The Toronto Maple Leafs will look to bounce back from a frustrating loss against the Boston Bruins as they welcome back Frederik Andersen between the pipes against the slumping Colorado Avalanche (20-17-8), who are desperate for points in a tightly-contested Central Division (7 p.m, TSN4).
Naturally, in any matchup against the Avalanche, the focus revolves around their all-world top line. Running through some of their numbers, their results this season are again staggering. Their CF%rel (relative to team) sits at 5.8 and their ScoringChances%rel is 5.2. This season, Landeskog-Mackinnon-Rantanen generate 4.5 more scoring chances per 60 minutes than the rest of the team while on the ice together. Those types of numbers have, once again, led to some elite scoring outputs. Rantanen is third in the league with 68 points (20g, 48a) while Mackinnon is fifth with 66 points (26g, 40a), and captain Landeskog is 19th with 51 points (27g, 24a).
As a whole, however, things have been bleak for Colorado lately. They have one win in their last 10 games and have had to rely on their big trio even more than usual, with their depth lines up front often overmatched on a night-to-night basis, in addition to some defensive and goaltending issues. The Avalanche are bottom 10 in goals for and bottom six in goals against since December 1st; Philipp Grubauer is 3-4-1 with a .884 save percentage since that time, while Semyon Varlamov (tonight’s expected starter) is 2-5-2 with a .873 SV%.
Going from matching up against arguably the best line in the league on Saturday to perhaps its second best tonight, Tavares, Hyman, and Marner is arguably a top-five line in their own right and lead the team in quality of competition this season. While they weren’t badly overmatched, they were out-possessed 60/40 against the Bergeron line and couldn’t break through offensively on Saturday, so they will be looking to respond in another marquee matchup situation tonight.
The issues for Toronto lately, though, are further down the lineup. Nazem Kadri and William Nylander are the team’s top two forwards in terms of CF%rel in their last 10 games, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at their scoring logs. It’s hard to say how long Nylander will stay next to Kadri, but knowing their history of dominance together at 5v5 and their respective dry spells offensively at the moment, it’s hard to argue that Nylander isn’t the best option to tag along with Matthews again some point soon. Ultimately, though, this is a team that has more than enough weapons to be able to run out three high-end scoring lines regardless of the combinations, and it needs to get back to showing that on the score sheet.
The Leafs have lost four of their last six and have scored just 14 goals over that span, with Tavares and Marner responsible for seven of them. Trevor Moore (now back with the Marlies) scored one of those 14 and Andreas Johnsson has two of the others. Auston Matthews and William Nylander have just one goal in their last six games; Kadri has gone nine games without a goal, Patrick Marleau has gone eight without a point, and Morgan Rielly has cooled off a little with two points in his last six. There is no shortage of breakout candidates on that list for a Leafs team that is punching below its weight offensively early in the New Year.
In net, after a solid stretch of five games as the emergency starter, Michael Hutchinson has been loaned to the Marlies, with Frederik Andersen making his return tonight. Presumably, this means Garret Sparks is ready as well and will back up tonight. In his 30 games this year, Andersen is 20-9-1 with a .923 save percentage and a career-high and league-high 14.5 Goals Saved Above Average — his return is a huge boost, but we’ll see if there are any signs of rust for a goaltender who hasn’t started since prior to the Christmas break.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the Avalanche’s top line and how he wants to run the matchups:
Well, they’re a good line. Obviously, last game we played against a similar line, and I thought the Tavares line did a real nice job in that area. It’s going to be the same handful here today. Their power play is real good, too, so we’ve got to have good discipline. I thought we did a good job on the penalty kill against the Bruins as well, and so we need to carry that into today.
What I’d like to do is I’d like to give all three of those groups matchups as time goes on. We’ve got to be playing good enough. But [Tavares’ line] is getting the call tonight.
Babcock on Frederik Andersen’s return:
I thought Hutch did a real nice job. Obviously, he came in and did everything he could for us and gave us an opportunity. Obviously, Freddy is our guy and hasn’t played for a long time. The doctors and the trainers were real careful. He’s a big part of the team, and so he’s had a good rest and good time off. Between the goalie coach and him, they say he’s up and running and ready to go, and so he gets his opportunity here tonight.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar on his team’s focus at the moment:
Our focus is on ourselves and our game that we have to play to be successful. We haven’t had a bunch of success lately, so coming into a building like this against a team like this, you know you have to bring your best if you’re going to win — it’s that simple. Hopefully our guys are up for the challenge. I think it’s an exciting game for us because it’s an easy game to get up for. We’re going to need everyone and use the depth that we have. Everyone is going to have to give that little bit extra in order to win. The Toronto Maple Leafs tend to drag that out in your guys.
Bednar on keeping his top line together:
They like playing together. They’re excited about playing together every night. They put a lot of responsibility on themselves. You know, it’s been working for us at times — we’ve broke them up and used them with other line mates during games — but we keep going back to those guys as a group and trying to double up those guys in different scenarios. They’ve played more shifts away from each other here recently, but I still like them playing together. I think they’re one of the best lines in the league, if not the best line in the league on most nights. If we’re going to get out of this thing, we need to lean on those guys heavily.
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
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Justin Holl
Colorado Avalanche Projected Lines
#92 Gabriel Landeskog – #29 Nathan MacKinnon – #96 Mikko Rantanen
#37 J.T Compher – #13 Alexander Kerfoot – #22 Colin Wilson
#83 Matthews Nieto – #34 Carl Soderberg – #11 Matt Calvert
#17 Tyson Jost – #15 Sheldon Dries – #10 Sven Andrighetto
#49 Sam Girard – #6 Erik Johnson
#28 Ian Cole – #4 Tyson Barrie
#16 Nikita Zadorov – #44 Mark Barberio
#1 Semyon Varlamov
#31 Philipp Grubauer
Injured: Vladislav Kamenev