Suddenly without a regulation win in their last three games, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in Raleigh looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season against a Carolina Hurricanes team that continues to struggle offensively (7 p.m., TSN4).
These two teams first met back on November 21st, with the Leafs losing 5-2. The Hurricanes fired 29 shots on net in the first period, setting a new franchise record. While the Leafs generated more once they fell behind, it was ultimately the Canes’ dominant start/the Leafs‘ sleepy start that determined the outcome of the game. Being ready to compete from puck drop will be important against a team that looks to jump on you early with a heavy and fast north-south game, a mobile/active defense core, and a mentality to direct tons of pucks towards the net.
Since the Nov. 21 win, the Canes continue to battle inconsistency from their goaltending while struggling to score at a rate that matches their shot production, as is tradition. With only eight goals in their last five games, and a league-low 5-on-5 and overall shooting percentage, Hurricanes fans and management are certainly aware of what the issues lie by this point.
Curtis McElhinney, who started against the Leafs in the first meeting between these two, is out with a lower-body injury after quite the impressive stretch. In his last five games before his December 5th loss to San Jose, McElhinney was averaging a .958 save percentage and won 4-of-5. The Canes have called up Scott Darling, but Petr Mrazek, with a 4-4-2 record on the year and a .899 save percentage, will get the nod tonight.
Zach Hyman’s suspension breaks up the only consistent line the Leafs have put out this year. It’s not necessarily surprising to see Babcock go with Brown, one of his most hard-working forecheckers, to replace Hyman on Tavares’ wing, although it’s arguably less than warranted based on offensive contributions this season (and less than ideal to play an offensively-limited player on his off wing). If nothing else, it gives Brown a real opportunity to break through offensively and build some confidence while Auston Matthews’ wingers remain intact in Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, both of whom have been fantastic performers lately.
Nazem Kadri, with one goal in his last 12, has had his dry spell go a bit unnoticed. Hopefully, as he is tasked with easing William Nylander back into the lineup on his wing, his line can start coming on again. As much as Kadri has become the kind of player who can stay on right side of even when he’s quiet, he’s a two-time 30+ goal scorer who is capable of going off on a heater. With an elite player on his wing and some good-but-unlucky performances in his back pocket, there is no better time than the present to get going.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the two-game losing slide:
Getting back to work and doing things right is the biggest part of it. We had enough dressed last game and the game before to play better than we did. You want your lows to be very short. We’ve had an off day and a practice day. There’s no reason not to play well.
Babcock on the Leafs’ last meeting with Carolina:
Well, they generate shots for sure. I went through them all here this morning to see what kind of chances we gave up. We lost every race and every battle in the first period in this building. We had a real good second and got us back to a spot. We weren’t able to execute on it. You’ve got to start on time in this league, we all know that that’s the way to have success.
Babcock on Mitch Marner, who hasn’t scored a goal in eleven games:
Mitch can really shoot the puck. Obviously, he chooses not to shoot the puck. He makes great plays without it. Mitch is one of those guys who’s pretty hard to give advice to — to be completely honest with you — because he makes the right play most of the time. In saying that, we encourage him all the time in practice to be shooting it. I think on the powerplay, he can shoot it more as well because he’s got a dangerous shot.
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour on the Maple Leafs:
You watch them play and the high-end skill is what scares you obviously. You can’t take a breath against these guys. You’re kind of on your guy and you’re there, but it’s not good enough against these kinds of players. You give them an inch, they take a mile, kind of thing. They don’t need five or six chances to score a goal. Obviously, their power play is lethal, which leads to their skill, which is what we’re talking about. They’re coached well, obviously, and they’ve got good goaltending. [Andersen]’s won them quite a few games this year.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#28 Connor Brown – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#18 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #63 Tyler Ennis
#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
Suspended: Zach Hyman
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines
#48 Jordan Martinook – #20 Sebastian Aho – #86 Teuvo Teravainen
#37 Andrei Svechnikov – #71 Lucas Wallmark – #14 Justin Williams
#79 Micheal Ferland – #64 Clark Bishop – #23 Brock McGinn
#13 Warren Foegele – #48 Victor Rask – #7 Phil De Giuseppe
#74 Jaccob Slavin – #19 Dougie Hamilton
#44 Calvin De Haan – #27 Justin Faulk
#57 Trevor Van Riemsdyk – #22 Brett Pesce
#34 Petr Mrazek
#33 Scott Darling
Injured: Curtis McElhinney, Jordan Staal