The Battle of Ontario has been a one-sided affair of late, and the Toronto Maple Leafs will try to keep it that way while continuing their strong play at home Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.
The Maple Leafs have won five in a row and also reeled off five straight wins over the Senators dating to last season, leaving them six points up on Toronto in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs (26-17-5) are 9-1-1 in their last 11 overall after overcoming an early 2-0 deficit by scoring five straight goals in a 6-3 win over Florida on Thursday.
Nazem Kadri had a season-high three assists – including his 100th career point – and has three goals and nine assists in his last eight games.
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”Nazy was a difference-maker tonight,” coach Randy Carlyle said. ”That’s probably the best game he’s played in a long time and at both ends of the rink obviously with the points and distributing the puck, that was making some big league plays.”
Kadri, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk have given Ottawa fits during this recent run, combining for 13 goals and 12 assists in the five victories. Van Riemsdyk, who netted his career-high 22nd goal Thursday, has a three-game goal streak against the Senators.
"I think they’re six points back of us, so this is a chance to kind of put them back a long way," forward Joffrey Lupul said after practice Friday. "You want to bury teams that are behind you. We know they’ve been playing better as of late so I expect a good game."
Toronto has not won six in a row at home since closing the 2006-07 season with 10 straight such victories.
Ottawa (24-20-10) has gone 5-1-2 in its last eight road games and a 5-3 home win over Tampa Bay on Thursday left it at 9-2-3 in the past 14 overall. Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris each had a goal and an assist for the Senators.
”You have to take care of the games you have and we did that (Thursday),” said Ryan, whose team-leading 20th goal was just his second in 13 games. ”If you don’t, you’re going to be on the outside (of the playoff picture) looking in and that’s not where we want to be.”
One place the Senators want to be while on the road is on the power play – they have a league-high 26 goals and a 28.6 conversion rate with the man advantage away from home. They are 7 for 18 in their last five road contests, with defenseman and leading scorer Erik Karlsson contributing a goal and four assists in that surge.
"I think it’s a good opportunity for our team, we’ve played better and we’re getting better," coach Paul MacLean said about facing the Leafs. "It’s a real good challenge for us and I think we’re excited about the opportunity with the way that we’re playing and we’re going to give ourselves a chance."
Senators defenseman Chris Phillips may miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury.
Both of Toronto’s wins in the season series came via shootout, with Mason Raymond beating Craig Anderson in the tiebreaker of both games. James Reimer made 47 saves in the most recent victory, 4-3 on Dec. 7, before thwarting Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek in the shootout.
Spezza and Michalek also failed to convert against Jonathan Bernier in a 5-4 shootout loss Oct. 5 when Toronto rallied from a three-goal, second-period deficit.