The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to head into the Christmas break on a four-game winning streak when they welcome the Detroit Red Wings to Scotiabank Arena (7:30 p.m, Sportsnet).
All of a sudden, the Leafs have lost two of their left wingers to injury, an area they were already lacking depth (relatively speaking) to begin with. Zach Hyman will miss at least three weeks with an MCL sprain, while Tyler Ennis broke his ankle last night against New York.
As a result, Trevor Moore, the undrafted winger who signed with the Leafs after a camp invite in 2016, will make his NHL debut tonight. His 17 goals in 27 AHL games this year lead the Marlies and sit tied for second in the AHL. While that may be surprising to some, those who have followed the player’s story know he has a penchant for exceeding expectations.
Coming into rookie camp in 2016, Moore was a relative no name. In the end, though, he was the only player from the camp to sign an ELC with the team outside of Mitch Marner and Adam Brooks. Here’s a quote from Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe back in 2017, when Moore was still fighting for a roster spot:
We talk about improvement from the start of the season. The guys I look at are Timashov and Moore. Those are two young first-year players that early in the season really struggled. A lot of it was through lack of opportunity. All of a sudden, going from top players on other teams to now the reality of playing lower in the lineup and really having to struggle for your minutes and compete for your minutes and be good defensively, I think a lot of that caught them off guard. They were not close, frankly, but they stuck with it and when injuries happened and they got more opportunity they showed they were ready for it and took advantage of those opportunities and were better players because of that down the stretch.
These days, Keefe praises Moore as one of the team’s best defensive forwards, often mentioning his good head for the game and his puck pursuit tracking back through the neutral zone. Offensively, he’s a skilled, shifty, tenacious player who can push the pace through neutral ice. The challenge comes in making enough of an impact in limited minutes, but with the long-term nature of Hyman and Ennis’ injuries, he’s likely going to receive a good run of games here to acclimate to the league and role. His jump will be needed as soon as tonight for a Leaf team playing the second of a back-to-back before the break, although it should be kept in mind that Moore himself is playing his third game in as many nights after the Marlies‘ back-to-back against Laval.
In other lineup news, Justin Holl will get into his second game of the season tonight, replacing Martin Marincin. Holl may never play regularly for Mike Babcock when the full defensive complement is available to the Leafs head coach (Igor Ozhiganov is still battling an illness), but he’s capable of taking a competent NHL shift and moving the puck effectively enough, which might be needed later on if injuries factor in for a team with designs on a deep run this season, especially knowing it is a position of relative weakness for the organization (RHD). Mixing Holl in to keep him engaged and in something resembling game shape makes a lot of sense with an eye towards the stretch run and hopefully plenty of Spring hockey.
As for the opponent tonight, the Maple Leafs should remember from their 5-4 OT loss a few weeks ago that while the Detroit Red Wings don’t measure up in terms of star power or depth of talent and are really banged up injury-wise, they tend to work hard most nights. They’ve lost more than they’ve won, but they’ve been in just about every game over the last two months.
The Red Wings also seemed to really get up for the challenge last time in Toronto. Kasperi Kapanen scored to take the early lead, but the Leafs then conceded four unanswered, necessitating a big third-period comeback just to salvage a point. If the Leafs can keep their minds on the task at hand and keep their work rate up with the break looming, in addition to receiving a competent showing from Garret Sparks in the back-to-back, this should be two more points in the bank.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Trevor Moore:
He had a good training camp, good start to last year. Jim Palliafito got him coming out of college there. He was a good player and it took him a while to adjust to the pro level. He’s scored down there the first half of the year. I think it’s important that he continues to score down there, so he knows he’s a scorer. Right now, with the injuries, he gets an opportunity so we get to find out if our depth is as good as we say it is.
Q: Will he be playing on a scoring line tonight?
Babcock: Every line is a scoring line. When you go out on the ice and you have the puck and you play in the offensive zone, you have a chance to score, yeah.
Babcock on the team’s last three wins:
The bottom line for us as a group — and I’ve said this many times — is we need to learn to play right all the time. Just over and over and over, put your work boots on and wear the other team out. When we play right, we’re a load to handle. When we don’t, we can get frustrated fast.
Trevor Moore on his journey since signing with the Leafs:
I feel like I’ve come a long way. You can attribute that to the training staff here and the development staff. We work a lot with the Marlies on a lot of different stuff, so I feel like I’ve come a long way.
There are a lot of lessons. I played the last two nights, and I’m playing here again tonight. You learn about three-in-threes in the American League. You learn about no days off and always coming prepared.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#28 Connor Brown – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #42 Trevor Moore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen
Injured: Igor Ozhiganov (illness), Zach Hyman (MCL), Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Martin Marincin
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines
#14 Gustav Nyquist – #71 Dylan Larkin – #8 Justin Abdelkader
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #51 Frans Nielsen – #41 Luke Glendening
#70 Christoffer Ehn – #61 Jacob De La Rose – #27 Michael Rasmussen
#26 Thomas Vanek – #22 Wade Megan – #42 Martin Frk
#55 Niklas Kronwall – #3 Nick Jensen
#21 Dennis Cholowski – #82 Trevor Daley
#52 Jonathan Ericsson – #17 Philip Hronek
#45 Jonathan Bernier
#35 Jimmy Howard
Scratched: Mike Green, Anthony Mantha, Danny Dekeyser, Andreas Athanasiou, Evgeny Svechnikov