Mar 30, 2013; Ottawa, ON, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Michael Kostka (53) controls the puck with Ottawa Senators left wing Colin Greening (14) in pursuit during the second period at Scotiabank Place. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Game # 44 Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Ottawa Senators

The Senators have five games left in the regular season including their makeup game against the Bruins that was postponed from Monday.  The Senators sit in 6th place in the Eastern Conference and play their archrivals – the Toronto Maple Leafs – at home.  Tonight’s game is the Senators’ third in their current four-game homestand.  They’ll be looking to extend their win streak to five in a row.

24-15-5, 53 points = 5th Eastern Conference

VS.

 23-14-6, 52 points = 6th Eastern Conference

7.00 PM

TV: CBC NHLN-US  RADIO: TEAM1200

HEAD TO HEAD

Their previous meeting was an embarrassing 4-0 loss on Ottawa’s home ice at the end of March.  It could have been called the Kadri/Lupul show as Toronto’s dynamic duo had 4 points each.  Nazem Kadri had 3 of Toronto’s 4 goals.  The Senators outshot the Leafs by a 31-23 margin; Ben Bishop was in nets.  All eyes were on Matt Kassian as it was his first game as a Senator against the Leafs – he ended up fighting Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.

LAST GAMES

The Ottawa Senators are looking to extend their winning streak to five games, as well as tying their seasonal high winning streak from late February.  The Washington game had very few penalties in contrast to a typical Toronto game.  The Senators were able to get into the flow of the game early and established their skating and passing which the surging Capitals, on a 8-game winning streak, were unable to match.  They were able to get their shots on goal and in the end they doubled the Capitals’ effort by a 38-19 margin.  Senators’ defensemen were able to shutdown Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green; all of whom were on their own hot streaks.

Toronto’s last game was against the New York Islanders on Friday evening.  The Leafs jumped out to a 2 goal lead before the game was 7 minutes old but were unable to keep it when the Isles scored 5 unanswered goals.  The final score was 5-3.  The Leafs were outshot 38-21.  Both Brad Boyes and John Tavares led the Isles with 3 points each; Tavares had 2 goals to bring his goal total to 26, 11 more than his closest teammate.  Both teams had two fighting majors.  The Isles are in 7th place with 51 points, good for 7th place in the Eastern conference and only 2 points behind the Leafs and 1 behind the Senators.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jared Cowen, OTT – look for Cowen to get into the game early by hitting the Leafs at every opportunity.  The Battle of Ontario has increased importance with playoff and playoff position implications.  As Toronto employs their tough guys to take the skill out of the game, Ottawa can now answer with a more skilled “version of hurt” with the 6’5, 230 pound Cowen.  Cowen’s presence in the lineup has taken some pressure off their other young defensemen as well as lightening some of the big minutes that Senators’ veterans have been playing because of their injuries.

Nazem Kadri, TOR – scored 3 goals and 1 assist to lead the Leafs to victory in the last “Battle of Ontario”.  Look for Kadri and Lupul to have the attention of Ottawa’s checkers all night.  In four games this season against Ottawa, Kadri has 4 goals, 2 assists and is plus 4.  Kadri hasn’t scored in the last 8 games since playing Ottawa on March 30th.  You can bet that he’ll be looking to repeat his earlier performance.

3 STORYLINES FOR THE GAME

  1. Fighting – Matt Kassian was deployed as the Senators’ nuclear deterrent but he hasn’t been played over the last few games – is there any correlation to the 4-game winning streak that the Senators are now on?  When Kassian played against Philadelphia, it was a season-high 11:03.  Will Coach MacLean decide that the intimidation factor is best met with Kassian or does Cowen rebalance the scales and he’ll go that route?
  2. Goaltending – Robin Lehner hasn’t drawn into the lineup since he helped start their winning streak by beating the Flyers 3-1.  Craig Anderson has won the last three and appears to be in his pre-injury form – does Coach MacLean decide to stay with his number one goalie and ride him into the playoffs or does he go with Lehner to keep his tandem working off one another?
  3. Special Teams – Ottawa’s PK has been doing their job over the past few games but their PP units haven’t been firing on all cylinders.  MacLean may want to mix it up to see what options could work going forward.  It’s imperative that the PP unit finds some success in order to have all of their systems working and preferably PEAKING as they get ready for the playoffs.

 

PARTING SHOT

The “Battle of Ontario” has some real ramifications and could be the difference between making the playoffs or missing them.  Once that hurdle has been cleared it will at least make a difference to the possible matchups that occur and could be a preview to an eventual playoff matchup.

Paul MacLean has to make a number of critical decisions before the puck drops – he has to figure out the best way to win and how to avoid possible injuries as the Senators’ IR list is finally starting to dwindle.  Who should sit and who should draw into a lineup that’s been successful?  Will he engage the Leafs on their terms or will he elect to play a playoff style game with more emphasis on discipline and skill?  Stay tuned.

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Tags: Nazem Kadri Ottawa Senators Paul MacLean Robin Lehner Toronto Maple Leafs

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