Nearing the halfway point of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be eager to redeem themselves after their 4-0 loss to the Islanders when they welcome the Minnesota Wild to the SBA for their annual Next-Gen game (2 p.m, SN Ontario).

Expecting Andersen, who missed the team’s last two games with a groin injury, to be working his way back to playing after a four-day break, Leafs fans were hit with some bad news this morning:

It appears Sparks’ injury was suffered during practice after a shot hit him directly in the mask, while Andersen’s somewhat secretive groin injury was more serious than previously thought.

Both Kasimir Kaskisuo and newly acquired Micheal Hutchinson have been recalled, with Hutchinson getting the start this afternoon.

Hutchinson played his first game with the Marlies on New Year’s Eve, earning his first victory in Toronto. After going up 4-1, Toronto collapsed and the Charlotte Checkers forced overtime before Chris Mueller scored the winner to finish off the 5-4 win. Hutchinson was one of the stars despite giving up four, and the Marlies wouldn’t have had much of a chance of getting to OT in the third without him.

The Leafs will also go with a different top nine than their last few outings. William Nylander, who still only has the two assists since returning, rejoins Auston Matthews, with Andreas Johnsson sliding in on their wing. We’ve heard a lot of theories about Nylander’s play since he signed a six-year deal with the team but, the fact is, it was always going to require about a month for his legs to get up to full speed; even still, he leads the team in on-ice shot attempts generated in those eleven games and sits third in scoring chances generated. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out, and playing alongside his familiar running mate (as well as a LW that has been playing consistently well and offers some skill/forechecking ability in Johnsson) should hopefully be conducive to that.

Speaking of looking to break out, the Wild have had serious trouble scoring lately. They’re the type of team to play low in their own end and take away space from more offensively-inclined teams through the neutral zone. They often do a good job of that, and on some nights it allows them to control the puck and effectively limit high-danger shots and chances. On the other hand, if the Leafs can break out cleanly and play with pace through the neutral zone, the Wild will have a tough time skating with them.

The last time these two teams played each other in early December, the Wild dominated the run of play, but the Leafs still grabbed the win by a score of 5-3. Babcock wasn’t pleased afterward and noted that the Wild have some characteristics to their game that the Leafs will see a lot more of come playoff time. Playing well against those types of teams is an ongoing process for this Leaf team; they’ll certainly want a better effort than last time out — when Minnesota controlled over 60% of the shot attempts and gave up only 23 shots — particularly with a new goalie in net that isn’t familiar with his team’s systems and new teammates’ tendencies.


Game Day Quotes

Babcock on the Next-Gen game:

I think we do a real good job here in Toronto with our fan-base and with kids and doing everything we can to sell the game. I think Mr. Tanenbaum is really into that, it’s a special thing. I know from just being involved in our national team and watching the World Juniors and all that stuff, how big a deal it is for Canada.

Auston Matthews on the Wild:

They’re a really good team defensively, they don’t give you much space. They stay above you all night. When they look at our team, there’s obviously a lot of skill, a lot of talent up front — that’s the kind of team that can really make you pay if you get too fancy and you turn the puck over right into their hands because they’ve got guys that can put the puck in the net the other way.


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Forwards

#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #29 William Nylander
#28 Connor Brown – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #42 Trevor Moore

Defensemen

#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov

Goaltenders

#30 Micheal Hutchinson
#50 Kasimir Kaskisuo

Injured: Zach Hyman (MCL), Tyler Ennis (broken ankle), Frederik Andersen (groin), Garret Sparks (concussion protocol)
Scratched: 
Martin Marincin, Justin Holl


Minnesota Wild Projected Lines

Forwards

#11 Zach Parise – #3 Charlie Coyle – #19 Luke Kunin
#16 Jason Zucker – #12 Eric Staal – #64 Mikael Grandlund
#18 Jordan Greenway – #9 Mikko Koivu – #Nino Niederreiter
#17 Marcus Foligno – #21 Eric Fehr – #15 Matt Hendricks

Defensemen

#20 Ryan Suter – #46 Jared Spurgeon
#25 Jonas Brodin – #28 Greg Pateryn
#36 Nick Seeler – #39 Nate Prosser

Goaltenders

#40 Devan Dubnyk
#32 Alex Stalock