The pride of Pictou, N.S. will be making his 68th NHL start tonight at the Air Canada Centre, but it’s safe to say none have been more anticipated for Joey MacDonald and his friends and family down east.
Closer to home the folks are getting anxious as well, albeit for different reasons as the team looks to snap out of the six-game losing streak it has amassed to start the season.
MacDonald will get his second consecutive start for the last-place Leafs when they face the NHL-leading New York Rangers in a 7 p.m. start.
But it will be his first time in blue and white starring in his favourite television show as a kid.
“My very first game with the Red Wings out in Edmonton was (on Hockey Night In Canada) but that was different,” MacDonald said this morning. “It’s exciting being from Nova Scotia that I grew up watching the Leafs. I couldn’t wait for Saturday night.
“I’ve been getting quite a few phone calls the last little bit. My grandparents, my parents, everybody will be sitting around the TV tonight. There are huge Leafs fans back home.”
Many of the Leafs fans around here are getting restless with the mounting losses. As such, MacDonald knows the importance of helping his team off to a good start especially given that in the past five games they have tumbled into 2-0 holes.
“We’ve got to come out the first 20 minutes and put it to them,” MacDonald said. “It’s tough to play catchup, especially in our own building.”
That won’t be an easy task against the Rangers, who are one of the early-season success stories in the league.
Riding a six-game win streak, the Rangers sit atop the NHL standings with 12 points. Led by former Minnesota Wild sniper, Marion Gaborik, who has registered a point in all seven games and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (who gets the start tonight), the Broadway Blueshirts hammered the Leafs 7-2 Monday at Madison Square Garden.
“We’re motivated,” Wilson said. “It might be a challenge if you were the one that beat the other team 7-2 to not take the other team lightly or for granted. Our players have a better understanding of what the Rangers are all about.
“They are a much better team than they were last year and they’re playing better hockey right now.”
Centre Wayne Primeau returns to the lineup after missing four game due to shoulder injury and centre a line with Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr.
With Nik Hagman and Matt Stajan back in the lineup after their one-game benchings, Wilson had to adjust the roster. That means an off-night for Jamal Mayers and Nik Kulemin.
“I expect both of those guys to have professional bouncebacks,” Wilson said.
On the blueline, Jeff Finger is back in the lineup while Garnet Exelby will sit, the fourth time he has been a healthy scratch this season.
Wilson said he expects a strong effort tonight after the team took a step back and exhaled after losing three in four nights from this past Saturday through Tuesday, a dubious stretch in which they were outscored 16-4. After tonight, the Leafs don’t play again until next Saturday when they begin a four-game road trip in Vancouver.
“We’ve got to get that first win and we’ve got to get it tonight,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek.
Tomas Kaberle-Mike Komisarek
Luke Schenn-Jeff Finger
Francois Beauchemin-Ian White
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Mikhail Grabovski- Nik Hagman
Mitchell-Rickard Wallin-Lee Stempniak
Jay Rosehill-Wayne Primeau-Colton Orr