When it comes to facing the Minnesota Wild, there are two obvious players teams have to key on - centre Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter.
And when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, nobody knows those players better than ex-Devil David Clarkson and ex-Predator Cody Franson. Clarkson was a teammate of Parise's in New Jersey and Franson played with Suter in Nashville.
"He was a big part of our success in New Jersey and the biggest thing is how hard he works," Clarkson said of Parise, who has four goals and is plus-2 for the Wild which is off to a 2-1-2 start this season. "Every shift he goes out there and works hard and pushes his teammates to work as hard as he does because of his work ethic.
"He's one of those guys where, in a battle in the corner, you might think you have him, but he really battles hard. He was a great teammate. He's one of those guys that has that very high skill level, but also competes hard."
Parise and Suter joined the Wild as high-priced unrestricted free agents
prior to the start of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and instantly gave the team credibility. The acquisition of right winger Jason Pominville from Buffalo adds veteran depth and makes the Wild a team to be aware of in the Western Conference.
Suter lived up to advanced billing, managing four goals and 32 points in 48 games last season and has three assists in five games so far this year.
"He's an elite defenceman and has been that way since he first broke into the league," Franson said. "He's very calm and poised on the ice. He's kind of like Nick Lidstrom in a lot of ways where he doesn't have a panic button. There isn't a lot you can do to make that guy cough up the puck. That's not an easy thing to do in this league."
Franson added Suter is a good skater who is difficult to beat wide and while he may not have the hardest shot from the point, "He's a guy who makes you think twice about laying down in front of him because if you go down, he'll skate around you."
The Maple Leafs, now 5-1-0, are coming off a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory over the Edmonton Oilers
Saturday night. Clarkson, who has four more games to serve on his 10-game suspension
for leaving the bench to engage in a fight in the pre-season, said while he admires Tuesday's opponent, he doesn`t believe his teammates will dwell too much about who is coming to town.
"In this room we're not really worried about one or two guys on their team," Clarkson declared. "I'm not going to come in here and tell the guys to watch out for this or that. We're more worried about our game and what we have to do; not the way they play or individuals on their team."
DALLAS' DOGHOUSE: Second-year right winger Nail Yakupov did not dress for the Oilers Saturday and is not slated to play against Washington tonight. In four games this season the first pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is pointless and minus-3.
He will, as Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri knows all too well, have to prove he deserves ice time to new Oilers coach Dallas Eakins before he is inserted into the lineup again.
Kadri played for Eakins for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL and there were times when the two had a strained relationship.
``He has to keep working hard," was the advice Kadri would give to Yakupov. "I think when you start thinking a little too much about it, that's when you start second-guessing yourself. But he's a good player. I was a healthy scratch early in the season and then the next game I came out and had one of the better games of my entire season. It's just Dallas trying to light a little fire under him."
PLANTING THE SEED: It is a small sampling of games, to be sure.
But those keeping a close eye on the players that will represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, must - at the very least - have Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier on their radar.
Bernier, 25, has a 4-1-0 record with his new team having been traded to Toronto last spring for goalie Ben Scrivens and winger Matt Frattin. While the Laval, Que., native was not invited to the summer orientation camp for Team Canada, his numbers out of the gate have been impressive.
His goals-against average (which includes Saturday's uncharacteristic five goals against; a reflection of the way his team played in front of him more than his individual performance) is 1.25 which is ninth-best in the league. That is better than the five goalies who went to the orientation camp, including Montreal's Carey Price (17th, 2.77), Chicago's Corey Crawford (20th, 2.46), Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (27th, 2.99), Phoenix's Mike Smith (28th, 3.01) and Washington's Braden Holtby (39th, 4.04).
Bernier's save percentage of .946 ranks eighth-best in the NHL compared to Price (16th, .929), Smith (23rd, .911), Crawford (24th, .910), Luongo (30th, .898) and Holtby (40th, .873).
LOOSE LEADS TO LOSE: While Toronto coach Randy Carlyle tries to not get too negative after a victory, he still has some concerns about the way his team is performing in its own end.
"We felt there was a lot of sloppiness in the game from the standpoint of not managing the puck properly," Carlyle said. "We were a little too loose in defensive zone coverage. We're not going to beat ourselves up over it. We have addressed it; reviewed it as coaches and have talked to the players about it. They agree.
"It's not like this is any earth-shattering news that we're sending across the board to one another. We don't think that we'll continue to have the success if we continue to play loose hockey."
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