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.

Vladimir Sobotka recorded his first goal of the season, Chris

Stewart scored on the power play to end a 10-game goal drought and

T.J. Oshie had a goal and an assist.

“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


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


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


“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


“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.