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Leafs @ Canes Preview: Fun Times in NASCAR Country

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The Leafs, in a rare occasion, head to Raleigh to play a team that is lower in the standings than they are. An old friend of the team weighs in on his opinion.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Carolina Hurricanes
Your Bank's Name Could Be Here! Arena; Raleigh, NC
7:00 p.m. ET; SN (Ontario)

SBN Fellow Tim Brent Enthusiasts: Canes Country

Matchup

The Leafs, winners of four of their last five, head to Carolina. The bad news is, with a back-to-back game in Boston the next day, there will be no time to hit the links at Pinehurst this time around. The good news, however, is that for the second time this season, the Leafs play a team that is actually worse than they are.

The Canes are 6-10-2 this season, and come into this game having lost six of their last seven (two in OT). Their last win came over the Ottawa Senators on November 7. That was almost two weeks ago. The Leafs have a penchant for being slumpbusters, so you might want to put some money on Carolina.

The Canes will start Cam Ward, who surprisingly has been the stronger of the two goaltenders, with an .891 SV%.  Backup Eddie Lack has an .861. They also are not a very deep team offensively; Eric Staal and Justin Faulk lead the team in scoring with 12 points apiece. Victor Rask has 11, Kris Versteeg (oh yeah; he's in Carolina now) has 10, after which there is a significant drop off.

Also, the Canes have signed our old pal Tim Gleason to a PTO. So, you know, there's that.

Three Questions With The Enemy

Unfortunately, I don't know any Canes writers/bloggers, so here to answer your questions today is the enemy of our enemy: the anonymous man known simply as Whalers Blogger. A devout follower of all things Whalers to the point of questioning existentialism, you may follow him at @WhalersBlogMan.

(1) The Canes have been 6-10-2 this season. What has been the key cause of their struggles?

There is only one person to blame, and it is clear who: Peter Karmanos. Once upon a time, I used to have a wonderful life with my wife and large adult sons, watching Whalers games on our reasonably-priced TV. Then that evil madman took my Whalers away and moved them to Carolina. My wife, like the Whalers, left me. All I have had in the last eighteen years is following the Whalers' 0 games, my vast array of Lean Cuisine, and crying myself to sleep to the dulcet sounds of Brass Bonanza.

In short, I hope Karmanos falls into a mud puddle.

(2) What is the key to the game for the Hurricanes?

Immediately relocate back to Hartford so I can have the Whalers again. My large adult son Chet is mad and red that they still no longer exist. He often sits in front of the TV, waiting for the Whalers to come. I often tell him that, first of all, he's watching the Food Network, so it's not like they'll ever show up anyway. Then I tell him that waiting isn't going to make them come back. Then he eats all of my Cheetos and drinks all of my Mountain Dew Code Red. That stuff isn't cheap. I need to go to the store to get more. Please come back, Whalers.

(3) What are your plans for this game?

The same thing I do every Carolina game: cry into my mustard-stained Peter Sidorkiewicz jersey while the curmudgeonly old man downstairs hits my floor with a broom and tells me not to be so loud.

Thank you to Whalers Blogger for his time. That was.....um, informative?

Probable Leafs Lineup

The Leafs are likely to use the same lines as their 5-1 win over Colorado on Tuesday. Nick Spaling remains out with an injury, while James Reimer is the confirmed starter tonight.

van Riemsdyk - Kadri - Komarov

Matthias - Bozak - Parenteau

Winnik - Froese - Lupul

Grabner - Holland - Boyes

Gardiner - Phaneuf

Hunwick - Rielly

Marincin - Polak

Reimer

Probable Carolina Lineup

Per the team's Twitter account, these are their likely line combos for tonight's game. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin is expected to make his first start with the team after being called up from Charlotte, so expect a goal from him. Ward will start tonight.

Chris Terry - Eric Staal - Kris Versteeg

Joakim Nordstrom - Jordan Staal - Riley Nash

Jeff Skinner - Victor Rask - Elias Lindholm

Nathan Gerbe - Jay McClement - Brad Malone

Jaccob Slavin - Justin Faulk

Ron Hainsey - Brett Pesce

Noah Hanifin - John-Michael Liles

Cam Ward

Key to the Game

I say this way too many times, but shots, scoring chances, and puck possession. The Canes defense beyond Faulk is extremely weak, as is their goaltending. That said, Carolina ranks second in 5v5 CF%, so they're quite good at covering those blemishes. If the Leafs can keep up with the Hurricanes in possession, it shouldn't be too much to ask Reimer to outplay Cam Ward.

The second key: watch that Canes third line. This roster doesn't have a lot, but there is a lot of young talent concentrated on the Skinner-Rask-Lindholm line. They could easily burn a team.

Prediction

An ex-Leaf scores a goal for Carolina because that's, like, half their roster right there.