Leafs vs Sharks – Who Plays the Role of Slumpbuster?

There are two big losing streaks at stake in tonight’s game. San Jose has lost their last 4 games and currently sit in 11th place in the West. Yeah, that’s right, the perennial President’s Cup challenging San Jose Sharks are at the moment out of the playoff picture. My how the mighty have fallen. The other losing streak on the line belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs, that being the fact that they haven’t won in San Jose in 14 years. Based on recent play, I gotta think that the Sharks will be playing the role of Slumpbusters tonight and here’s why. James Reimer is once again in between the pipes for the Buds. That’s right, after verbally being sent down to the Marlies twice in the past two days, James Reimer is still with the Leafs and according to Coach Wilson getting his third straight start. This is music to Leafs fans ears.

Starting in goal across from him will be Stanley Cup Champion Antti Niemi. Niemi is arguably having the worst season of all the Blackhawks castoffs as his 9-12-2 record and .908 sv% show. Really though, did anyone think he was even all that good last year? I sure didn’t. Hell in the Stanely Cup Finals he only had 1 game with a save % over .875. Yeah, that’s pretty awful. Think they should have just re-signed Nabokov? I bet they do. Good news for them, they still can but probably won’t with only $1M in cap space available.

Follow me about the jump for more on tonight’s game and San Jose’s struggles.

Prior to this season, people knew the goaltending tandem of Niemi and Nittymaki wouldn’t be that great, no surprise there. What is a season is how much their supposedly potent offense has struggled. Aside from "rookie" Logan Couture being on pace for 36 goals this season, the rest of the forwards are well off their previous year’s pace. Marleau scored 44 last season, currently on pace for 29. Heatley 39 down to 29. Setoguchi 20 down to 13. And Thornton who had 89 points last year is now on pace for only 70. That’s a whole heck of a lot of offense lost to the aether and it’s not just affecting San Jose’s forwards. On defense, Dan Boyle is still among the elite in the NHL but the Sharks didn’t find someone to replace Rob Blake’s production of 30 points and solid play from last season. It’s hard to win games when you’ve got no clear #2 defenseman on your team to play the hard minutes.

In early to mid December when the Leafs were dropping games left and right and had no offense to be found, people were calling for Ron Wilson’s head. With the Sharks in a deep skid and primed to fall to 12th in the conference should they lose tonight, coupled with their persistent post-season failure, one has got to believe that Coach Todd McLellan will be sitting on the hot seat in San Jose. Back in 2009, after devastating losses to the Leafs, both Tom Renny of the Rangers and Michel Therrien of the Penguins lost their jobs due to their team’s struggles and losing streaks. Could McLellan be the third coach in three seasons to get the boot at the hands of the Leafs should his Sharks lose tonight? He just might be.

The Leafs are on a role and Optimus Reim is in net so obviously they’re going to win. Despite their struggles, San Jose is 5th in the league on the PP with a 22.2% success rate meaning that it’s of the utmost importance that the Leafs stay out of the box. For this reason, Colton Orr should sit this one out for Mike Brown’s return. Orr doesn’t score, kill penalties, or block shots. Him and Lebda should be press box buddies for the good of the team.