After following up a 9-2 victory over the New York Rangers Saturday, with a 7-3 loss to the Florida Panthers in their next games on Tuesday, the inconsistent Leafs visit the Windy City to face Martin Havlat and the the red hot Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. (8:30Pm ET
Leafs defenceman Hal Gill had his worse game of the season in the return of Gary Roberts and Ed Belfour to Toronto, having been most of the cause of 5 of the 7 goals scored against Toronto on the night.
Center Mike Peca views the games end result as being due to the Leafs being outplayed by the other team.
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Michael Peca said:
"It's one of those nights we wish we didn't have. I don't think we were fully prepared to battle against this team - a team that plays hard every night."
Carlo Colaiacovo, Jeff O'Neill and Tomas Kaberle scored the goals for Toronto, who are currently in a tight race with the rest of the Eastern Conference and the 1 loss to Florida being enough to put Toronto out of the playoffs... for now. 35 games in, the Washington Capital, New Jersey Devils, New Yorks Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders, and Bosotn Bruins surround the Maple Leafs in the standings. Only 4 points seperate the teams from 5th in the East, to 12th.
More potentially bad news for the Leafs could be the injury to Winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was having yet another career year and was on pace for a 2nd consecutive 20-goal season.
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Ponikarovsky is not expected to play tomorrow against the Blackhawks.
Darcy Tucker was originally questionable for the game against the Panthers after a puck went off his wrist, but was able to play. Tucker currently leads the team in goals with 19, a league leading 13 on the Powerplay. He is also tied with Kyle Wellwood for the team lead in points with 31 in 35 games. Wellwood, who is also questionable for tonight's game, has 22 assists.
Menawhile, goaltender Andrew Raycroft and his Goals Against Average continue to take a beating with it now at a high 3.10. His Save Percentage is a disappointing .893, but the matter can be argued about most of the goals against him being more of the team's fault than his.
Toronto is 16-14-5 after 35 games for 37 Points. They are currently 9th in the East and 4th in the Northeast Division behind the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens, and ahead of Ottawa by 1 win. 3 of the team's last win being a result of a 3-game winning streak which was ended Tuesday night.
Chicago on the other hand has been anything but inconsistent. The Blackhawks have collected a points in 10 of their last 12 games, and await the Toronto after a 2-1 loss the Nashville Predators to get back on track.
Chicago is 7-2-3 in that span as they continue their charge up the Western Conference, the surge likely due to the hiring of new Head Coach Dennis Savard, the return of injured players such as forward Martin Havlat and Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, and the acquisition of veteran Winger Petr Bondra.
Havlat has 23 points in just 14 games, having one of the best points to game ratios in the league. He is tied for the team lead in points with other former Ottawa Senator Bryan Smolinski. Havlat also leads the team in goals with 12, and has 5 points in his last 3 games played.
Nikolai Khabibulin has been solid for the team in net, currently with an outstanding 2.50 Goals Against Average and a solid .917 Save Percentage in 21 games.
An improving Chicago team now has a respectable 14-14-5 record for 33 Points. Just 3 points out of the last playoff spot in the West, and good enough for 3rd in the Central Division.
Toronto returns home tomorrow to host the Washington Capitals.