Leafs in for a Fight against Western Conference Powerhouses

Louis PisanoAnalyst INovember 13, 2009

TORONTO - OCTOBER 10:  Vesa Toskala #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs regroups after allowing the second goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins during a NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on October 10, 2009 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada .  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

Will that defeated, forlorn look on Vesa Toskala’s face, be the one we see again tonight, as the Leafs take on the Chicago Blackhawks?

With back-to-back games against two tough Western Conference opponents beginning tonight, the Leafs have their work cut out for them.

It begins tonight in Chicago, as the Leafs take on the Blackhawks, before moving back to Toronto on Saturday night where they will play the Calgary Flames. The Leafs have decided to play goalkeeper Vesa Toskala on the road tonight while saving Jonas Gustavsson for the game at home.

Does this give us an inkling of who will take the reins for the team as the No. 1 goalie?

Most everyone, media, fans, and Leafs brass alike, have already made up their minds as to how good the Monster is. Even I have to admit, he has made some outstanding saves this year.

However, it sure seems the bus isn’t moving fast enough to throw Toskala under it and allow him to become an afterthought and scapegoat, although some may think he deserves it with his soft showing not only this year, but throughout his career in Toronto.

Gustavsson, on the other hand, has endeared himself to Leafs Nation with his calm demeanour, big presence between the pipes, and his spectacular leg stretching saves that would leave most of us in hospital.

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Are we just searching for someone to blame for the Leafs' demise? Is blaming Toskala the easy way out?

Gustavsson has played well in nine games, eight starts, with record of 3-3-3, a 2.77 GAA, and a .912 save percentage. Not too shabby when you take into account all the problems on both offense and defense.

Alexei Ponikarovsky is leading the team in the plus-minus department at plus six, though he has been almost transparent in some games.

Ian White is the defensive leader at a plus-two and has been slippery with the puck.

Tomas Kaberle leads the team in points with 20, eight points ahead of the next leading scorer, Mikhail Grabovski. It is never a good sign when a team's leading scorer is a defenseman.

Contrary to most thoughts on tonight’s game, I believe that the Leafs will be up for the rivalry against their old Norris Division foes.

However, I expect the Blackhawks will push a physical style of play that has driven their recent success. This will force the Leafs to answer or be run over. Tonight's game should give Leafs Nation a good indication of how tough our really team is.

On the other side of the coin, are the Leafs looking past the Blackhawks and trying to save their bodies and all out effort for the game against the Flames on Saturday? With the Flames having to play a good fore checking, physical team in the Buffalo Sabres tonight, they may be tired and a little banged up for tomorrow's tilt with the Leafs at the ACC.

If the Leafs fall behind in the first period by a couple of goals, which has been the case in almost every game, we may see them pack it in the second and third periods and try to save their energy for their Saturday night home game.

Sad as it may be, this could very well be the case.

Hopefully Ron Wilson has something up his sleeve to keep this team motivated other than dodge ball, as they have been playing well and have gotten points in seven of their last eight.

I believe the next couple games should give us a clear view of what our team is made of and what we can expect in the future from them. Hopefully the toughness and grit that has been the trademark of Leafs Nation leader Brian Burke will come to the forefront over the weekend.