With their four-game trip half over, the Leafs will be looking to stay in the win column when they visit the Dallas Stars on Friday night. Thus far, the trip has been a little bizarre — the Leafs came alive in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday night in the third period, only to lose by a goal, and then surprised everyone with a 7-1 blowout of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. A day off in the Big D was the players’ reward on Wednesday, with practice resuming on Thursday morning at the American Airlines Center, where James Reimer is slated to participate full out. Four of the Leafs’ next five are on the road. Here are some possible story lines for the next week or so:
1. The Stars, who were playing host to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night, shook off a five-game losing streak on Monday when they beat the visiting Edmonton Oilers. They did so by throwing their bodies around to the tune of 47 body checks on the Oilers. The young Edmonton defencemen often were targets, not maliciously, mind you, but the Leafs should expect the same. Watch for rookie Jake Gardiner to be in the Stars forwards’ sights. Dallas captain Brenden Morrow did not play against Los Angeles because of an upper-body injury suffered against Edmonton. His status for Friday is up in the air, but you can bet the Leafs would be happy to avoid him.
2. California dreamin’ kicks in on Sunday with a visit to Anaheim. With Brian Burke’s Leafs team making a rare appearance in the shadows of Disneyland, it’s hard not to wonder what the NHL would have looked like today had the Ducks, and not the Pittsburgh Penguins, won the draft lottery in 2005. The Pens won and chose Sidney Crosby; Anaheim went second and selected Bobby Ryan. Flip those choices, and it’s clear the Leafs have a different general manager today. Also, the Ducks have to be looking at Joffrey Lupul and wondering whether, injuries aside, he couldn’t have been more productive in his second go-round as a Duck before he was traded to the Leafs last February.
3. The Leafs will return home for a brief respite but chances are they won’t have much fun. The big, bad Boston Bruins will be at the Air Canada Centre next Wednesday. The Leafs’ two ugliest losses have come at the hands of the Bruins this season, none worse than the 7-0 shellacking at the ACC on Nov. 5. But there’s also a chance Reimer could return for this game, which would mark his first appearance in the crease since the Montreal Canadiens’ Brian Gionta ran him over on Oct. 22. Never mind the Phil Kessel versus Tyler Seguin talk — the Leafs simply have to get past the Bruins bugaboo. Truly good teams should be able to handle any opponent on any night.
4. Here’s the bright side of the Bruins — if the Leafs can’t solve them at home on the 30th, they get another chance three nights later, when they take on the Bruins in Boston on Dec. 3. Reimer twice beat Tim Thomas in Boston last season. If you’re into scheduling quirks, it’s the second of three Saturdays in a row that the Leafs do not play at home, if at all. From Beantown, the Leafs travel to Manhattan to take on the New York Rangers on Dec. 5.
5. Overall, it’s going to be intriguing to see how opposing coaches try to limit the Leafs’ speed in the next handful of games. Wherever the Leafs go, coaches of other teams have remarked on Toronto’s quickness and ability to move the puck. That 1-3-1 garbage between the Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers of a few weeks back was not hinted at on Tuesday night. If the Stars are successful at hammering the Leafs’ defencemen and creating turnovers, expect the Ducks and others to take note.