The Maple Leafs are back from a rather sleepy holiday schedule to one of their busiest times. The team will cram in seven games over the next fifteen days before the start of the NHL All-Star Game break on January 19. Only one of those games will be on the road, conveniently in Florida—expect every local Toronto hockey reporter to expense a trip from the new fiscal year budget on that one.

This is the point where “Keefe’s Leafs” have their first real grind against playoff contenders following the light-duty shakedown cruise in December.

We’ll have a preview of tonight’s game against the Islanders later this afternoon.

The Marlies were obliterated by the Syracuse Crunch last night, losing 8-2. The team is depleted of some top talent with loans to the Leafs to cover injuries, and defenceman Rasmus Sandin loaned to Tre Kronor for the World Juniors. The Crunch is a team Sheldon Keefe always noted was a foe for which they had to play “real hockey.” They lost a real hockey game badly last night. Hopefully they can recover here tonight with a game at the Coliseum against the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres affiliates.)

The World Juniors are on to the semi-finals today. Russia plays Sweden at 9:00 a.m. EDT. Canada plays Finland at 12:30 p.m.

Because the NHL is grumpy and bitter about people watching hockey that is not NHL hockey they have schedule a huge number of matinee games for today, starting with three different games at 1:00 p.m. and many more through the afternoon.

Other News

Nic Dowd got a game misconduct but made one fan very happy.

And poor Jonathan Bernier. Would anyone want to be the Red Wings goalie right now?

Perry Suspended Five Games For Elbowing Ryan Ellis - Defending Big D
[SPECIES: Corey Perry had a bad spin on the Wheel of Discipline.]

Kings defenseman MacDermid suspended for two games - Jewels From The Crown
Kurtis MacDermid will miss two games after an incident with Ivan Provorov of the Flyers.

Olofsson To Miss Five to Six Weeks - Die By The Blade
Victor Olofsson suffered an accidental injury during Thursday’s game.

What could Kovalchuk bring to the Canadiens? - Eyes On The Prize
Does the old dog still have more tricks up his sleeve, or is Marc Bergevin barking up the wrong tree with Ilya Kovalchuk?

Which team should the Wild face in the Winter Classic? - Hockey Wilderness
[SPECIES: The Arizona Coyotes are the natural rival.]

Justin Bieber ups the ante on Jordan Binnington's shootout challenge - CBC
After going back to his Canadian roots with a game of shinny alongside Maple Leafs pros in his hometown, pop star Justin Bieber has a new challenge ahead of him in the form of St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington.