Leafs Host Sens in Battle of Ontario
SENATORS (7-5-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (8-6-0)
RADIO: SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN
Last 10: Ottawa 4-4-2; Toronto 6-4-0
Season series: This is the first of five matchups this season between these Northeast Division rivals, who will play each other twice in the next week. The teams tied the Battle of Ontario last season, splitting the six-game season series with the road team winning four of the six games.
Big story: The Maple Leafs are looking to get back on the winning track after having their four-game win streak snapped Thursday in Carolina. But the prevailing story of this game no doubt will be how the Senators move on without defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, who is done for the season after sustaining a cut to his Achilles tendon against the Penguins on Wednesday.
Senators: A Senators season that already was battling considerable adversity may have come to a crossroads. Ottawa started the season playing well despite the loss of star center Jason Spezza, who has missed all but five games with a back injury. With fellow All-Star Karlsson now done for the season, the team will have to dig deep to repeat the success they enjoyed last season.
Karlsson's injury took place late in the second period Wednesday in Pittsburgh. With the teams tied 2-2, Karlsson and Penguins forward Matt Cooke were battling for position in the corner when Cooke's skate blade came down against the back of Karlsson's leg, leaving him on the ice in noticeable pain. From there, James Neal and Sidney Crosby scored in the final period to give Pittsburgh a 4-2 win and hand Ottawa its fifth loss in the last seven games.
"It's a tough blow," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said of Karlsson following the game. "Obviously, the way he's playing and how much he means to our team, it feels terrible and I feel really bad for him."
Maple Leafs: While the Senators are without two of their best players for the foreseeable future, the Leafs are dealing with some injury woes of their own. Coming into Carolina on Thursday, the team was informed that they would have to go at least a week without scoring forward Matt Frattin and goaltender James Reimer, who left Monday's home win against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body injury.
Looking past the absence of these players, the Leafs visited the Hurricanes early in a run that will see them play nine of 13 games on the road. Despite a remarkable 6-1-0 road record entering the game Thursday, the Leafs appeared sluggish at times against the Hurricanes.
Following a scoreless first, Joe Corvo opened the scoring for the Hurricanes 6:06 into the second period, earning an assist for Eric Staal that extended the Carolina captain's current points streak to 11 games. Nazem Kadri's power-play goal tied the game just 1:45 later, but the Hurricanes scored twice more before the period ended. They then controlled the final period with a 12-5 shot advantage to sew up the 3-1 win.
Who's hot: Veteran Senators defenseman Sergei Gonchar has three points in his last four games and will be looked at to help replace Karlsson's offense from the blue line. Center Kyle Turris has four points in his last six games. … Kadri has been pacing the Leafs' offense with four points in his last four games, while Dion Phaneuf has four points during his current three-game point streak. Phil Kessel has seven points in his last five games.
Injury report: Outside of Karlsson and Spezza, the Senators also are missing All-Star Milan Michalek (sprained knee), as well as Jared Cowan (hip surgery), Peter Regin (upper body) and Guillaume Latendresse (upper body). … Along with Frattin and Reimer, the Leafs are without Joffrey Lupul (broken arm) and Carl Gunnarsson (strained hip).