After two days of contract-related drama in Leafs Nation, the focus (temporarily) shifts to game two of the Battle of Ontario season series tonight as the Toronto Maple Leafs aim for three wins in a row against a last-placed Ottawa Senators team that has lost four straight (7:30 p.m, SN Ontario).
We talked about Anaheim’s struggles with conceding asinine quantities of shots against prior to last game, and the Sens are in the same boat. While they don’t give quite as much in the slot on average as the Ducks, they’re last in the league in shots against (over 36 per game), shot attempts against, and total shot attempt share. At the moment, Mark Stone and Brady Tkachuk are the only regular Senators players above a 50% Corsi For.
Of their last four losses, three were against teams well out of the playoff race in St.Louis, Arizona, and Detroit. On Saturday against Detroit, however, with both teams in a back-to-back situation, the Senators were able to reverse their statistical tendencies as they dominated shots and chances right out of the gate. Even before the Red Wings scored two goals at five on five in the first period, the Sens were out-chancing them heavily.
A fact of life in the NHL is that while Ottawa sorely lacks quality depth — particularly on the blue line but up front as well — every team in the league has players that can hurt you if you’re overlooking the opponent and not prepared to compete on a given night. The Senators’ current top line of Dzingel-Duchene-Ryan has scored nine goals as a line in their last ten games. 22-year-old rookie Colin White is centering two quality wingers in Brady Tkachuk and Mark Stone on what has been a pretty effective line when healthy (White was injured on January 10th against L.A, however, and is just getting back first two games back. Before the injury though, he was top three on the team in shot attempts and high danger chances while largely playing with those two wingers).
The Leafs deserved praise for their effort in taking care of business efficiently against Anaheim, but ultimately, they’re a team that’s played below their potential in the calendar year 2019. Ottawa, despite their place in the standings, has been competitive most nights in the past month despite ending up on the wrong end of most of the scorelines. The Leafs need to take the challenge seriously and take care of business again tonight; this is a Senators team that caught them off guard in early October in a 5-3 loss in Toronto and also split the season series with them in 2017-18 despite their struggles last year. For a team in the Senators’ position, a rivalry game like this is the closest thing they’ll see to the playoffs as far as a game to get up for.
In goal, it’ll be Andersen vs. Anderson tonight. The latter is 1-4-0 in his last five with a .889 save percentage, while the Leafs starter is 3-1-1 with .929 save percentage.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Auston Matthews’ 5-year contract extension:
Well, I really try in these situations to know as little as I can. I try to just deal with the player as a player. You don’t want to get caught up in that stuff. I think Dubie and his group and Matty and his group [did] an unbelievable job to get a deal done. It’s great for our franchise to understand where we’re at, so you know what you can do.
Babcock on Andreas Johnsson’s diminished role since returning from injury:
Well, I thought he played really well the other night. He got out, he came back, other guys were playing really good, and those guys are still playing really good. He’s making a case, though. The great thing about him is he hasn’t sat there and said, ‘I’m not getting any minutes.’ He just decided he’ll produce and see if the coach is smart enough to get it figured out.
Babcock on if he’s considered who will come out once Tyler Ennis returns:
I’ve thought about it, yeah. I thought [Gauthier]’s been good, I thought [Lindholm]’s been good. Our fourth line, even when Moore was there, has been good. That’s been no issue whatsoever.
Guy Boucher on the Leafs:
I don’t think there’s any flaws anywhere in their lineup, to be honest with you. I think what they’ve done lately to go out and get Muzzin is huge for them. That’s where people were talking about some weaknesses maybe back there. I don’t think anybody’s talking about that right now. You kind of have to play a perfect game to beat them. They’re hard-working. They’re a team that drives the net. Their top players go to the net and pay the price there. They’ve improved defensively, so I mean, it’s as hard as it gets. For us, we know for the last month and a half we’ve been able to play every game as a tight game against anybody. We’re looking to do that again tonight.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#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
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
IR: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#18 Ryan Dzingel – #95 Matt Duchene – #9 Bobby Ryan
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #36 Colin White – #61 Mark Stone
#15 Zach Smith – #44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau – #56 Magnus Paajarvi
#86 Christian Wolanin – #71 Chris Tierney – #38 Rudolfs Balcers
#72 Thomas Chabot – #2 Dylan Demelo
#58 Maxime Lajoie – #5 Cody Ceci
#74 Mark Borowiecki – #67 Ben Harpur
#41 Craig Anderson
#31 Anders Nilsson
Injured: Mikkel Boedker, Christian Jaros