After 10 straight games outside the division, including six of the last eight against teams from the Southeast, the Bruins finally head back into Northeast Division action with a date in Toronto on Saturday night.
The Bruins started out strong in divisional play, winning their first three games, including a 2-0 shutout of the Leafs back on Oct. 28. But they’ve lost their last two games in the Northeast and now trail Montreal by four points for the division lead.
Toronto presents a chance to make up some ground, as the Leafs have dropped four straight, scoring just four goals in that span. After a surprising 4-0-0 start to the season, Toronto has just four more wins in its last 20 games.
But the Bruins aren’t taking the Leafs lightly, as anything can happen when the Original Six rivals meet up.
“This is a team that to me, they say they’ve almost hit rock bottom, listening to the media over there,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “And I think that is when a team becomes dangerous. No matter who you are, when you’re playing in this league, you’re a competitor that doesn’t like to see those kind of things happen. So like a wounded animal, they can be pretty dangerous. So we have to make sure we’re aware of that.”
After a brief slump, the Bruins look like a pretty dangerous team themselves, as they come in having posted impressive back-to-back victories, with a 3-0 win at Philadelphia on Wednesday and an 8-1 rout of Tampa Bay at the Garden on Thursday. They’ll look for more of the same on Saturday as they try to extend Toronto’s slump another game.
“It’s always dangerous to play a team that’s down,” said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “They’ve lost their last few games, but our challenge is to worry about our game, not to worry about whatever circumstances that are going on with the other team. So we have to focus on our game and play like we did in the last two [games].”
When and Where
Boston Bruins (14-8-2, 30 points) at Toronto Maple Leafs (8-12-4, 20 points)
Dec. 4, 7 p.m. (NESN)
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ont.
Head to Head
This is the second of six meetings this season between the Original Six rivals. The Bruins took a 2-0 victory at home on Oct. 28 as Tim Thomas stopped all 20 shots he faced and Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin each scored. The Bruins also went 4-1-1 against the Leafs last year and lead the all-time series 277-253-98-6, though they trail 103-159-51-4 in games played in Toronto.
Thomas continues to amaze, as he stopped 78 of the 79 shots he faced in the last two games to improve to 13-2-1 with a 1.44 GAA, .956 save percentage and five shutouts. He’s also 15-4-3 with a 2.85 GAA, .912 save percentage and two shutouts against the Leafs. Tuukka Rask is 4-1-0 with a 1.78 GAA and a .943 save percentage against Toronto as well, but is just 1-6-1 with a 2.59 GAA and a .926 save percentage this season.
For the Leafs, Jonas Gustavsson has emerged as the top option, though he has a 3-7-2 record despite a 2.66 GAA and a .910 save percentage. He’s also 2-1-1 with a 1.70 GAA and a .940 save percentage against Boston. J-S Giguere is 5-5-2 with a 2.90 GAA and a .890 save percentage this year, and is 1-2-1 with a 3.59 GAA and a .871 save percentage against the Bruins.
- The eight goals Boston scored on Thursday was the most they’ve had in a game since an 8-5 win on Dec. 18, 2008 against ? Toronto.
- Mark Recchi continues to move up the all-time rankings. His assist on Thursday gave him 934 for his career, moving him into a tie with Al MacInnis for 14th in NHL history.
- David Krejci had two goals against Tampa Bay on Thursday. He came into the night with just two goals in his first 15 games, and hadn’t scored in his last seven games. He also missed seven games with a concussion and the fly, so he didn’t have a goal between Oct. 30 and Dec. 2.
- The Maple Leafs have already been shut out six time this year, a quarter of the 24 games they’ve played. They’ve been blanked in three of their last six games, which doesn’t bode well as they prepare to face Thomas and his league-leading five shutouts.
- Former Bruin Phil Kessel leads the Leafs with 10 goals, but he has just three in his last 16 games. He also has only two assists and is a minus-9 in that span after putting up 7-2-9 totals with a plus-2 in his first eight games. Things may not get any better for Kessel on Saturday, as he is 0-1-1 and a minus-6 in seven games against his old club.
- Clarke MacArthur, who was signed by Toronto after Atlanta opted to walk away from his $2.4 million arbitration this summer, was a pleasant surprise early when he became the first player in Toronto history to score a goal in each of the first four games of the season. But clock may have struck midnight MacArthur’s Cinderella season, as he has no goals in his last 13 games and no points in the last four.
- Left wing Marco Sturm (knee surgery) remains out and is not expected back until late December, though he may return wearing a different jersey.
- Center Trent Whitfield (ruptures Achilles) could miss the entire year.
- Forward Colby Armstrong (finger surgery) is expected to return Saturday after being out since Oct. 26.
- Forward Mike Brown (broken finger) is on injured reserve and expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
- Defenseman Dion Phaneuf (left leg laceration) is on injured reserve. He’s been out since Nov. 2 and is expected to miss 1-2 more weeks.
The Leafs have plenty of familiar faces on the roster. Kessel is the biggest name, but the Bruins also let enforcer Colton Orr get away when he was waived in 2005 after playing just 21 games in Boston, while Kris Versteeg never even made it up to the big club. He was traded to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski in 2007, and went on to post two 20-goal seasons and win a Cup with the Blackhawks before being traded to Toronto this summer. For the Bruins, Rask and Shawn Thornton were both originally drafted by Toronto, while Tyler Seguin was taken with the second overall pick last year, one of three selections acquired from the Leafs for Kessel.
The Leafs have 17 fighting majors in 24 games, led by six each by Orr and Brown, while Mike Komisarek has two. Brown is out, but Toronto did call up Jay Rosehill from the AHL on Fridy. Rosehill had five fights in the preseason and seven more in the AHL. Last year he had five fights in his first NHL action and nine more in the AHL, while he racked up 33 fighting majors in the AHL in 2008-09. Boston has 22 fighting majors in 24 games, with Thornton leading with five. Greg Campbell, Mark Stuart and Adam McQuaid each have three and Milan Lucic two. The first meeting had one bout between Nathan Horton and Phaneuf, the six games between the division rivals last year produced five fights, all of which took place in the three games in Boston. There is a history of bad blood between the clubs and several personal rivalries. Lucic and Komisarek had a long-running feud when Komisarek played for Montreal, and Lucic also had his nose broken by Orr last year and was criticized by Don Cherry for bailing on the fight after that shot.
The Bruins will be looking to continue their strong play of late while also extending Toronto’s slump. Both are important goals, as Boston wants to rack up points to compete this year and the worse the Leafs do the better for the Bruins’ future as they again own Toronto’s top pick from the Kessel deal. The Leafs have immediate concerns of their own as fans chanted “Fire Wilson” during Thursday’s embarrassing 5-0 loss to Edmonton, though GM Brian Burke has insisted he has no plans to dismiss coach Ron Wilson.