Coming off of four wins in their last six games, the Toronto Maple Leafs will kick off their second back-to-back set of the season tonight while looking to get back to .500 at home against the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m., TSN4).
Mike Babcock has confirmed the red-hot Frederik Andersen will start tonight, with Garret Sparks the likely starter in tomorrow’s Hockey Night in Canada matchup in Boston. The strategy appears to be to play the strongest hand for the rested game against the inferior opponent at home, try to secure the two points, and go into Boston tomorrow hoping you can nab a bonus point or two while playing tired with the backup in on the road in a tough building.
It’s a sound strategy: Focus on the two points on offer tonight at home with fresh legs versus the easier opponent, as opposed to overthinking it by looking past the Devils and ahead to Boston, potentially dropping point(s) tonight, and then playing a rested Bruins team on the road with the real possibility of leaving the weekend empty-handed.
The Devils started off the year performing strongly in shot attempt and scoring chance share, resulting in 17 goals for in their first four games (all wins). The offense has cooled off recently, however, and they’ve only managed to finish above 50 in CF% in two of their last nine games. Their PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) has dipped and their record has along with it; they’re 6-6-1 now after a 4-0-0 start.
The Devils’ true measure as a team likely lies in the middle of how they started the year and what they’ve been the last week or so. They’re not surprising anyone this year as they were last, but this is a fast team over four lines — led by a highly dangerous top unit in the Taylor Hall line — that can hurt you in transition if you turn pucks over and don’t break out/come through the neutral zone cleanly.
After getting out to a 2-0 lead inside 21 minutes in their last game over Vegas, the Leafs never really pushed for more offensively and leaned on Frederik Andersen’s great performance to see out the win. Though they were able to limit high-danger chances in third, the Leafs still conceded a lot of offensive-zone pressure from the Knights and found breaking out cleanly difficult, failing to close the game out with much in the way of offensive zone time. The Leafs will be looking for something closer to the elusive 60-minute home performance tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Par Lindholm’s line:
I think Lindholm’s a really good player and I think Johnny’s just starting to get going. I think anytime you’re a scorer and you don’t score, it eats up at you a little bit. I thought, in the last two games, their line’s been really good. We’d still like them to spend some more time in the offensive zone, but they did everything right last game — they were our best line at doing things right.
Babcock on the team’s mental approach entering a back-to-back:
What I would say to you is — what happens in this league is, if you as you look past someone, they come and they just thump you and you don’t touch the puck. I think we’ve gotten that lesson a couple of times already. The other thing about is: I feel we’ve pressed more at home and haven’t been as loose. Last game, we found a way to win the game. I thought we had a good first and a good third. I think we want to build on that get some momentum here at home.
Babcock on the Devils’ top line:
Just elite speed. I think their line’s unbelievable. Palmeri scores, gets to the net. The kid is unbelievable, unreal edges, sees the whole rink, plays fast. Hall’s got tonnes of speed and shoots the puck. I like their whole team. I think they play fast. I think their coach does a great job.
Devils head coach John Hynes on evaluating his team’s up and down play:
I think by 20 games you really know what your team is about. You’ve gone through all types of circumstances — you’ve won games and lost games, you’ve gone through injuries. I think right now at thirteen games in, we’ve got no B game. So we’re either world beaters and playing fantastic, or it totally drops off. That’s somewhere where we have to understand we can’t let games get away from us.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#21 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#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
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin
Unsigned: William Nylander
Injured: Auston Matthews (shoulder)
New Jersey Devils Projected Lines
#9 Taylor Hall – #13 Nico Hischier – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#90 Marcus Johansson – #43 Brett Seney – #63 Jesper Bratt
#20 Blake Coleman – #44 Miles Wood – #10 Jean-Sebastien Dea
#11 Brian Boyle – #39 Kurtis Gabriel– #18 Drew Stafford
#25 Mirco Mueller – #45 Sami Vatanen
#36 Andy Greene – #28 Damon Severson
#8 Will Butcher – #12 Ben Lovejoy
#1 Keith Kinkaid
#35 Cory Schneider