The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season tonight when they welcome the Elias Pettersson-less Vancouver Canucks to Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m, CBC).
While Frederik Andersen appears to be nearing a return, Michael Hutchinson will remain the starter for the short term with Garret Sparks’ concussion diagnosis and the Leaf starter still on IR with a groin injury. After picking up the win with the Marlies in Binghamton last night, Kasimir Kaskisuo has been recalled on an emergency basis to back up again tonight.
With his 50 games of AHL experience and .871 save percentage this season, Leafs brass rather not have Kaskisuo in the NHL, whether he’s playing or working the clipboard at the end of the bench. Mike Babcock hinted the other day that acquiring another goaltender is something they’re considering; while Andersen sounds quite close to returning, if Sparks is out long-term and Kaskisuo can’t cut the mustard with the Marlies, the Leafs may still not be done addressing this position. A few balls remain in the air at the goalie position and it remains a wait-and-see situation.
With two games in hand on the Ducks, the Canucks sit one point out of the final wildcard playoff spot 44 games into their season. Anaheim and Colorado are the teams they need to worry about at the moment, as it’s highly unlikely they can catch Calgary, Vegas, or San Jose at the top of the Pacific. With a one-two punch of Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat down the middle and Brock Boeser on the wing, as well as the play of starter Jakob Markstrom (who has now won eight-of-ten), it’s possible that they could remain in the mix down the stretch, but their underlying numbers suggest there may not be enough there at the end of the day — they’re currently 25th or worse in Corsi For percentage, Shots For Percentage, and Scoring Chance percentage (dead last).
The Leafs, meanwhile, are looking to find another level to their own possession game entering the second half of the season as they ramp up for the playoffs. With a win tonight, they would reach the halfway point having not lost more than two in a row this season; the five times they’ve lost two in a row this season, the Leafs have followed it up with a win and nipped a slump in the bud. As far as their ability to “make the ups longer than the downs” — as Mike Babcock likes to say — the Leafs have evolved into a very consistent outfit this season. With a Petersson-less Canucks team coming into town, the expectation is that the Leafs will bounce back after a couple of uneven performances at home against the Islanders and Wild.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Travis Dermott’s development:
Well, I just think his biggest thing is his quick twitch and his ability to execute offensively with the puck. His biggest thing on the other side is just learning the game so you’re not a minus — so you can sort it out defensively, so you know what’s going on, so you don’t get caught on the wrong side, and so you know when to go and when not to go. Ideally, we’re hoping — like what happened to Gardiner and Rielly and those types of guys — his game continues to grow and he can work his way to becoming a top four d-man.
Babcock on Brock Boeser:
In the two games, I thought he’s been real good. Obviously, he’s come back and now he’s really feeling it. When he’s playing with [Pettersson], he’s really special, too, because you’ve got one guy who can really create space and you have more time to get open. He’s shooting the puck every time he gets it. He seems to be open all the time. He does a good job in the offensive zone of owning the lane and getting away from guys. He a smart player.
Babcock on what the team needs to do to be able to beat more teams like the Wild:
It’s just our commitment. We’re skilled, we like to play that game, but the game’s moving ahead. In October, it’s one level, and then in November, and it just keeps going. It’s going to keep going and it’s hard and it’s heavy and it’s competitive. We’ve got to learn to play that [way] every night.
Michael Hutchinson on becoming more familiar with the team’s systems and player tendencies:
It’s really important. The more you play with guys, the more you understand their tendencies and how they’re going to play in certain situations. When you’re thrown into a game like I was the other [day], as a goalie you try and keep it simple and you almost approach it like a preseason game where you don’t really know what’s going to go on in front of you. You’re just trying to focus on your job and stopping the puck.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#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
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#30 Michael Hutchinson
#50 Kasimir Kaskisuo
Injured: Zach Hyman (MCL), Tyler Ennis (broken ankle), Frederik Andersen (groin), Garret Sparks (concussion)
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Justin Holl
Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines
#26 Antoine Roussel – #53 Bo Horvat – #21 Loui Eriksson
#47 Sven Baertschi – #60 Markus Granlund – #18 Jake Virtanen
#77 Nikolay Goldobin – #20 Brandon Sutter – #6 Brock Boeser
#59 Tim Schaller – #83 Jay Beagle – #64 Tyler Motte
#23 Alex Edler – #8 Chris Tanev
#5 Derek Pouliot – #51 Torey Stecher
#27 Ben Hutton – #44 Erik Gudbranson
#25 Jakob Markstrom
#35 Thatcher Demko
Injured: Elias Pettersson, Josh Leivo