At the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t had much to be excited about. Some new young faces, though, have helped change the mood over the last couple of weeks.
Toronto looks to win three straight for the first time Saturday night when it hosts former coach Pat Quinn and an Edmonton Oilers team that’s won once on the road in three months.
With the Maple Leafs (22-33-12) in danger of their worst season since 1997-98, general manager Brian Burke was active prior to the March 3 trade deadline, sending veterans Alex Ponikarovsky to Pittsburgh and forward Lee Stempniak(notes) to Phoenix for third-year defenseman Matt Jones and two draft picks. Left wing Luca Caputi(notes), acquired in the Ponikarovsky deal, has made an immediate impact with a goal and three assists in five games.
The 21-year-old recorded a career-best two assists in a 4-3 overtime win over Tampa Bay on Thursday. Phil Kessel(notes) scored the winner off a pass from rookie center Tyler Bozak(notes), who earlier scored his fifth goal.
“You’re always pretty nervous having your first year and we haven’t played the full season,” said Bozak, who has five goals and nine assists since being called up from the AHL on Jan. 11. “But playing with the guys we are, every shift you get a lot better and you get more experience and more comfortable with the puck.”
“We’ve competed hard in every game (since the trade deadline) … we just want a fresher attitude and different sense of culture, a different sense of it’s special to be a Toronto Maple Leaf, and these young guys are taking advantage of it right now,” coach Ron Wilson said.
Facing the NHL-worst Oilers (21-39-7) could help the Maple Leafs continue their winning ways. Edmonton is looking to rebound after missing all five shots in the shootout and falling 5-4 to Montreal to open its four-game trip Thursday.
The Oilers are coached by Quinn, who will be making his first appearance in Toronto since being fired after the 2005-06 season. Quinn went 300-196-26 with 52 ties in seven seasons with the Leafs, twice leading them to the conference finals, losing to Buffalo in 1998-99 and Carolina in 2001-02.
“We’ve got two young men here trying to establish themselves as NHL goaltenders,” Quinn said. “They’re both fighters.”
Dubnyk made 22 saves Thursday in falling to 0-7-2 with a 4.20 goals-against average in 11 appearances.
Deslauriers, who is 1-10-0 with a 3.46 GAA in his last 11 road starts, made 27 saves in a 3-1 home win over Toronto on Dec. 30.
Edmonton is 1-13-1 on the road since winning five straight Dec. 3-11.
If rookie Jonas Gustavsson(notes) gets the nod for Toronto, he’ll look to win his third consecutive start. Gustavsson will face an Oilers team that is last in the West with 167 goals and could be without Patrick O’Sullivan(notes) for a second straight game.
O’Sullivan, who suffered a hand injury in the first period of a 4-1 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday, scored two power-play goals against the Maple Leafs in December.
Edmonton won 4-1 in its last visit to Air Canada Centre on March 7, 2009.
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