Jason Brough

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The Leafs need some wins, starting tonight against Minnesota

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The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent road trip to Western Canada. They beat the Oilers, lost to the Flames, then probably deserved better in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks.

But if these Leafs (10-9-5) want to stay in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule. Starting tonight against Minnesota, they play six of their next seven at home. Their only road game is Saturday in Boston.

Mike Babcock’s bunch entered the day six points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot. The coach liked how his charges played Saturday in Vancouver, where they outshot the Canucks, 40-24, but could only get two pucks past Ryan Miller.

“I thought we played well,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to give Miller a lot of credit, I thought he did a real nice job for them and kind of held the fort there. I was pleased with our effort. You’d love to get the other point, sure, but that was a good game for our team. I thought we really pushed hard as the game went on.”

Tonight in Minnesota’s crease, the Leafs will see one of the hottest goalies in hockey. Devan Dubnyk is 10-6-3 with a .946 save percentage. He’s been the Wild’s MVP this season, and it’s not even a debate.

“He has given us a chance every night, he has been spectacular, especially late in games,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Toronto Star. “We play so many close games he has to make saves to get us to overtime or to seal the game. I know we don’t get us much press as the people up here (in Canada), but he’s been as good as any goalie in the league.”

It’ll be up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs to turn their solid puck-possession numbers into goals, while making sure not to give the Wild too many scoring chances the other way.

Defense has been an issue for Toronto this season. The running-and-gunning Buds have the third-worst goals-against average in the league (3.08), lower than only Dallas (3.22) and Arizona (3.16).

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

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That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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Report: Leafs win arbitration case with Cowen

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have won their arbitration case with Jared Cowen, who will remain bought out.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the news today. It is a significant loss for Cowen, the 25-year-old defenseman who came to the Leafs in February as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade.

From Sportsnet’s story before the ruling:

At issue is whether Cowen was healthy enough to have the final year of his contract bought out by the Leafs last summer. A lengthy section of the CBA is devoted to “procedures for determining fitness to play,” and they include a player’s right to pursue a second medical opinion beyond what is provided by the team.

That information, plus witness testimony and other evidence, will be taken into account by the arbitrator while rendering a decision.

For Cowen, there is $3-million in salary at stake. That represents somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 per cent of his career NHL earnings to date – a huge amount given his injury history and diminished future earning potential.

For the Leafs, it’s significant win. They’ll actually get a $650,000 cap credit this season. Next season, they’ll take a $750,000 hit, and after that their obligations are over.

If they’d lost, they would’ve lost the credit and assumed a $3.1-million cap hit this season, the final year of Cowen’s contract.

Sportsnet explains why the Leafs didn’t want to lose:

That’s a $3.75-million cap swing in total and would almost certainly result in the Leafs invoking long-term injury relief on one of three players – Nathan Horton, Stephane Robidas or Joffrey Lupul – to remain compliant.

Even though the LTI maneuver would offer immediate relief, it’s something the Leafs hope to avoid since it would increase the size of the cap overage penalty they’ll carry into next season because of performance bonuses expected to be earned by as many as five rookies in their current lineup.

Cowen had hip surgery after he was bought out. It’s been reported he may not be ready to play until February, assuming he can find a team. He played 37 games for the Senators last season, registering no goals and four assists.

Related: Lupul to start season on injured reserve, still aims to play again

The Devils are hanging around, thanks to a great home record

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Last night’s game in Newark was mostly notable for the scary situation involving Vancouver’s Philip Larsen, who had to be stretchered off the ice following a devastating hit by Taylor Hall.

But the players played on, and the Devils eventually defeated the Canucks, 3-2.

The victory improved New Jersey’s record at Prudential Center to 8-0-2. The Devils are the only team in the NHL that has yet to lose in regulation at home. They’ve struggled on the road, going 4-7-4.

A quarter of the way through the season, the jury remains out on New Jersey as a legitimate playoff contender. The Devils have just six regulation wins, with four of their victories coming in overtime and two more in the shootout. Only the Panthers (5), Coyotes (4), and Canucks (4) have won fewer games in regulation.

But keeping games close has served the Devils well. Twelve times they’ve been tied after 60 minutes, guaranteeing them at least a point. Heading into tonight’s action, they sit just one point back of Washington for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re in a playoff race,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz told reporters this morning ahead of his team’s game with the Bruins (on NBCSN).

The Devils don’t play again until Thursday in Montreal, where a tough stretch starts for John Hynes’ crew. New Jersey returns home to face St. Louis Friday, then it’s back on the road for games at the Rangers, Blues, Senators, and Rangers again.

Caps will get Oshie back tonight

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The Washington Capitals will get a welcomed injection of offense tonight when T.J. Oshie returns to the lineup against the Boston Bruins (on NBCSN).

Oshie has missed the last seven games with an upper-body injury. The Caps went 3-3-1 without him. In their last four games, they’ve scored just six times.

With eight goals, Oshie is the Caps’ third-leading goal-scorer, after Alex Ovechkin (12) and Marcus Johansson, whose 11th tally of the season beat the Sabres Monday in overtime.

Oshie is expected to skate on a line with Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. Washington’s other top line will feature Ovechkin with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams.

The Caps could also use some scoring from their bottom six, particularly from Andre Burakovsky and Lars Eller, who have just two goals each.

Related: Slumping Caps need to turn possession into goals