Leafs ready to rumble
Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun
|Toronto Maple Leafs Dion Phaneuf (L) and Ottawa Senators Nick Foligno fight during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto January 17, 2012. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)
Amid the team sweater photo-op at the all-star draft, with Leafs’ Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf getting ear aches from the booing at a Gatineau casino, Phaneuf quipped “they don’t like us very much here, do they?”
Expect the National Capital Region to be just as inhospitable on Saturday when the Leafs arrive en masse for the next Battle Of Ontario with the Ottawa Senators. It’s an ice war heightened by the two Northeast Division teams scrapping for a playoff spot only one might get.
“The rivalry is picking up now because we’re both on the verge of becoming good teams,” Lupul said Friday at the MasterCard Centre. “They’re a team on our radar. We looked at them before the all-star break and they’re a team we think we can catch.
“Ideally, we’d like a playoff series against them. That would be great for the whole province. That’s going to get the fans a little more fired up.”
Lupul said he was initially taken aback by the rough reception, he, Phaneuf and Phil Kessel received last week.
“It didn’t bother me, it actually might have made the weekend more memorable. I expect the same treatment tomorrow. There are good rivalries everywhere. Philadelphia is one of those place that seems to have a lot, be it Pittsburgh or New York. Toronto-Ottawa could be a great rivalry (again). Both teams are young, up and coming.”
Two points separated the teams prior to Friday’s Ottawa-Islanders’ game, a pattern that forces the Sens to play every night prior to taking on the Leafs. But a 3-1 Ottawa lead in the series shows that adrenalin is plentiful in their barn.
“Going into Ottawa it’s crazy,” defenceman Luke Schenn said. “Seeing maybe half (of Scotiabank Place) with jerseys for Toronto. Sitting in the visiting room before the game even starts, you’re hearing the ‘go Leafs go’ chant, which is pretty awesome when it’s not your building. When we score, it’s like the home team scores.”
The Leafs not only need goals, but for Lupul and Kessel to warm up in a hurry. In the past 10 games, the team leaders’ numbers have dipped to a combined eight points.
“The puck hasn’t gone in for them, but what’s our record in the last 10 games?,” coach Ron Wilson retorted. “It’s pretty good (5-4-1). We’re getting the goals we need (mostly from Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur) and we’re playing sound defence.
“They’re getting shots, they’re getting scoring chances, they haven’t allowed as many goals against. It’s just one of those times where the well is a little dry. They get a goal here and there and their confidence will bloom, just as it has for Grabbo and Clarke in the past couple of weeks.”
Wilson won’t touch a thing with his lineup from Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Pittsburgh, including James Reimer in net and defenceman Mike Komisarek staying in the press box. Jay Rosehill will also be scratched, even though he dressed the last time against Ottawa as a hedge against rough stuff.
The Leafs have a similar dislike of the Canadiens and Sabres, but their resolve to beat anyone in the Northeast is not matched by their record. Toronto has a mark of 5-10 in-house. Only Columbus, Carolina, Colorado and the Isles have worse marks in their division and they’re all out of the playoffs at present.
“You play the most games against your division, so it’s something we want to fix,” Lupul said. “If you get in the playoffs, you could very well be facing a team from your division, such as Boston or Ottawa, and Montreal isn’t out of it. Ottawa and Buffalo, we’ve played close this year, we just find a way to be on the losing end.
“We’re still confident we can beat these teams and tomorrow will be a good test for us.”