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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Maple Leafs, Monday January 3rd

Wrapping up their season-high five-game road trip, the Bruins (20-11-6) travel north of the border to take on Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-19-4) this evening at the Air Canada Centre.

You’d think scoring six goals would be enough for a win… and more often than not, you’d be correct. But that wasn’t the case for the B’s Saturday night in Buffalo, who lost a wild one to the Sabres, 7-6 in the shootout. It was the first start in almost three weeks for goaltender Tuukka Rask, but that start was very short-lived. Rask would be yanked after just 20 minutes, having given up three goals to the Sabres in the first period. Tim Thomas would relieve the Finn, appearing in his eighth straight game. All signs point to the veteran putting appearance number nine in the books this evening, as he’s the favorite to get tonight’s start between the pipes.

For the struggling Maple Leafs, they’re coming off one of their better offensive performances of the season Saturday night, when they jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on Ottawa, on their way to a convincing 5-1 victory over the Sens. The win was just Toronto’s second in their last seven games, which has done little to help the Leafs make any progress towards getting out of the Northeast Division’s cellar. With just 32 points in the standings, Toronto is only above the Islanders and Devils in the Eastern Conference.

We’ve got another divisional battle tonight, which usually means there’s plenty to talk about, and with this game, that’s no exception. Let’s get right to it and lay down the pre-game notes…

  • Saturday’s shootout loss to the Sabres was truly a unique one for the Black and Gold. It was the first game in the long Bruins franchise history that saw four different defensemen score goals. Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, and rookie Steve Kampfer all lit the lamp for the B’s… now if only the team’s top forward line could start contributing, maybe they’d have something.
  • Speaking of the struggling top line, Saturday’s loss extended some not-so-impressive streaks for wingers Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. For Horton, his goalless streak was pushed to nine games, while Lucic, the team’s leading goal scorer with 16, hasn’t hit the back of the net in seven contests.
  • Flipping the focus across the ice to Toronto, Saturday’s 5-1 win over Ottawa marked the first NHL win for rookie goaltender, James Reimer (1-0-0, 0.81GAA). With veteran netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere on injured reserve with a groin injury, Reimer has been called upon to backup Jonas Gustavsson (5-12-2, 3.04GAA) more often than not. But Saturday, it was Reimer who answered the call and got the starting nod, backstopping the Leafs to a much-needed win over the Senators. It’s yet to be determined who the Leafs will turn to in goal tonight.
  • These two teams have split their two meetings so far this season, with each team winning on their own home ice. The B’s took a 2-0 decision back on October 28th, with Toronto earning a 3-2 shootout win at ACC on December 4th.
  • Gregory Campbell, Boston’s fourth line centerman, has missed the team’s past two games battling a nasty stomach bug. He did rejoin the team for their practice Sunday, but is still only considered a 50-50 shot at playing in tonight’s game. If he’s unable to go, you’ll see Daniel Paille in his third straight game.
  • Scoring for the Leafs is led by forwards Clarke MacArthur (10G, 19A), Mikhail Grabovski (13G, 14A), Kris Versteeg (10G, 15A), and of course, Phil Kessel (14G, 11A). Kessel has been snake-bit when facing his former team, as he’s only been able to muster a single assist and no goals in eight contests against the Bruins.
  • I tried my best to find something that the Maple Leafs are actually good at, but after a long search through countless stats, I came up empty. Plain and simple, this team just isn’t any good. They rank low in nearly every key category, including goals per game (27th, 2.35), goals against per game (23rd, 2.95), power play (20th, 16.8%), penalty kill (29th, 76.1%), and faceoff percentage (22nd, 48.9%). With that being said, watch the Leafs beat the B’s in a 8-0 blowout tonight.
  • Lastly, we’ll wrap things up with an update on the World Juniors tournament, wrapping up this week in Buffalo. Sunday’s quarterfinals saw the Russians and Canadians advance to the tournament’s “Final Four.” Russia will square off with Sweden in today’s first semifinal matchup, while Canada, who topped Switzerland 4-1 in the quarters, will face off with the U.S. tonight in the second semifinal game. That U.S.-Canada game will be a rematch of last year’s gold medal bout, a game that saw the U.S. snap the Canadians’ five-year streak of golds, with a 6-5 win over our neighbors to the north. The tournament’s final will be played Wednesday night. All of the remaining tournament action can be seen live on NHL Network.

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