Maple Leafs vs. Hurricanes: Keys to Victory for Each Team
The Hurricanes sit in first place in the Southeast division and return home after going 4-1-1 on a six game road trip, capped off by a strong 4-2 victory over New Jersey on Tuesday.
The Leafs will try to extend their winning streak to five games for the first time in six years, and will have to push through some adversity to do it. The Leafs will be without key contributors, James Reimer and Matt Frattin who were both lost with knee injuries following Monday night's win over Philadelphia.
The Hurricanes have had the Leafs number in recent times taking the first meeting this season as well as nine of the last 12 games that these two teams have played.
Here are some keys to victory for each team going in to tonight's game.
Carolina: 7-4-1 15 Pts 3rd in the Eastern Conference
Courtesy / ESPN
After stumbling out of the gate with two losses, the Hurricanes have really played well as of late, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
The Staal brothers and Jeff Skinner were the Leafs biggest problem in the first meeting with Jordan getting his first goal of the season and as a Hurricane. Eric netted the eventual game winner early in the second period and Cam Ward also had his best game of the season, stopping 41 shots in the win.
The Hurricanes will need to duplicate that performance and follow the lead of their best players as their main key to victory. It all starts with Ward, as he went 4-0-1 on the recent road trip and will be the key in this game again. He seems to be in the zone right now, which spells major trouble for the Leafs.
The two line depth gave the Leafs problems on the first meeting, but the real key was Skinner's speed. He was flying and backing up the Leafs defense all night, and if he has his legs under him again, he will be key in creating space on the rush against a solid but fairly slow footed Leafs defense.
The other key to victory for the Hurricanes is to push through the dreaded "first game back home after a successful road trip" malaise that can often effect energy and will out on the ice. They must jump on this wounded team early, especially with backup Ben Scrivens between the pipes for the Leafs.
Toronto: 8-5-0 16 Pts 5th in the Eastern Conference
Courtesy / LeafsVideos
The Leafs have gone on a four game winning streak since they lost to the Hurricanes on February 4, outscoring their opponents 17-6 in that span.
The Leafs were guilty of some bad defensive zone coverage errors in their first meeting, mostly caused by the speed of the Hurricane attack. James Reimer made 35 saves in the game, but is now on the shelf with a knee injury, and Ben Scrivens will most likely get the start. His performance will be key, and he must match Ward save for save.
The Leafs generated a lot of shots and chances in the first meeting, but the key difference in this one is they are gong to have to get in Ward's grill more and try to derail his focus a bit as a tactic for the win.
The Leafs have really forged an identity as a tough team to play against since the loss to the Hurricanes and they will want to display that game in full in this second meeting. The Hurricanes are definitely thin and fairly weak on defense, so the Leafs forecheck should be a factor all night.
The last key to victory for the Leafs is on the mental side, as they are going to have to push through a bit of adversity and win without their number one goalie, and one of their top scorers in Matt Frattin. If the Leafs can weather an early push from Carolina, they should be able to pull out a win.
Prediction: Leafs Win 3-1
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
All players, streaks, adversity and matchups aside, it is the mental intangible that will play out in this one.
Randy Carlyle will surely have the Leafs mentally prepared to push through the excuse of injuries, and exact some revenge on the Hurricanes early this season. The injuries will serve as a rallying cry in this game, and Scrivens will be eager to prove he can handle the net for the short term and shut the door.
Combine that Leafs resolve with the Canes being back off a long road trip and the recipe is right for a Leafs win. The Hurricanes will come out sluggish and flat and will not be able to get their best legs under them all night.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a contributor to Bleacher Report NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report UFC.
Follow him on Twitter at wakafightermma