The Toronto Maple Leafs host the Sabres tonight at the Scotiabank Arena for the first game of a preseason back-to-back against Buffalo this weekend (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet One).
Much of the same lineup from the Leafs‘ 4-3 loss in Ottawa on Wednesday will dress again tonight, including the Auston Matthews line, Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot, the Morgan Rielly – Cody Ceci pairing, as well as Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin on the blue line.
It’s clear the coaching staff is giving Mikheyev every chance to prove himself worthy of the opening-night spot on the left side of Kerfoot while rotating in a cast of bubble players competing for the right-wing spot on that third unit, with Kasperi Kapanen having moved up on to John Tavares’ line to start the year due to Zach Hyman’s injury. Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Kapanen might be the line the coaching staff had jotted down on paper as their potential third line with full health, but for now, there is a cast of players in the mix for the right-wing spot.
Nic Petan got a look there on Wednesday and didn’t make too much of an impact at 5v5. For tonight, it looks like Pontus Aberg, who skated on the left side next to Nick Shore on Wednesday, will shift over next to Kerfoot. Aberg has played quite a bit on his offwing in the league, but he’ll be over on the right as a right-handed shot tonight.
Interestingly, Jason Spezza was skating on Frederik Gauthier’s right wing in the practice lines today, although those two won’t feature until tomorrow’s game. A rough projection up front at this time might go something like this:
Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander
Kapanen – Tavares – Marner
Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Petan/Aberg
Moore – Gauthier/Spezza – Spezza/Gauthier
Lots can change, though, with a whole lot of preseason still left to go.
Game Day Quotes
Babcock on the advantage of Nylander being in camp from the start this Fall:
Just being here and competing puts your miles ahead. It’s hard when you don’t have training camp. These guys are getting better every day so you have to be here with them. That’s going to be the biggest change. You’ve got a summer to regroup, you get your confidence back, and you get going.
Babcock on Jason Spezza lining up on the right wing next to Frederik Gauthier in practice:
We’re trying to figure all this out, right? I just said to them, “I don’t know who is playing center. I’ll change it every day on the sheet. If it’s a right-hand faceoff, Spez has got it. Left-hand faceoff, Goat has got it. Goat, if you’re down first, play down low. Spez, if you’re down first, play down low.” Let’s see if we can get something going here that can really help our team.
Babcock on Rasmus Sandin and whether he’s taken another step beyond where he was at last year’s camp:
For sure. But all you’ve got to do is watch him. He is smart. He knows how to play. He’s got a feel. He’s one of these guys who it doesn’t seem to matter how old he is because his hockey sense is so good. He sees it. He is a little guy who seems to know how to defend. He seems to know how to leverage his body. He just seems to be a good player. The other thing about it is, when you talk to him, he doesn’t get all uptight. He’s just, “Oh okay, yeah.” He knows what you are going to say before you say it most of the time.
Babcock on Michal Neuvirth getting an opportunity in net tomorrow:
Number one, he had to get himself healthy and feeling good. You’ve got to get feeling good as a goalie. The second thing is you’ve got to get some game action. We’re going to watch.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Johnsson (18) – Matthews (34) – Nylander (88)
Mikheyev (65) – Kerfoot (15) – Aberg (46)
Agostino (20) – Gaudet (32) – Timashov (41)
Clune (39)/Conrad (72) – Shore (26) – Read (12)
Rielly (44) – Ceci (83)
Sandin (38) – Marincin (52)
Rubins (56) – Liljegren (37)
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
Elie – Sobotka – Thompson
Ruotsalainen – Cozens – Sheary
Smith – Mittelstadt – Okposo
Lazar – Porter – Dea
McCabe – Jokiharju
Gilmour – Borgen
Bryson – Redmond