The Toronto Maple Leafs will get Zach Hyman back in the lineup tonight as they head into New Jersey to take on a Devils team that is 12 points out of a playoff spot at the halfway point but has been a tough out on home ice this season (11-4-4).
Before the last meeting between the two teams — a 7-2 drubbing by the Leafs on December 17th — we talked about netminder Keith Kinkaid the solid season he was having in New Jersey. His numbers have really dipped since then in line with the Devils’ overall results. After three straight wins over Boston, Carolina and Vancouver, New Jersey has struggled to start 2019 and their goaltending hasn’t been able to bail them out (Kinkaid has a .853 save percentage in his last six starts). Here is the 10-game Corsi trend for both teams:
It certainly hasn’t helped that the Devils are missing Taylor Hall once again after he was placed on IR with a lower-body injury on December 27, while Marcus Johansson has been out since December 20. In their last ten games, the Devils’ top three forwards in Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmeri — who spend most of their time together when healthy — have been head and shoulders above the rest of the team as far as driving results; all three have over a 60% share of on-ice scoring chances in the ten games shown on the chart above. The quality of depth has been severely lacking beyond the top line, which is currently missing its top star.
On the Leafs side of things, while they’ve lost three of four, you could argue that the first 40 minutes were more unlucky than disappointing against the Predators on Monday. The team is surely poised for some big offensive breakthroughs in the coming games. Tavares and Marner have been lighting it up lately (each with five goals in their last ten games), but others are knocking on the door waiting to get their due rewards.
Nylander is the most obvious example, with a team-leading 55% share of on-ice scoring chances and a shooting percentage of just 6.3% in his last ten. Kasperi Kapanen has been over 50% share in shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals, and is sitting top five on the team in individual shots and chances, but he’s pointless in his last five and has three points in his last ten games. Nazem Kadri has one goal on his last 36 shots (2.8%). Auston Matthews could’ve scored two or three against Nashville — including having a goal called back due to a marginal Nylander offside 30 seconds prior — and has just one goal on his last 21 shots (4.8%). Such is the ebb and flow of an 82-game season.
The Leafs have pegged this Saturday’s matchup against Boston as Frederik Andersen’s return game. For now, though, it’s still Michael Hutchinson in net — 1-2-0 in three starts with a .915 save percentage, has given the Leafs a chance in every game so far — with Kasimir Kaskisuo called up once against as the emergency backup.
Zach Hyman will play his first game back after missing eight games with an injury, and he’ll be right back on his usual left side next to Tavares and Marner — a line that has played over 375 minutes together this year, first on the team. His proficiency on the forecheck as well in his own zone and his tenacity driving the net will certainly be a welcomed addition, in addition to the return of one of the team’s top penalty killers.
Game Day Quotes
Nazem Kadri on the new power play units:
It doesn’t change much, I don’t think. We’re just trying to spread it out a little bit and have both units able to strike at any point. I think we’re just going to go out there and try to simplify. We’ve got too much skill to not score. We’re hoping for some breakout games.
Mike Babcock on getting the full complement of forwards back:
This is just about the first time, with the exception of Freddy, that we’re going to have everyone on deck. It’s going to take guys a bit to get going. Hyms has been out for a while, but he can be a factor for us. We’ve got good depth up front. We need to use it.
Babcock on Hyman’s impact on the lineup:
He leads to o-zone play. He just flat out does. He gets the puck back and you spend time in the zone. He is a heavy body who plays the game heavy. He is relentless. The guys who play with him end up spending a lot of time in the offensive zone and we want to spend more time there.
Kadri on his line with William Nylander and Patrick Marleau:
Willy is a strong skater. He’s got great edges. He likes to possess the puck down low. That’s what I try to encourage him to do — hang onto it and try to make those skilled plays he’s able to make. Trying to get him to shoot the puck a little more, but I think with him and Patty [Marleau], we complement each other pretty well.
Marleau on Nylander finding his form again:
You can see the last few games where he’s taken over shifts and handled the puck really well and made some plays. He’s just going to get better and better the more comfortable he gets out there again.
Marleau on the return of Zach Hyman to the lineup:
How strong he is on the forecheck… Well, both ends of the ice, but getting in and causing turnovers and being that big body in front, it’s huge.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#12 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #28 Connor Brown
#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: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle), Frederik Andersen (groin), Garret Sparks (concussion)
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Justin Holl
New Jersey Devils Projected Lines
#63 Jesper Bratt – #13 Nico Hischier – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#44 Miles Wood – #19 Travis Zajac – #20 Blake Coleman
#56 Blake Pietila – #37 Pavel Zacha – #23 Stefan Noesen
#11 Brian Boyle – #43 Brett Seney – #18 Drew Stafford
#36 Andy Greene – #28 Damon Severson
#45 Sami Vatanen – #16 Steven Santini
#8 Will Butcher – #12 Ben Lovejoy
#1 Keith Kinkaid
Injured: Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, Cory Schneider, Mackenzie Blackwood