Red Wings have, like the previous opponent, have had some early struggles of scoring goals. Part of the problem is that their injury bug problems from last year continue to affect the lineup, Datsyuk being the main example.
The Leafs, meanwhile, have be responding well after a bad showing less than a weeks ago. With a big win on Sunday and the dominating performance on Tuesday, Kessel and his linemates are starting to pick up steam. Also, Percy was denied a point to extend his small streak, but he has been solid for the Leafs since his promotion.
Bernier looks to get the start for the Leafs tonight and Gardiner looks to return to the lineup after being scratched the last two times. With uncertainty of whether Lupul will play in tonight's match-up, the Leafs shuffled the lines in his absence. It is a day-to-day injury, so he does have a chance to return to the lineup right away. I made the lineups assuming Lupul is still in the lineup, but also included a star for his replacement if he doesn't return.
Ashton, Frattin, *Lupul (day to day), Booth (injured)
3 Keys to Victory
1) Take advantage of the injured roster. Detroit has always been a strong team, but at the moment, the players currently in the lineup are not the ones that were planned. Similar to when the Leafs faced the Avs, they need to take advantage of this by applying offensive pressure and attack a group of players still trying to familiarize themselves with the NHL. It would go a long way should the Leafs be able to do this.
2) Bernier needs to get back to form. Last season, Bernier had a outstanding tart to his Leaf tenure by outperforming Reimer for the starting job and catching the attention of Toronto fans. So far this season, he has had a slow start by allowing 10 goals in the 3 games that he has appeared in (one being a short appearance, so it doesn't truly count). However, management still trusts Bernier and he is given the opportunity tonight to get the Leafs a helping hand by giving them a chance to win, starting tonight. A win could go a long way in getting back his confidence, as he looked stellar in the preseason.
3) Don't waste too much energy, you will see them again tomorrow. Remember, this is a home and home series. And if their is one mistake that teams make in these situations is to waste effort into one game and come out flat footed the next. For the Leafs to get 4 points by the end of the mini-series, they need to not only play the type of hockey that can make them successful (Ie: the last two games), but also maintain a good supply of energy and transfer it to the next game in Detroit. If not, it may work against them and lose valuable points that could hurt the Buds long term.
I say this will be a fun and exciting game to watch. The score will end up being 4-3 with the victor winning in the shootout. I expect someone from either team to have 3 points on the night and provide a shootout goal.