At the end of their longest road trip of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are up against a St. Louis team that has won 10 games in a row, including three straight shutout victories (8 p.m EST, SN Ontario).
The Blues are undoubtedly the league’s most dominant team since the New Year. Since around the middle of December, they haven’t dipped below 50% in virtually any metric. Their year-long expected goals trend (five-game rolling average) displays their impressive turnaround after a bleak start to the year:
While things have taken a dip in the last couple of weeks in terms of shot and chance share, the Blues are still outscoring the opposition like crazy. During their current eight-game streak they’ve outscored opponents 40-14, only giving more than two goals in a game twice.
Going by playoff odds, they were at a less than ten percent chance of a postseason appearance at the New Year, but have put themselves at a 96.8% chance less than two months later, per MoneyPuck.com.
As is always the case for teams riding winning streaks of this magnitude, there’s a red-hot netminder backstopping it all. Jordan Binnington’s stock had been dropping over the last few seasons; the Blues have a plethora of goalie prospects, so Binnington was moved to the Providence Bruins on loan in 2017-18. Fast forward through parts of two seasons at .925 or better in the AHL, Binnington was called up to the NHL in mid-December and has gone 12-1-0 with a .927 save percentage and a goals saved above average of 10.9.
This is going to be a great test for a Leafs team that’s played some really good hockey on this taxing road trip, Saturday’s game vs. Arizona aside.
In terms of lineup news, Andreas Johnsson surprised us all by looking no worse for wear yesterday at practice and clearing himself as ready to play. He practiced back on the left side of Kadri and Nylander, where he was skating before the McNabb hit. Babcock wouldn’t confirm that he’ll be playing tonight, but all signs point to a return. One of their more consistent and hot-handed players lately who was thriving alongside Kadri, Johnsson would be a nice boost for the final and most challenging leg of the road trip.
Matchup Stats – Last Ten Games
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on the St. Louis defense core:
Well, I mean, they’re long. What people don’t understand is, it’s great to be mobile, it’s great to be skilled and all that, but long takes up room and they’ve got a number of them. [Doug Armstrong] has done a great job to make a real [good] Dcore. If you remember the first game we played them, they hadn’t played well and they played really well against us that night. We expect a real good game.
Babcock on the importance of feeling confident as a team:
Swagger is the word for me. You earn the right to feel good about yourself, so no one can give it to you. You have to earn it. You earn it by doing good things; work ethic, commitment, detail, all those things. It makes you feel good.
I just think you go through lots of spans during the year where you had some good spells, and then you come off it a little bit. We talked about this yesterday — coming off for a short period of time is the key. You’ve got to get right back on it today. They’re 15-4-1. They’re the best team in the NHL since January 3rd. It’s well documented. You know you’re coming into a game with a good opportunity to play a good team. We’re excited to be doing that.
Blues head coach Craig Berube on the Leafs:
They’re the highest scoring team in the league, or right up there. We know we have to do to a good job shutting them down and playing them tight tonight and taking away their speed. They’ve got a lot of speed out there.
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
St.Louis Blues Projected Lines
#10 Brayden Schenn – #90 Ryan O’Reilly – #91 Vladimir Tarasenko
#17 Jayden Swartz – #21 Tyler Bozak – #15 Robby Fabbri
#12 Zach Sanford – #70 Oskar Sundqvist – #7 Patrick Maroon
#62 Mackenzie Maceachern – #49 Ivan Barbashev – #18 Robert Thomas
#6 Joel Edmundson – #27 Alex Pietrangelo
#19 Jay Bouwmeester– #55 Colton Parayko
#29 Vince Dunn – #41 Robert Bortuzzo
#30 Jordan Binnington
#34 Jake Allen
Injured: David Perron, Alex Steen, Carl Gunnarsson