After a frustrating loss that Mike Babcock called, “As good of a road game as we played in a while”, the Toronto Maple Leafs are back home to greet James van Riemsdyk and the struggling Philadelphia Flyers for the second game in a weekend back-to-back.
For the Leafs, as mentioned, Babcock isn’t harbouring any sort of panic about the team’s last loss versus Columbus, its second in a row after the Wednesday defeat to Carolina. They got off to the start they wanted and had the Blue Jackets bending but not breaking for most of the first 40 minutes of the game. Ultimately, the Leafs couldn’t generate a strong enough push in the third period and couldn’t get anything past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, in addition to a power play that has been finding it more difficult to break through the past couple of games.
Besides a couple of dumb, avoidable mistakes against the run of play in the first period — Morgan Rielly tossed the puck away, Frederik Andersen came out to play the puck and got caught in no-man’s land — the Leafs played a really good road game overall. The number of heavy shifts in the offensive zone that the Leafs generated in the first 40 minutes was about as high as there’s been in any game this year. They carried 60+% of the shot attempts in the first period and over 80% in the second frame.
The Hyman – Tavares – Marner line put in some dominant shifts — fantastic things happen when skill works as hard as that trio has been of late, in addition to the chemistry that’s formed there — and there were some great sequences for the Leafs where a good fourth-line shift set up a good line three shift (or vice versa), followed by an offensive zone face-off for the top line. Overall, it was the kind of four-line, fast, relentless, and heavy hockey that will lead to more wins than losses if the Leafs can match that performance level.
The coaching staff hasn’t made any changes to the lineup since before the California road trip two weeks ago, and that won’t change tonight. With Matthews and Nylander out and the production and overall play of the team’s bottom two lines, it’s not surprising that the status quo has stayed in place there. On defense, Igor Ozhiganov has also settled into a more consistent 15-16 minutes a night, and Babcock appears to be more hesitant to rotate players in on the bottom pairing. That said, in a back-to-back situation with two capable players sitting (including a right-hander Justin Holl, who has played well with Dermott), depth is a resource the team will need to take advantage of over a long year, with an eye towards peaking at playoff time.
On the Flyers side of things, head coach Dave Hakstol pointed out after his team’s 4-0 win over the Rangers last night — which snapped a four-game losing streak — that, “the numbers aren’t going to be much different tonight from the previous three games here at home.” Referring to the team’s last three home games — where they lost to the Panthers, Devils, and Lightning — Hakstol is right that the team has been able to control possession and generate quite a bit more offensively than they were able to earlier in the season; they just haven’t been able to get on the right side of enough scorelines.
Both teams are playing tired and needed to travel between games, although the Flyers got an extra six hours of rest having played an afternoon game yesterday (a 4-0 win with a Calvin Pickard shutout). But there’s no real excuse there as the Leafs look to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on James van Riemsdyk’s tenure as a Leaf:
A real good pro. JVR is one of those guys who will do anything to get better. He loves hockey, loves being around the game. He was excellent, to say the last. He’s as good of a power play guy as you can have in hockey. Good teammate. Good person. He was a good Leaf for a long, long time. You miss him, but the problem is, you can’t have them all, right? You’ve got to figure that out.
Babcock on the loss to Columbus last night:
I thought last night we really skated, but we turned the puck over. If you look at it, three of those goals are on turnovers. It doesn’t matter how hard you play and how much time you spend in the offensive zone, if you turn the puck over, it usually ends up in your net. I thought we didn’t take care of the puck last night and I thought it hurt us. But I also thought that game and the game they played in here… I thought we stole that game in here. If you flipped the results around, the series is 1-1 and it’s probably fair.
Babcock on the team’s power play struggling to convert the past couple of games:
We’ve got to score. It was interesting… on the one play last night alone, we had three looks and Leivo had three and Ennis had another. But we haven’t scored of late. Your confidence… if you score and you’re a scorer, it’s kind of like adrenaline pumping through you. When you don’t score, it can take it away.
We’ve got to find a way. We changed a few things here this morning just in talking nuances for what they’re doing to get ready for tonight. But we’ve got to find a way to put one in the net. It’s like anything. You just can’t let your lulls be long. Your ups have got to be longer than your downs and your downs have got to be short. That’s the NHL.
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol on the team’s win over the Rangers last night:
“We had a blip on the radar in Buffalo, especially in the first period, but in terms of chances that we generated and created, shot attempts, shot attempts for, as well as at the other end of the rink, what we gave up, they’re going to be pretty similar to the previous three games that we played in this building.”
Ahead of Hockey Fights Cancer night at Scotiabank Arena, Babcock speaks emotionally about how the disease has affected his life:
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
#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin
Unsigned: William Nylander
Injured: Auston Matthews (shoulder)
Philadelphia Flyers Projected Lines
#14 Claude Giroux – #14 Sean Couturier – #11 Travis Konecny
#22 Dale Weise – #19 Nolan Patrick – #93 Jacob Voracek
#25 James Van Riemsdyk – #40 Jordan Weal – #17 Wayne Simmonds
#32 Oskar Lindblom – #21 Scott Laughton – #56 Tyrell Goulbourne
#9 Ivan Provorov – #8 Robert Hagg
#56 Shayne Gostisbehere – #26 Christian Folin
#6 Travis Sanheim – #3 Radko Gudas
#33 Calvin Pickard
#49 Alex Lyon