Following a no-show performance in a tough matchup against Tampa, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a chance to make up ground in the standings tonight against the bottom team in the Central Division (7 p.m, Sportsnet).
There was some bad news for the Leafs this morning when the team announced that Kasperi Kapanen has suffered a concussion and will be out for at least the short term. It’s not clear if the injury happened during the Edmonton game and, similar to the Kadri concussion, wasn’t easily identifiable at the time.
It should be noted that Kapanen did return to the game after this play, though. Whatever happened, the Leafs will be without a player that was playing with their most talented center and can change a game with his speed. As the year has gone on, he’s also played a significant role on the penalty kill.
With his absence, Kapanen leaves a spot open for William Nylander on Auston Matthews’ wing. To some, Nylander’s elite puck transportation skills and success with Matthews in the past should have put him on that line long before now as the team readies itself for the playoffs. It’s hard to say how long it would have taken for Babcock to pull the trigger if there hadn’t been injuries, but either way, Leafs fans will get a look at Matthews with arguably the two best complementary wingers he’s played with in his career to date. A sidenote:
200th game for Auston Matthews tonight. 193 points including 105 goals, damn decent numbers. #LeafsForever
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) March 13, 2019
Chicago has actually been playing some of their better hockey of the season in recent weeks. It might be counterproductive in the push for high draft picks, but they have some individual performances to be excited about as they move towards next year.
Alex Debrincat, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and breakout defenseman Erik Gustafsson are all over a point per game in their last ten. Gustafsson, a 26-year-old lefty, has played a prominent role in AHL Rockford since 2015 and played 41 games for the Blackhawks in the 15-16 season. He played in the NHL all of last year as an on and off healthy scratch but earned a much bigger role this year on a rebuilding team that has given more and more responsibility to young players. Year over, he has 46 points in 66 games (13 goals), with 1.8 relative shot attempts per hour (6th on the team) and 1.8 relative scoring chances per hour as well (9th).
Dylan Strome is the other big positive for Blackhawks fans to focus on right now. His jump in production since being dealt from Arizona for Nick Schmaltz in November has been a big story — he has 41 points in 45 games for Chicago. Strome naturally fits into the Blackhawks situation better than Schmaltz did — he’s benefitted from a change of scenery, is back on a line with his old running mate from the Erie Otters in Alex Debrincat, and he’s playing bigger minutes; his ice time has increased to 17:17 in 45 games from 13:32 in 20 games with Arizona earlier this year.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Kapanen’s absence:
Kap has got great speed, work ethic, and he’s a real good penalty killer. It affects you, but it’s opportunity as well for someone else. He was playing with Matty, now Willy is playing with Matty. Grab hold of it when you get the opportunity and do something with it. It’s the same for the guys today that are in that wouldn’t be in. When you’ve got Dermott and Gardiner out, there’s opportunity every day and we’re just watching. You decided whether you continue to play or not.
Babcock on the team’s recent performances:
Our team has no energy last game. So I think, if you take out last game, not bad at all. Last game I mean, the whole group right through, we were no good. If you go back to before that, I think it’s fine. Our forwards have got to work, we’ve got to really work. We’ve got to keep the other team off our D — that’s the bottom line.
Babcock on Matthews’ improvement this year:
I really thought the other night in Edmonton, for me, was one of his better games. You know, I think we all talk about when he scored and that, he can do all that. It’s the other stuff — the speed through the middle of the rink that he’s really improved on, he’s physical on offense, his ability to be available on defense, his ability to play against good players. Those things don’t happen overnight. He’s doing a good job of it and embracing doing a good job of it.
Babcock on Calle Rosen’s poorly-timed injury:
We talked lots about that, but that’s life, right? What you get to do is you get to evaluate the depth in your organization. Rosen’s a guy that we would have loved to really give an opportunity [to]. We thought he might be ready this year at training camp. What we decided was, we haven’t hurt any of our players by sending them back. Actually, they’ve gotten better and been better when they arrived. Rosen’s one of these guys that should generate offense, and those guys sometimes take a little more time just because of the defensive side. I’ve checked on him a fair bit here of late, but that doesn’t make you get better any faster.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #29 William Nylander
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #28 Connor Brown
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #63 Tyler Ennis
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Jake Gardiner (back), Travis Dermott (shoulder), Kasperi Kapanen (concussion)
Scratched: Nic Petan, Justin Holl
Chicago Blackhawks Projected Lines
#20 Brandon Saad – #19 Jonathan Toews – #95 Dylan Sikura
#24 Dominik Kahun – #15 Artem Anisimov – #88 Patrick Kane
#12 Alex Debrincat – #17 Dylan Strome – #711 Brendan Perlini
#14 Chris Kunitz – #64 David Kampf – #16 Marcus Kruger
#2 Duncan Keith – #56 Erik Gustafsson
#42 Gustav Forsling – #7 Brent Seabrook
#63 Carl Dahlstrom – #5 Connor Murphy
#50 Corey Crawford
#60 Collin Delia
Injured: Drake Caggiula, Cam Ward