After a confidence-boosting win in a tough building, the Toronto Maple Leafs will look to get their home form on track in round two against the Jets.
The contrast in the Leafs home and road form — undefeated with a 5-0-0 record away, 2-3-0 at home — is not something to get bent out of shape about this early in the year when dealing in such small sample sizes, but it is a mildly interesting early-season development nonetheless. Head coach Mike Babcock has attributed it to the team playing too loose and cute at home and leaning on a “run and gun” game, while the more critical members of the fan base are pointing to Babcock perhaps overthinking the matchup game. Whatever the answer is, the team went 29-10-2 on home ice last year and this is likely going to get itself turned around in due time.
Winnipeg’s start has shown through ten games that nothing comes easy in this league, even for the elite teams. The 7-3-1 record hasn’t been indicative of the discourse among the media and fan base around the lack of dominant performances and the team’s inability to string together anything approaching 60-minute performances.
Beating a team as good as Winnipeg twice in a row is no easy task, but the Leafs were full value for their 4-2 win over the Jets on Wednesday and they will have the rest advantage in their favour tonight. The Leafs also won’t hate that the Jets pulled out a win in Detroit on Friday; theoretically, it means they shouldn’t be coming to Toronto with the same level of desperation had they not pulled the win out in the final 25 minutes. That said, Winnipeg trailed for the better part of 40 minutes and played a poor first period (out-possessed 59-41 in the opening 20), so Paul Maurice will be emphasizing a better start tonight.
For the Leafs, their breakouts, forecheck, and ability to cycle and maintain pressure in the offensive zone were standout improvements from their two straight losses suffered prior to this home and home. The most encouraging part of the win was the arrival of some secondary scoring, with the Leafs getting offensive contributions from all four lines.
In the matchup game, Auston Matthews and his line did a good job of making the Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler unit play defense for the majority of the night, although Mike Babcock chased that matchup with the Nazem Kadri line a fair bit, too, and we could see more of Kadri vs. Scheifele on home ice tonight with the Leafs having last change.
Playing high-tempo hockey in short shifts and rolling his top three forward lines has been the Babcock M.O., and the Leafs will look to take advantage of tired Winnipeg legs tonight by doing just that.
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on Gardiner’s 500th game milestone and how he’s improved over his time in Toronto:
It’s important to them. I know about Gardiner’s [500th game]. I think we’ve got Kadri, Rielly, I think Hainsey’s at 1000. If I’m mistaken, Marleau’s like 1600 or something like that. So when you look at the whole thing, when you’re first trying to get in the league, you’re thinking “Geeze, could I just get in?” Once you’re in, you kind of get a little selfish and you want to be here a long time, but you’ve got to be good to be here a long time.
I think Jake [Gardiner]’s an elite, elite player and he’s got unreal hockey sense and makes great plays offensively. Good defensively. Every once in a while you’ve got to give him a good tightening — other than that, he’s a real good player for us. When you go around the league and you look at 50-point defensemen, there’s none of them. It’s just so hard to be a 50-point defenseman.
Babcock on the state of the NHL, in reference to John Tortorella’s comments about the lack of “hate” in the league:
I didn’t see the Torts thing. I couldn’t tell you anything about that. I think the league’s the best its ever been. It’s so fast, it’s so competitive. I look at the schedule, I keep waiting for a team you think you can beat. Every night, it’s so good. To me, the players are better; they’re stronger, they’re faster, they’re more fit, they’re more determined. I think there are different times, and so the game and the times always change together. I think that’s great. Each succeeding generation gets better. Every ten years there’s a significant jump. I think the same is going on in the NHL.
Jake Gardiner on his 500th game:
You don’t really think about it too much until something like this happens. It goes by pretty fast. It’s been a fun 500 and hopefully I’ll play a lot more.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice on his team:
I think we ended up with seven minutes of zone time against [the Leafs on Wednesday]. The things we needed to correct and we needed to work on showed in that game.
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 – #63 Tyler Ennis
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Andreas Johnsson, Justin Holl, William Nylander (unsigned RFA)
Injured: Travis Dermott (sick)
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#27 Nikolaj Ehlers – #55 Mark Scheifele – #26 Blake Wheeler
#81 Kyle Connor – #18 Bryan Little – #85 Mathieu Perreault
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #13 Brandon Tanev
#48 Brendan Lemieux – #28 Jack Roslovic – #29 Patrick Laine
#44 Josh Morrissey – #8 Jacob Trouba
#7 Ben Chiarot – #33 Dustin Byfuglien
#70 Joe Morrow – #57 Tyler Myers
#37 Connor Hellebuyck
#30 Laurent Brossoit