Battle of NHL basement

Coach Paul Maurice is expecting lots of goals when his Hurricanes host the Leafs tonight. (Sun...

Coach Paul Maurice is expecting lots of goals when his Hurricanes host the Leafs tonight. (Sun Media/Stan Behal)

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:48 PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Paul Maurice ventured into the world of prognostications this morning with a prediction of a shootout tonight against the Maple Leafs.

And not the kind that comes at the end of overtime.

"Nine to eight, that's the prediction," Maurice said following his team's skate at the RBC Center. "They are going to try to manufacture goals any way they can just like we are."

That's quite a prediction coming from a coach whose team has the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference heading into the contest.

Something has to break when the bottom two teams in the NHL meet tonight, however. Both the Leafs and the 'Canes have just seven points thus far in massively disappointing starts to their seasons, albeit for different reasons.

The 'Canes were expected to build off a trip to the Eastern Conference final a year ago and have lost 10 in a row while the Maple Leafs hoped that the benefits of Brian Burke's rebuilding efforts would start to show. So far, not so much.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson will take a second win any way he can get it, but he doesn't think it will come the way Maurice is calling for it.

"We've been playing much better defensively so I don't see the game going in that direction," said Wilson, whose team has lost four in a row, all in overtime or a shootout. "But if he wants to give up eight or nine goals, we'll take that right now.

"He hasn't watched us play if he thinks we can score eight or nine goals."

The 'Canes got some good news this morning when Tuomo Ruutu and Ray Whitney each skated. Both were injured on Wednesday in Florida but bounced back. Ruutu is a definite starter tonight while Whitney remains a game-time decision.

Maurice also confirmed that Cam Ward will get the start in net while Jonas Gustavsson will make his second straight appearance looking to build off a solid effort in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

There is speculation that Gustavsson will be back between the pipes tomorrow when the Leafs meet the Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre but Wilson would not confirm the plans.

Meanwhile, veteran defenceman Jeff Finger is returning to the Leafs lineup after a six-game stint as a healthy scratch.

"He's just got to do what he did last year, move pucks quickly, clear the front of the net and keep his game simple," Wilson said.

The other story for the Leafs tonight will be the second game of sniper Phil Kessel who turned in an impressive debut with 10 shots (but no goals) in his first game Tuesday against Tampa. Wilson said he wouldn't be surprised if the 22-year-old winger regressed off that effort.

Kessel will have a new centre tonight as John Mitchell gets the call to line up between the newcomer and Jason Blake while Matt Stajan gets bumped off the top line.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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