Predicting How the Toronto Maple Leafs Will Play in December

Matthew SookramContributor IIDecember 3, 2011

Predicting How the Toronto Maple Leafs Will Play in December

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins rebounded from an ugly loss to the New York Rangers by shutting the Washington Capitals down. The Capitals could only manage two shots on goal in the third period and lost to the Pens by the score of 2-1.

    The game marked the NHL debut by promising young defenseman Simon Despres. While he did not log a high time on ice, the former Saint John's Seadog was effective during his shifts and also contributed an assist.

    Arron Asham also factored in to the game with an assist on a goal by Craig Adams as well as a fight after the puck dropped following that goal. The win helped the Penguins avoid giving Dale Hunter his first win with the Caps.

    Tonight, the Penguins head to Raleigh, N.C., to face the Hurricanes. Check the slides for some of tonight's stories.

Sat, Dec. 3 at Boston

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    The Maple Leafs and Bruins have hooked up three times this year. In those three games the Bruins have outscored the Leafs 19-5. Although the series has been a little one sided, the Maple Leafs showed some grit and determination for the first forty minutes of the game against this same Bruins team on Wednesday. Now they will have to play in Bean town. It will be Jonas Gustavsson in net again. The Leafs fan base may be hoping that Boston will be overlooking the Leafs in this one. Maybe they will be too relaxed and the Leafs can capitalize on this aspect. Then again, Boston is the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Despite their slow start they now lead the Northeast division. I don’t think they ever truly take a night off, but the Leafs may have learned from their mistakes and are now more prepared.

    I think they can at least steal a point in this on and push their record to 14-9-3

Mon, Dec. 5 at New York Rangers

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    The last time these two met, the Leafs left the Big Apple with 2 points in a 4-2 victory back in October. Since that meeting the Rangers have put together a good run to go 14-5-3. This gives them 31 points, just one ahead of the Leafs. It will be a big battle as both teams are trying to remain in that upper part of the standings. The Rangers also have three games in hand on the Leafs, which means the Leafs need the win that much more. They were able to put enough pucks past Henrik Lundqvist last time out, and that doesn’t happen too often. With the game being in New York the Rangers will have the home ice advantage and their top line with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards is really starting to gel. I can see the Leafs coming up short in this one just because the Rangers have a lot of momentum with a four game win streak and a hot goaltender.

    The Leafs record after this game 14-10-3

Tues, Dec. 6 vs. New Jersey

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    The Devils will be waiting for the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre the very next night after they play the Rangers. The Devils are, for some reason, not a good team. They are within one point of a playoff spot as of December 3rd but they have a record of 12-11-1 and have lost their last three games. The Devils lineup contains names of some very good players such as; Patrick Elias, Ilya Kovalchuck, Zach Parise, Petr Sykora and some guy named MARTIN BRODEUR in net. While Brodeur is clearly starting to decline the other above mentioned names should not be. The Devils are just not playing as a team and the Maple Leafs usually have done very well against this Devils team (59-35-20-5 all time), including a 5-3 win back at the beginning of November. That game marked Brodeurs return to action. I think the Leafs can pull of a repeat performance to push their record to 15-10-3

Fri, Dec. 9 at Washington

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    The Capitals are another team that is laced with star players and the similarities between them and the Devils don’t end there. They have identical records and they have also lost a few games in a row with no victories in their last four. They are also on the outside looking in and have recently fired their coach Bruce Boudreau. They are a team that is spiralling towards the depths of the Eastern Conference and they need a quick fix as soon as possible. The Leafs will be hoping not to be that quick fix and the last time they hooked up, the Maple Leafs beat them soundly 7-1. Even though this game is in Washington, James Reimer will have surely returned to the starting job at this point, and I can see it being a frustrating night for Ovie and the Caps.

    The Leafs record after this game 16-10-3


Tues, Dec. 13 vs. Carolina

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    It looks like the schedule makers wanted to hurt the Leafs in December with the teams the Leafs are set to face. But based on the play of the teams this year it should be Toronto who is happy with the schedule as they will be playing their third straight, non playoff contending team in the Carolina Hurricanes. They too just recently fired their head coach. They also have a few stars on their team who aren’t playing to their pay checks standards. With a record of 8-15-4 the Hurricanes are just a New York Islanders win away from being the very bottom team in the standings. The Maple Leafs lost the last time these two hooked up on November 20th in Carolina. Phil Kessel scored the Leafs lone two goals a night after they put up seven against the Capitals. The Leafs will be at home and should take advantage of a struggling Carolina team.

    The Leafs record after this game 17-10-3

Thurs, Dec. 16 at Buffalo

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    The Leafs luck of running into weaker teams just ended as they are booked for a date with the Sabres. The Sabres are just three points behind the Leafs in the Standings and have another division rival in the Ottawa Senators breathing down their neck. The Sabres were also recently leading their division but have hit a two game snag. Don’t expect that to last too long as the month continues. The Sabres are a very strong team, but their strongest player, Goaltender Ryan Miller, is coming off a concussion injury and may not even play in this game. The game is in Buffalo should almost make it a home game for the Leafs, not just because it’s so close to Toronto and will have lots of fans there, but Buffalo is one of the worst home teams with a record of 6-8-1 while Toronto has been very good on the road going 8-5-0. However their recent play in Buffalo has not been good and for that I think they will only be able to pull out a point in this one.

    Look for the Leafs to push their record to 17-10-4

Sat, Dec. 17 vs. San Jose

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    The Maple Leafs will be playing back to back games for the second time this month, this one against a Western Conference opponent; the Sharks. There are many different factors that would be going into this game that are both good and bad for the Leafs. Pro: It’s at home and the Maple Leafs has put together a 6-4-2 record at ACC this year. Con: The Sharks are 7-3-0 away from HP Pavilion. Pro: The Maple Leafs have played well against Western opponents this year going 5-1-1 against teams in that conference. Con: They are playing back to back nights. Summing up all those factors you have to look at the fact that the Sharks may be getting on a role having gone 7-3-0 in their last ten games. I think the Leafs can hold tough but the Sharks may take it in the end against a Leafs team that (according to this article) will have picked up points in four straight games.

    The Leafs should take another point in this one pushing their record to 17-10-5

Mon, Dec. 19 vs. Los Angeles

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    The Leafs will stay at home and get a nice day off before taking on their second straight Western opponent. The Kings have to this point racked up the same number of points the Leafs have and sit directly across from them in the sixth spot in the standings. However they may have just been dealt a lengthy blow as newcomer Mike Richards has been put on the Injured Reserve after taking a bad hit. They will get Dustin Penner back, but he can’t provide the same kind of offence and leadership as Richards can. By the time the Leafs meet the Kings they may be even further down in the standings without Richards, although there are a number of other players who can step up like; Anze Kopitar, Simon Gagne, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and goaltender Jonathan Quick is never a slouch. But this will be the fourth and final game of a four game road trip for the Kings and to that extent the Maple Leafs could take advantage of a tired team, and keep up their dominance against Western teams.

    The Leafs record after this game 18-10-5

Thurs, Dec. 22 vs. Buffalo

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    It will be the third divisional contest of the month for the Leafs, and the second against the Sabres. While earlier I said the Sabres home record has been bad, their record away from home has been the opposite at 7-3-0. This will be the Sabres last game of a three game road trip, and Toronto will have had two games in between the Kings and Sabres. I think the Leafs can take both points this time around on their home ice, regardless if Miller is back by this point. The Leafs should be fired up against a division opponent and will no doubt be just as prepared as the Sabres are from having met them a week earlier.

    The Leafs record after this game 19-10-5

Fri, Dec. 23 at New York Islanders

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    As bad as the Islanders are, they are not the worst team thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets. However they are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Away from Long Island they have only won twice. In Long Island they have put together five wins. However they will also be playing in back to back nights and they will have played the previous night against state rivals New York Rangers. If the Rangers can take care of them they should be limping into their game against the Maple Leafs. Their young roster has some good talent in guys like John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, and some veteran talent in Mark Striet. But there is not the right mix and I don’t think they will find it anytime soon. Their best chance is with Al Montoya in net whom has played ten games, won four and has kept his GAA under 2.30. But after another months worth of games it will be interesting to see where Montoya’s GAA is with the team he has in front of him.

    Look for the Leafs to give an early Christmas present to Leafs nation and notch their 20th win of the year and push their record to 20-10-5

Weds, Dec. 27 at Florida

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    The Leafs will be in the sunshine state for their first game after the Christmas break. Hopefully they are well rested as they will need to have maximum effort in this one. The Panthers are one of the surprise teams this year. They are 13-8-4 and lead their division with 30 points. Lucky for them no one else in the division seems like their trying to knock them off the top (Washington, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Carolina), as the Panthers are the only ones in a playoff spot. The Maple Leafs will have to play tough against the likes of Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Wiess who serve as the top line. The defence contains Brian Campbell and veteran Ed Jovanovski, and goaltender Jose Theodore has been working his butt off this year to compile a 10-5-3 record with a 2.28 GAA and a .924 save percentage. This will be a tough test for the Leafs and I think the Christmas turkey will slow them down in their first game back. The Panthers have only lost two regulation games at home so far this year, which will make the task that much more difficult.

    The Leafs record will fall to 20-11-5

Thurs, Dec. 29 at Carolina

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    It will be the second time the Leafs face Carolina in the month of December and the third time overall. Again the Leafs should be able to overpower a team that isn’t living up to its potential. Of course by this point the Hurricanes may have turned their season around, and those star players who aren’t playing like stars right now, may be stepping up their game and pushing Carolina into the playoff race. The Leafs have already lost here once this season and by this point both teams should have a pretty good idea of how to handle the other team. I think the Hurricanes will at least be tough enough to force the Leafs to only get a single point.

    The Leafs record will fall to 20-11-6

Sat, Dec. 31 at Winnipeg

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    The Last game for the Maple Leafs in the 2011 calendar year. The Leafs are looking to make 2012 a much brighter year and they can start that off right with a win over the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have some of the same core players that made them a great first half team in Atlanta last season. They trailed off however and failed to maintain their spot in the playoffs. This year fans in Winnipeg are just enjoying the ride and watching their franchise grow, although they would still like to see them be competitive. The Jets at this point are 10-11-4 and in 13th place in the Eastern standings. The Maple Leafs will be tired as this will be their last game on the three game road trip, but if we’re following along and they have only picked up one point against their last two opponents, then they will be hungry to get at least two more here. The leafs top forward lines can matchup easily against the likes of Evander Kane, Kyle Wellewood, Blake Wheeler, or Nik Antropov. If they can get to goaltender Ondrej Pavlec early they should secure those two points. Look for the Leafs to end 2011 on a very good note.

    The Leafs will push their record to 21-11-6

    Can the Leafs accumulate 21 wins before January? Will they stay healthy enough to still be competitive in what starts to become the tiring months of the NHL season. Is 7 wins in one month to much for this team? This is when the contenders start to shine and the pretenders start to fade. This is a big month for the Maple Leafs and their playoff hopes. But a good December means you will have to work just as hard in the new year as the season continues.