After announcing Auston Matthews will be out at least a month with a shoulder injury, the Toronto Maple Leafs will have to make a series of lineup adjustments against the Calgary Flames tonight in Toronto.
Following a sizzling start to the season — one of historical proportions — Auston Matthews is now out four or more weeks due to a shoulder separation sustained on the opposite shoulder he suffered this same injury last year. Now without their best player, the Leafs‘ situation could be worse if you put it into this perspective: Only a handful of teams around the league can claim a 1-2 punch down the middle of the calibre of John Tavares and Nazem Kadri.
In behind those two is where the question marks start. The pressure on rookie Par Lindholm will be ratcheted up as steps in as the third-line center on a line that has a frequent early-season healthy scratch coming back into the lineup (Andreas Johnsson) on the left and a hard-working winger with offensive limitations on the right (Connor Brown). After spending the first three games of the season as the fourth-line center, Lindholm has played mostly on Kadri’s wing while he adjusts to the league. He’ll now need to drive his own line.
Andreas Johnsson has had an inauspicious start to this 2018-19 season with an average training camp and subsequent healthy scratches in the regular season in favour of the veteran left winger Tyler Ennis. This is a great opportunity for him to rediscover the form that saw him contribute down the stretch and into the playoffs with the Leafs last season before winning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for the most valuable player in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. On line three, he’ll be playing more than the six-to-eight minutes of ice time he was getting on the fourth line in his earlier appearances this season and he should see steady power play time on the second unit as well.
Kasperi Kapanen, already taking advantage of his opportunity with William Nylander out of the lineup at five on five, will remain in the shotgun seat next to an elite center in John Tavares and will also now assume Matthews’ position on the left flank on the first power-play unit. This opens up a different look for the Maple Leafs; Marner and Matthews usually send pucks back and forth on their correct hands, but Kapanen is a right shot. He will have to learn to unload his yet-to-be-utilized one-timer on the left and he will also need to be able to keep the play moving on his off hand.
There will be adjustments to be made here. The Calgary Flames penalty-killing unit can close down on Kapanen’s side knowing it will take him time to corral the puck and move it if there is no shot available or if the pass isn’t on the money. Calgary can also start to close harder on Mitch Marner — which we’ve seen the opposition begin to do already, even with Matthews there –– as he’ll have to feather passes into Kapanen’s sweet spot as opposed ripping them without as much care to Matthews on his correct hand. As Anthony noted in today’s notebook, making better use of the down-low option to Tavares at the side of the net might help open up the slot area for the high tips and seam passes that the opposition has clamped down on of late by collapsing on the slot, knowing there is no real shot threat coming from Marner or from up top (Marner shooting more would also help).
Also worth noting is that the Leafs fourth line of Tyler Ennis, Frederik Gauthier and Josh Leivo — which has been a positive influence on the game in limited minutes as far as generating offensive zone shifts, setting up the more skilled lines for an offensive-zone start on the next shift, and chipping in offensively a little bit — will likely see a step up in minutes as Babcock no longer has three high-end centers to find enough ice time for.
The Calgary Flames enter the game having lost three in a row and four of their last five. They are experiencing what seems to be a goaltending crisis with their starter Mike Smith and are struggling on special teams — their powerplay is ranked 21st in the league, while their penalty kill sits 27th. It’s easy to panic as a Leafs fan with the loss of their best player for a month or more, but this could be a good opportunity for them to establish a new order on the team and give players that weren’t receiving an opportunity in the first ten games a chance to grab one with both hands and build some confidence/momentum into their season (Johnsson).
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Matthews’ injury:
He did a ton of work this summer on his shoulders trying to get stronger. Sometimes those things happen. It’s too bad for the kid, and yet it’s an opportunity for someone on our team to play more. It’s an opportunity for us to dig in and continue to get better.
Babcock on if the team’s depth is better equipped to handle Matthews’ absence this year:
Yeah, I don’t know for sure. Another twenty games in, you can ask me that question and I’ll tell you if we’ve got more depth this year.
Babcock on lineup changes coming as a result of the Matthews injury:
Well, obviously Lindholm’s going to be in tougher matchups playing down the middle. If you look at [Calgary’s] center ice they’ve got good centermen — there’s a challenge for everyone that way. I’ve never met one guy in hockey who said, “Coach, can I play less?” They always want more opportunity. Somebody always thinks they’re getting the short end of the stick. No one’s getting the short end of the stick [now); we’ve only got 12 forwards.
Nazem Kadri on his 500th game milestone:
It means a lot. Just very privileged to play in the league and get an opportunity. The city of Toronto and the league embraced me through the ups and downs. I’m honoured to be a Maple Leaf and look forward to the future.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#21 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #16 Mitch Marner
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #26 Par Lindholm – #28 Connor Brown
#63 Tyler Ennis – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #32 Josh Leivo
#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: Justin Holl, William Nylander (unsigned RFA)
Injured: Travis Dermott (sick), Auston Matthews (shoulder)
Calgary Flames Projected Lines
#13 Johnny Gaudreau – #23 Sean Monahan – #28 Elias Lindholm
#19 Matthew Tkachuk – #11 Mikael Backlund – #67 Michael Frolik
#93 Sam Bennett – #77 Mark Jankowski – #18 James Neal
#21 Garnet Hathaway – #10 Derek Ryan – #29 Dillon Dube
#5 Mark Giordano – #7 T.J Brodie
#55 Noah Hanifin – #24 Travis Hamonic
#8 Juuso Valimaki – #4 Rasmus Andersson
#41 Mike Smith
#33 David Rittich