Following another messy loss against a weak Senators team on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs head into the music city for their lone game in Nashville against one of the league’s deepest teams (8 p.m EST, TSN).

The Predators have been a pretty formidable team for most of the year. They started off the season hot, winning 12 of their first 15 games — although things evened out for them through late November and December, where they dropped a lot of points. Since the new year, they’ve been average by their standards, going 18-12-3 in 2019 (For comparison, Toronto is 17-13-3). It’s worth noting that they’ve been missing stars such as Victor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Kyle Turris, and P.K Subban for significant chunks of time this year.

With such a talented top four on the back end and a deep and versatile forward group, the Preds have produced solid numbers this year. They don’t stand out in one particular area, but they don’t have any glaring weaknesses either. In terms of controlling play, they’ve been a well-rounded team, sitting 7th in both CF/60 and CA/60. They haven’t been as good around the slot area, sitting 14th in HDCF/60 and 15th in HDCA/60.

Their goaltending tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros are having another solid year, posting virtually identical numbers on the year, Rinne getting 48 starts and Saros 25. Together, they’ve helped the Preds to team Sv% of .926 that sits 6th in the league, one spot above the Leafs. They’ve both performed above average compared to the shots they face as well, with Rinne placing 10th among starters with a goals saved above expected of 3.95 and Saros placing 5th among backups at 5.83. Like Toronto, Nashville hasn’t played since Saturday, which means Rinne vs. Andersen is expected to be the goalie matchup.

The injury train continues full steam ahead for the Leafs — the team announced yesterday Frederik Gauthier will not travel with the team for the current trip, meaning he’ll miss at least two games. Petan comes in at center on the bottom line having not shown too much in his three games with the Leafs thus far (one goal, three shots, 50% CF 38% SCF, 7:52 TOI). Playing with Trevor Moore and Connor Brown, he and his line have the personnel to out-skill the bottom lines of the opposition around the league, but they’ll be up against some talented depth lines from Nashville tonight.

The Leafs are on a horrible run of conceding goals for fun and while their goaltending — likely due for some regression based on the first half+ of numbers — has slipped, they badly need to stiffen up defensively with the clock winding down on the regular season. The missing personnel is a definite factor, but how they’re executing the details of the game at the moment with and without the puck in five-man units is cause for alarm. They will not get away with it against a deep Nashville team with a highly mobile, active group of blue liners.

Game Day Quotes

Mike Babcock on the team’s defensive problems as of late:

We’ve given up way too much off the rush and we need a renewed commitment to playing better defensively. When you’ve given up stuff off the rush, it’s usually off turnovers, losing your F3, or a D diving in. We need to clean up those areas for sure in order to feel better about ourselves and play better. The bottom line is you can’t chase the game. The reason you [make those mistakes] is because you’re chasing the game. We feel we can play way harder as a group and we have to play harder as a group.

Babcock on the Preds deadline additions of Wayne Simmonds and others:

They added a lot obviously — Grandlund came here as well, [Boyle] earlier. They’ve had good depth there for a while. They’ve been at this process for a while — no different than Tampa. You’d like to do it overnight, but they’ve been at it a while and they’ve got veteran players. They’re doing a good job. I think their team is getting healthy now and coming alive.

Babcock on if the team is frustrated:

Not really, to be honest with you. It’s just the time we’re in. We won two games ago, we lost the last game. I think the way we’ve lost is what bothers the group and so we’ve got to play better.

Peter Laviolette on the challenge the Leafs present:

You know you have to play a sharp defensive game just based on the depth of skill that they have through their forwards and their defence. We played a pretty good game up in Toronto, but every game is a new game. For me, they just provide challenges based on the amount of skill they have up front.

Matchup Stats

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 – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#42 Trevor Moore – #19 Nic Petan – #28 Connor Brown

#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #3 Justin Holl

#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks

Injured: Jake Gardiner (back), Travis Dermott (shoulder), Frederik Gauthier (foot)
Igor Ozhiganov, Tyler Ennis

Nashville Predators Projected Lines

#9 Filip Forsberg – #92 Ryan Johansen – #33 Viktor Arvidsson
#64 Mikael Granlund – #13 Nick Bonino – #17 Wayne Simmonds
#19 Calle Jarnkrok – #10 Colton Sissons – #15 Craig Smith
#11 Brian Boyle – #8 Kyle Turris – #23 Rocco Grimaldi

#59 Roman Josi – #4 Ryan Ellis
#14 Mattias Ekholm – #76 P.K Subban
#52 Matt Irwin – #7 Yannick Weber

#35 Pekka Rinne
#74 Juuse Saros

Injured: Dan Hamhuis