The Toronto Maple Leafs are in Vegas tonight looking to go 3-for-4 on their road trip against the Golden Knights, who are hungry for a win after a lackluster effort on Tuesday and four straight losses at home (10 p.m EST, SN Ontario).
Vegas head coach Gerrard Gallant apparently stuck around the locker room longer than usual after the Knights loss to Arizona, giving it to his team after what he thought was a lazy effort:
It was a 2-2 game, then and all of a sudden we try to get cute again and making drop passes and passes through the slot [causing turnovers], and then they go the other way on odd-man rushes. We got forty-something shots, but I didn’t like the way we played. I thought we played about ten minutes of real good hockey. There was no passion in our game, no aggressive forecheck. We played a soft game and — in my opinion — gave them three goals off our mistakes, not from what they deserved.
For a team that’s arguably deeper than it was when they made the Cup Finals last year, there’s rightfully more to be expected at this time of the year. The Knights are in an odd spot in the standings because, while the state of the Pacific Division means they’re highly unlikely to fall below third place, they’re eight points behind the second-place Flames — who have two games in hand — so it’s also unlikely they’ll be able to climb into second and earn home-ice advantage in the first round, either.
Vegas has been propelled this season mainly by the same names who got them to the final round last year — Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, and Colin Miller. Newcomers Paul Stasny and Max Pacioretty are big boosts, but the biggest story has been 2014 1st-rounder Alex Tuch. After playing a secondary role last year, his ice time has jumped a full two minutes this season and he leads the Knights with 40 points 50 games.
On the Leafs end, the power play has been a big topic of late. They went 3-for-6 against Colorado after making some small but impactful adjustments and it won them the game. They’ve started to allow John Tavares more freedom in his net side role on the first unit, and its led to more passing and less predictability between the three ‘down low’ players in Tavares, Marner, and Kadri. Particularly on the Kadri goal, they were able to catch Colorado off guard and get their penalty killers were more pulled apart more than usual. It’s no doubt that teams were starting to find it quite easy to defend a powerplay that didn’t have much variety. Continuing this trend will be crucial if the powerplay is to continue its recent hot streak tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the Kadri-Nylander combination:
Well, I just think they’re getting real good matchups and taking advantage of it. Both guys are feeling it. It doesn’t matter who you are, when you scored like Naz did last game, you’re feeling it. Willy’s been skating way better, transporting the puck way more. That’s what he does — he plays from below the goal line in the offensive zone and it seems to really help things out.
Babcock on managing the puck against Vegas’ formidable forecheck:
Well, we need numbers. We’ve got to have five available that want the puck. What I mean by that is, if you’re available, don’t be quiet. Talk and want the puck. It’s going to take more than one pass. When teams are playing really well and playing together, it’s hard to break out. If you spend time in the offensive zone, and you come back and they’ve only got one forechecker because they’re line changing, then it’s easy to break out. Part of it is playing well in the offensive zone and spending some time there.
Babcock on his new D-pairings:
You guys are spending a lot of time on these pairings. That’s good, though. It gives you something to do on the off day. I don’t know if that’s something that’s going on for long. We’re going to find the six guys and what works best for us. We’re going to use [them] based on matchups. We’re pretty comfortable that Ron Hainsey can play with anybody, and we’re the same with Muzz that way and we’re the same with Gards that way. I think we’re set up pretty good. We’ve only got the [one] right hand shot there in [Zaitsev] — it doesn’t matter to him, he can play with either one, too. We’ll figure it out over time.
Gerrard Gallant on matching up vs. Toronto:
Well, I don’t change my lines because of the other team, that’s for sure. We don’t do a whole lot different. We just know you’ve got to pay attention to them. They’re a skilled and talented hockey team and they can score a lot of goals on you if you don’t play the right way. There’s not a lot you can do. Like I said, they’re a high-flying team and you’ve got to be aware and manage the puck real well, keep away their speed in the neutral zone. You’ve got to play your game and do it well.
Q: Does it put a stress on you as you’re trying to match up [against them]?
Nope. Not at all. They’re trying to match up against us.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #28 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #23 Travis Dermott
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Scratched: Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov, Tyler Ennis
Vegas Golden Knights Projected Lines
#81 Jonathan Marchessault – #71 William Karlsson – #19 Reilly Smith
#67 Max Pacioretty – #26 Paul Stastny – #89 Alex Tuch
#73 Brandon Pirri – #21 Cody Eakin – #7 Valentin Zykov
#28 Will Carrier – #41 Pierre Edward-Bellmare – #75 Ryan Reaves
#Brayden McNabb – #88 Nate Schmidt
#5 Deryk Engelland – #27 Shea Theodore
#15 John Merrill – #6 Colin Miller
#29 Marc-Andre Fleury
#33 Maxime Legacy
Scratched: Erik Haula, Malcolm Subban, Ryan Carpenter