Maple Leafs-Blues Preview
The St. Louis Blues are playing with a renewed confidence, having shut down a Western Conference power in coach Ken Hitchcock's team debut.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' confidence level seems to be wavering a bit following a second straight lopsided defeat.
The Blues try to build on an impressive win Thursday night when they host the suddenly struggling Maple Leafs.
Sitting in 13th place in the West 13 games into the season, St. Louis (7-7-0) fired Davis Payne on Sunday and replaced him with the 59-year-old Hitchcock. The Blues responded to the wake-up call, defeating Central Division-leading Chicago 3-0 on Tuesday in the opener of a five-game homestand.
"When a coaching change happened so fast, we just needed to probably look in the mirror and ask yourself if that was the best you have," goaltender Jaroslav Halak said. "Everybody did their best."
Halak stepped up, finishing with 29 saves to earn his first shutout of the season after posting a 3.71 goals-against average in losing his previous five starts. The Blues' power-play unit also showed some signs of life, converting on 1 of 2 chances after entering as the NHL's worst team at 7.5 percent (3 for 40).
"To be able to grasp a couple of the concepts this quick on the power play is a real good sign," Hitchcock said.
While Hitchcock liked what he saw from his team, Toronto's Ron Wilson is not pleased with how things are progressing with his club.
The Maple Leafs (9-5-1) are in first place in the Northeast Division but have been outscored 12-1 in losing their last two games.
"We've got to shore up our goaltending obviously," Wilson said after Tuesday's 5-1 loss to Florida.
Toronto had been receiving solid goaltending from Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens in the first six games since starter James Reimer suffered a concussion against Montreal on Oct. 22, but neither has had much luck lately.
Gustavsson surrendered three soft goals on 21 shots against the Panthers before being replaced by Scrivens, who finished with five saves on seven shots. In Saturday's 7-0 loss to Boston, Scrivens started and stopped nine of 14 shots before giving way to Gustavsson.
"They've got to work hard in practice," said Wilson, who has no timetable for Reimer's return. "They'll hopefully bounce back."
Wilson claims he has determined who will be between the pipes against the Blues but doesn't feel like divulging that information to Hitchcock.
"In my mind (I know who I'll start), but I don't have to share it," he said. "Why don't I just call Hitch? Does anybody have a cellphone? I'll call Hitch and tell him who's going to play."
Gustavsson got the start in Toronto's lone game against the Blues last season, and he stopped 39 shots in a 6-5 shootout victory Jan. 6. It was just the third win for the Leafs in 12 meetings (3-5-3 with one tie) since 2000-01.
Phil Kessel, who ended Toronto's scoreless streak of 137 minutes, 59 seconds with his NHL-leading 11th goal Tuesday, had two goals against the Blues last season.
Halak got the start in that game but was pulled after allowing four goals on 19 shots in 32 minutes. He has given up at least four goals in four of his last seven starts against Toronto.