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Game 15 Preview: Maple Leafs at Avalanche- The Puck Stops here

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Toronto Maple Leafs (6-5-1) @ Colorado Avalanche (3-6-5) Thursday November 6th, 2014, 7pm MT at Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Hello fellow Avalanche fans! Previewing for such a critical game wasn't exactly how I wanted to start my Mile High Hockey career, but well, here we are.

Tuesday night was a lesson in momentum. The Avs were four seconds away from going to the third period with a 2-0 lead. With Henrik Sedin's goal at the end of the period, the Canucks were able to carry some huge momentum into the third period where they scored four and ultimately made the Avs look very bad.

The Avs know something about momentum and right now, they don't have it. Fortunately for the Avs, no team has gone on a 12-1 tear like the Avs did last year to start the season. As bad as it has been, the Avs season is far from over. But with the season creeping closer and closer toward the quarter mark, it's time for the Avs to turn things around. If the Avs want to be a real contender, Thursday night's game needs to be the turning point. The Avs just suffered their worse loss of the season emotionally. What they need now is the epic speech seen in every sports blockbuster to spin things around.

The Avs opponent Thursday night is the Toronto Maple Leafs. The most stereotypical Canadian team in the NHL is ironically lead by United States Olympian, Phil Kessel. Kessel has had a strong start on the year and picked up his 15th and 16th points on the season Tuesday night in a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes (Anybody else feel kind of dirty calling them the Arizona Coyotes?) Both points were assists on power play goals by defensemen. Kessel and that power play will have to face the Avalanche's diamond-in-the-rough of a penalty kill that officially became the best penalty kill in the NHL on Tuesday when they increased their kill streak to 29. Kessel also had the game-winner in overtime last time the Avs and Leafs met in Toronto on a somewhat weak goal given up by Semyon Varlamov. That goal was the last goal Varlamov gave up before a short stint on the IR.

Varlamov will not be in nets Thursday though, as Reto Berra is expected to get the start. Brad Stuart will also be out, delaying his 1,000th NHL appearance. Quietly masked in an awful third period by the Avs was the absence of their most defensive defenseman, who suffered a leg injury in the second. At the time I'm writing this, the Avs have not made any call ups, so I would expect Redmond to get the start. So, with that in mind and Roy's latest line shake ups (let's hope he doesn't shake them too much more, we know how that worked for Sacco), here are the lines:

O'Reilly-Duchene-McGinn

Landeskog-MacKinnon-Iginla

Everberg-Mitchell-Tanguay

McCleod-Cliche-Talbot

Hejda-Johnson

Guenin-Barrie

Holden-Redmond

Berra

Varlamov

NOTES:

Ryan O'Reilly leads the league in takeaways (16) and also the worse plus/minus (-11). He needs to step up and be the two-way guy he's supposed to be or the Avs need to turn his trade value into a major defenseman.

Erik Johnson is actually having a great year. He leads the team in plus/minus with a +3 and is tied for sixth in points in the NHL among defensemen with nine.

Thursday's game will likely be Berra's first start since October 21st and Redmond's first since October 28th.

The Avs lead the league in time on the penalty kill. A lot of that's due to being successful in killing a lot of penalties. A lot of it is due to taking a lot of penalties. I'm looking at you, Ryan!

BIG QUESTIONS:

Q: Will the Avs keep up the penalty kill streak?

A: The NHL record is 53. That's a lot.  It was set by the 1999-2000 Washington Capitals, a team that featured former Av, Steve Konowalchuk. Long time fans will remember that Konowalchuk was a great penalty killer and an all around good guy. He also had a sick last name. The Avs sit at 29 consecutive kills. I think the streak will end before 53, but a middle of the road power play like the Maple Leafs won't be the one to break the streak. Verdict: streak continues.

Q: Will Iginla step up for the Avs?

A: Jarome Iginla wears an A for the Avs, but ultimately he has fallen short of it so far this year. He took the blame for Cam Fowler's "highlight reel" goal on Sunday, though Nate Guenin deserves a good portion of blame himself, despite the man-to-man coverage. Despite some defensive follies, Iginla has performed rather well offensively with a few real pretty assists to go with two tasty goals. But the Avs don't need Iginla to be a highlight reel guy, for the Avs or for the other team. They need him to be a leader. What the Avs need is a strong emotional leader right now and Iginla can be that. I think this Maple Leaf game is where he can step up. Iginla almost fought Dion Phaneuf last time the two teams played. I'd look to see Iginla show some passion and drop the gloves.

Q: Will Duchene catch a break?

A: Nobody has been as fiery and flashy as Mat Duchene this year, but the points don't nearly show how much of a threat Duchene has been this year. With Duchene being placed back with his line mates from last year, I'd look for him to have that big game that's been eluding him.

GAME INFO:

Game time: 7pm, MT.

TV: Altitude, TSN 4

And because the Avs need an epic speech:

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