The Toronto Maple Leafs have made a statement with their fast start this season, but coach Mike Babcock’s charges enter Thursday’s home tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes with an unanswered question. James van Riemsdyk’s availability is uncertain after the 28-year-old forward missed practice on Wednesday, two days removed from sustaining a lower-body injury.
“We expect him to play (Thursday). Won’t know 100 percent until (Thursday), but we expect him to play,” Babcock told reporters of van Riemsdyk, who is riding a point-per-game pace. Veteran Patrick Marleau ended a three-game drought with his 99th career game-winning goal in Monday’s 3-2 triumph over Los Angeles, helping the Maple Leafs kick off their three-game homestand with their fourth victory in five contests. The Hurricanes are trending in the other direction with losses in two straight and four of their last six, scoring just 13 goals following their season-opening 5-4 win over Minnesota. “They need to get going. It’s time,” coach Bill Peters told reporters of his team’s 28th-ranked offense. “They’ve got to make sure they’re getting into the high-traffic areas on a consistent basis and on-and-off the stick. ... Let’s get a shooter’s mentality and get the puck to the net.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, FSN Carolinas, Sportsnet Ontario (Toronto)
ABOUT THE HURRICANES (3-3-1): Jeff Skinner hasn’t been shy on the offensive end with five goals in his first six contests before being kept off the scoresheet in a 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The 25-year-old Toronto-area native has fared well at Air Canada Centre, recording 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 21 career games. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin scored his team’s lone goal versus the Lightning and had registered all three of his points this season over the last four contests.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (7-2-0): With van Riemsdyk’s availability in question, Mitch Marner is a candidate to be elevated from the fourth line after putting forth his finest performance of the season with a pair of assists versus the Kings. “I just think, in general, I was throwing away the puck way too much, and that was the big thing,” the 20-year-old Marner told reporters regarding his early troubles. “But last game was a step in the right direction for me, personally, and I just have to keep doing what I was doing last game, moving my feet and keeping the puck.” Fellow forward Josh Leivo, who has been a nightly healthy scratch this season, could see time on the fourth line if van Riemsdyk is idle.
1. Toronto C Auston Matthews has recorded multi-point performances in three of his last five games.
2. Hurricanes G Scott Darling has stopped 93-of-100 shots to win all three career contests versus the Maple Leafs.
3. Toronto G Frederik Andersen is expected to play in his 200th NHL game on Thursday.
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 6, Hurricanes 1