The Maple Leafs will look to sharpen up after a sloppy loss in Detroit as they return home to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on HNIC (7 p.m, CBC).
With a new player in Muzzin arriving and creating two new pairings, the seven-day break, and a long pre-game ceremony that delayed the start of the game, we can (sort of) give the Leafs some slack for last night’s performance, but there’s no denying the effort was ugly. They had a lot of problems getting through the neutral zone clean and gaining the offensive zone successfully, and they didn’t generate much overall offensively, putting just 22 shots on goal over the 60+ minutes.
No morning skate with the back-to-back means we won’t see what changes will be coming to the forward lines tonight until close to puck drop, but Babcock said this morning that they’ll be different from what we saw last night. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Leafs run something along the lines of this setup:
Andreas Johnsson – Auston Matthews – Kasperi Kapanen
Zach Hyman – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau – Nazem Kadri – William Nylander
We’ve seen the Leafs run this lineup not long ago. Hyman-Tavares-Marner has been a go-to for Babcock in the matchup game for much of the year, and he’ll likely remember that they limited Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel to one shot apiece in a 5-0 win the last time the Leafs and Pens met. That said, it’s all guesswork before we see the line rushes in warmups. The absence of Evgeni Malkin certainly lightens the load for the Leafs as far as the matchup burden.
Both teams will be tired, with Pittsburgh coming off of a pretty dominant showing against the lowly Senators last night. They controlled 57% of shot attempts and 59% of scoring chances before closing out the win by a 5-2 scoreline. They had their best period of the night in the third and didn’t succumb to score effects going into the period up 3-1. Sidney Crosby’s line with Guentzel and Dominik Simon had a combined 14 shots at 5-on-5, with Guentzel scoring on two.
The Leafs will face off with the Penguins starter in Matt Murray after he backed up CAsey DeSmith yesterday. Coming off a stretch where he won nine starts in a row through December and January, Murray is 3-2-0 with a save percentage of .878 in his last five games. Garret Sparks goes for Toronto, having not played since January 18th, when he stopped 26-of-28 shots in a 3-1 loss to Florida.
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on where things went wrong last night:
When I went through the game here today — I didn’t think we executed at all in Dzone last night — but as I looked at it, we executed not bad at times in Dzone but never got through the neutral zone to carry that momentum. So even though we did lots of good things in our own zone, it didn’t translate. I actually thought the game was set up pretty good last night. The last shift there we gave up three scoring chances, and in overtime, we gave up four, which obviously isn’t good enough. All in all, we’ve got a game under our belt. I think we should execute better here today. Pittsburgh played [last night], so it’s an even playing field, which is really good. It should be fun.
Babcock on putting Nylander on the first power play unit last night.
We made the adjustment in the game last night and, to be honest with you, it didn’t work. Maybe we should have waited until practice and did it. We have to be more efficient on the power play. We’re jaming it in too much and didn’t make enough plays last night. We might have been on the power play last night as much as we’ve been in five games, for crying out loud, but we didn’t do much with it and we didn’t leave feeling good. Good players want your powerplay to be smooth. That’s where they get their touches, that’s where they get their feel, and it’s where lots of the time you get your energy. It should’ve been a turning point in the game for us, and it wasn’t.
Morgan Rielly on his first night playing with Jake Muzzin:
Yeah, it felt good. He’s a good player. He can play both sides. We talked about that before the game — about not being in a panic to change back and forth if we’re caught on the other side. Just play the game. I think we did a decent job of that. There’s obviously room to get better, but we’ll continue to work it out as a pairing and keep trying to improve.
Rielly on the power play:
Yeah, we have to be better. As a group, I think that’s an area we need to take pride in. There’s nights where that can be very important in the outcome of the game. Obviously, last night, we didn’t do a good enough job of capitalizing on our opportunities. We certainly had plenty of time of the powerplay, but we didn’t really make it count. Moving forward, we have to be better. We talked about it this morning — it’s important we make it count when we get the opportunity.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#28 Connor Brown – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #18 Andreas Johnsson
#8 Jake Muzzin – #44 Morgan Rielly
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #2 Ron Hainsey
#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen
Injured: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov
Pittsburgh Penguins Projected Lines
#59 Jake Guentzel – #87 Sidney Crosby – #12 Dominik Simon
#17 Bryan Rust – #27 Nick Bjugstad – #81 Phil Kessel
#14 Tanner Pearson – #19 Jared McCann – #72 Patric Hornqvist
#10 Garret Wilson – #53 Teddy Blueger – #7 Matt Cullen
#8 Brian Dumoulin – #58 Kris Letang
#3 Olli Maatta – #50 Juuso Riikola
#28 Marcus Pettersson – #73 Jack Johnson
#30 Matt Murray
#1 Casey DeSmith
Injured: Justin Schultz, Evgeni Malkin, Zach Aston-Reese