After getting shut out for the first time this season against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs host Tyler Bozak and the St. Louis Blues tonight on Hockey Night in Canada.
It was awesome to see Bozak experience two years of playoff hockey with the Leafs (despite being knocked out in round one both times) prior to his departure knowing the years of rotating coaches, management, and poor teams he endured during his Toronto tenure. Whether you loved his game or not, he played 594 regular season games for the Leafs, was the best college free agent signing in franchise history (and one of the better ones in league history), and is currently at 24th all-time in club history for points. He was always a proud Leaf through it all. The team has planned a video tribute for him tonight — as they should — and I’m sure this clip will feature:
The Blues present another good challenge for the Leafs early in the year. They have respectable depth at forward and defence — a good cast of top-nine wingers (Jaden Schwartz, Vlad Tarasenko, David Perron, Alex Steen, Pat Maroon, one injured in Robby Fabbri) and solid depth at centre in Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, and Bozak. Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko can generate shots, move the puck, disrupt a cycle, and use their size to win battles.
The Blues have, however, been below average so far this year at controlling shot attempts. Their goal numbers also match that — they sit below average in shooting percentage and expected goals in this early season. Additionally, starter Jake Allen is coming off a very poor year where he essentially lost his starting job and his underlying numbers continue to be sub-par to start 2018-19. The Blues are 1-3-2 to start the year, scoring at under three goals a game through six.
The Leafs are rebounding from a frustrating loss a couple of nights ago against Pittsburgh. It wasn’t an awful performance — and luck and the officiating had their impacts — but they didn’t win the big matchups and were outworked down low in their zone too many times. Still, they’ve dramatically improved at 5-on-5 since a few poor showings in their first couple of games, although it remains a work in progress in that department.
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on Bozak and the reality of the cap world:
I think it was a different time there and you did different things. Now, you’ve got do identify who you’re keeping. I say this all the time: It’s like when you’re siting down at Thanksgiving dinner and there’s a pie. There’s only so much to go around. It depends on what each player takes. Bozak was a good player for us; he was good on the powerplay, smart, good on the faceoff circle, helped our team have success and get to where we are now. We wish him luck every night except when he plays us.
Babcock on if the Blues are a desperate team:
I’d like to think we have a desperate team. We’re the team that just lost the other night and, in [that game], as much as you can make some of the numbers look fine for us — scoring chances, all that stuff — the retrieval races and the battle level, tracking, being above the puck, the detail part of it allows you to win. To me, this is our building. We’re 2-2 at home this year — haven’t been as good as we can be and we’d like to be better. It has a good chance to be a good game tonight.
Babcock on if he’s trying to pull his goaltender for the extra attacker earlier this year:
I think people read way too much into something. What’s your rotation? Who’s up? Where’s the faceoff? Is there a timeout? Anytime after four minutes or three minutes, that’s kind of what we’re going through. How are we setting up our rotation and going? It’s a little different this year with our lines than we were in the past. When you have two [powerplay] units it’s easy, it’s a little harder to get the two units to go. But the bottom line is you’re trying to score a goal.
Babcock on getting the right matchups for Kadri and his line:
We’ve been trying to get to that point. Obviously, the way we started with our lineup this year, we couldn’t do it just because of the way the lines were. So we’re trying to get to that point. We think Lindholm’s a really intelligent player; he can play down low and can play all over, so that’s given us another playe and we didn’t know where we could slot him.
We’re in a better spot. We just feel we’d like to use Naz in that role as best we can — probably not as hard as we did last year because we want to get offensive people on the ice in offensive situations, but still to give us a better matchup situation than we’ve had the first seven games.
Jake Gardiner on long-time teammate Tyler Bozak:
Good on faceoffs, smart player. I think he’s penalty killing now so I’m sure he’ll be cheating for breakaways. Got to watch out for that.
I’m sure we’re going to have some laughs out there. In warmups, I’m sure he’ll be looking our way most of the time. Faceoffs, too. I think we’re going to have focus a little bit harder tonight. He’s a pretty funny guy.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#26 Par Lindholm – #43 Nazem Kadri – #28 Connor Brown
#32 Josh Leivo – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #18 Andreas Johnsson
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Tyler Ennis, Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, William Nylander (unsigned RFA)
St. Louis Blues Projected Lines
#17 Jaden Schwartz – #10 Brayden Schenn – #91 Vladamir Tarasenko
#82 Zachary Sanford – #90 Ryan O’Reilly – #57 David Perron
#7 Patrick Maroon – #42 Tyler Bozak – #20 Alex Steen
#9 Samuel Blais – #49 Ivan Barbashev – #33 Jordan Kyrou
#28 Vince Dunn – #27 Alex Pietrangelo
#6 Joel Edmundson – #41 Robert Bortuzzo
#55 Colton Parayko – #43 Jordan Schmaltz
#34 Jake Allen
#31 Chad Johnson
Injured: Robby Fabbri