Leafs face Jets, Canucks play Kings on Last CBC-TV Hockey Night of 2011

Joe LaTengo | Updated Dec 30, 2011

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The gigantic lighted ball on top of One Times Square in New York City will do its classic descent on New Year’s Eve, indicating the end of 2011. Several hours before that, the puck will drop on the last Hockey Night In Canada of the year. Joe LaTengo puts on his party hat.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind, it will probably suit the Toronto Maple Leafs well enough. They’ll be in Winnipeg on Saturday to face the Jets in what should be the nationally televised opener of the doubleheader on CBC-TV’s Hockey Night In Canada.

The Leafs have to be getting nervous at seeing the Jets climb the standings lately. The former Atlanta Thrashers have now tied Toronto for sixth at 41 points with the same number of games played (37). Flying so high in the Eastern Conference during October and November, the Buds have come crashing down to Earth with a thud … so much so that a team which had only seen one playoff series in the previous 10 years is now breathing down their necks.

The Blue and White lost in overtime to Carolina on Thursday night and in Florida on Tuesday, part of a forgettable 4-8-1 December which has seen them slip from the top ranks in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Winnipeg has won nine times in their last 13 games.

Toronto will feel the heat even more inside the MTS Centre, the loudest rink in the league. Winnipeg is enjoying its return to the NHL, and the fans are showing their love every night. In days past, you would see as many Leafs fans in the old Winnipeg Arena as Jets supporters, but that’s not the case anymore.

It’s not all smooth sailing for the Jets, though. They are still without some important contributors in their lineup: defenseman Dustin Byfuglien is day-to-day with a lower-body injury; Bryan Little’s sore back is also expected to keep him out; Jim Slater missed the previous game against Los Angeles and will probably be a game-time decision for head coach Claude Noel. The Leafs are considerably more damaged. They’re missing Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Phillippe Dupuis, Mike Komisarek and Matthew Lombardi, and just this week John-Michael Liles was added to the list with a concussion.

Ottawa is also threatening to relegate the Leafs to the sidelines, and the Senators will be featured in a regional matchup on HNIC as they travel to Buffalo to play the faltering Sabres. Meanwhile, Montreal is booked to play the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center in the other “zone coverage” early telecast.

In the nightcap, the Canucks wrap up their three-game road trip to California in Los Angeles against the Kings. Despite some egregious, one-sided officiating along with questionable sportsmanship displayed by Joe “Chicken Finger” Thornton, Vancouver won back-to-back games in San Jose (3-2 in OT) and Anaheim (5-2) and are currently tied for first overall in the league along with Chicago, although the Blackhawks had played one fewer game as of this writing (they host Detroit on Friday night).

Darryl Sutter was recently hired to jump-start a sliding Kings squad, and the former Flames general manager and one-time Sharks coach appears to have had a positive impact so far. The Kings were taken to the wall in Winnipeg, where they lost 1-0 in overtime after shutting out the Blackhawks 2-0 at Chicago’s United Center the night before, which took Sutter to 3-1-1 since debuting behind the Kings’ bench. L.A. has earned 10 of 12 total points available in their last six games.

Much like the Jets, the Canucks have seen a steady rise in the standings recently. Vancouver is 7-2 in its previous nine games on the road, and the team is 6-1 in its last seven games overall.

The NHL betting for Saturday had not yet opened when this story was posted, so click on the link to see what the action is. In the meantime, Happy New Year and all the best in 2012!

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