The calendar may show it’s a new year, but it appears to be pointing to the same old finish for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The struggling Maple Leafs hope a new year means better things as they play the provincial arch-rival Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
Fighting to avoid a sixth straight season without making the playoffs, the last-place Leafs (13-19-4) fell 3-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, their sixth loss in seven games. Nikolai Kulemin(notes) and Tyler Bozak(notes) scored first-period goals, but Toronto was outshot 22-10 in the final two periods as the defense faltered.
“Tonight our ‘D’ had a tough night, handling pucks, misreading rushes and some pretty bad giveaways,” coach Ron Wilson told the team’s official website. “As the game went on, it kept getting harder and harder because we weren’t moving pucks or getting back quickly enough and partners not supporting one another.”
Wilson responded by putting his team through a hard workout Friday, but having top forward Mikhail Grabovski(notes) back may also help. He missed Thursday’s game to be with his girlfriend as she gave birth to his daughter.
Grabovski, who is tied for second on the Leafs with 13 goals and second with 27 points, has five goals and an assist during a six-game point streak. He has two assists in three games versus Ottawa this season.
Jonas Gustavsson(notes) is likely to start in net again for Toronto with Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes) still sidelined by a groin injury. He lost his only start versus the Senators this season but is 2-2-0 with a 1.72 goals-against average lifetime against them.
Ottawa (16-18-5) seemed destined for a similar fate against Columbus, falling behind 3-0 in the second period on the road Friday. The Senators, though, scored one late in that period and netted a pair in the final 20 minutes to salvage a point before an eventual 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets.
“We showed a lot of character,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said. “Through (half of) the second period, we had seven or eights shots to their none. We worked hard against a good team that skated well. We’re happy with the point, but we’re disappointed with the loss.”
It was the second straight defeat for the Senators, whose late surge may have provided confidence in playing without injured top-line center Jason Spezza(notes). He is out indefinitely due to a shoulder injury suffered in Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh.
Daniel Alfredsson(notes), who scored the tying goal with 1:11 left in regulation, ended a four-game point-scoring drought. The captain and right wing has 29 goals and 65 points in 69 lifetime games against Toronto, but has not scored on the Maple Leafs in seven games since Oct. 6, 2009.
Ottawa has won the last two games between the teams this season after a 5-1 victory by Toronto on Oct. 9. Elliott turned aside 29 shots for his eighth career shutout in a 3-0 home victory Nov. 27. Mike Fisher(notes) assisted on Alexei Kovalev’s first-period goal before scoring two of his own in the second.