After snapping a 0-2-1 skid against Detroit, the Toronto Maple Leafs will now look to jump-start a winning streak against a 1-4-0 Minnesota team at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. ET, TSN4).
While they picked up their first win of the season yesterday in an afternoon 2-0 win against the Senators, Minnesota’s results and underlying numbers have been all over the place to start the year. Offensively, they’ve struggled to finish again this season. Though their shot generation hasn’t been awful thus far — they’re 11th in CF/60 and 13th in xGF/60 — they’ve only scored 12 goals in five games while giving up 21. That’s despite only one power-play goal against and limiting the opposition to just 1.7 xGA/60 at 5-on-5 — good for third-best league-wide.
Goaltending has been the biggest contributing factor to the gap between the Wild’s goals against and chances against. Devan Dubnyk is off to a rough start to the season with a .862 Sv% and a GSAx of -8, second-worst in the NHL through five games. While Alex Stalock started in the shutout win yesterday, Dubnyk will be in net tonight looking for his first win of the season.
On the Leafs‘ side of things, most of what needs to improve falls on their best players. It’s great when depth scoring taking over on occasion, like on Saturday night in Detroit, but the team needs more from their big guns — the Tavares line, in particular, has been lacking offensively at 5v5, with just one goal together at evens and seven against. The line has controlled play well enough with 56% of shot attempts at 5-on-5, but they have only managed an xGF% of 45%.
On the back end, the Rielly-Ceci pair have looked weak in the areas you might have expected them to struggle in before the season. Both players haven’t sported the best numbers over their careers when it comes to breaking up zone entries and defending the rush effectively, something that’s been evident over the last few games. The pair will take a difficult matchup against almost any team, so it’s an area they’ll need to greatly improve on as a unit so long as they’re together.
Of course, some of those defensive issues fall on the forwards as well. The Leafs are a team that takes tons of chances up ice — especially with two rush-happy defensemen in their top four in Rielly and Barrie — so they’ll naturally give up more rush chances against than the average team, but it’s going to be vital for the Leafs to improve defensively as a five-man unit, both off the rush and in the d-zone.
For the unlikely trio of Dmytro Timashov, Frederik Gauthier, and Nick Shore, it’s a good opportunity tonight. It looked like it would take some spirited performances to get the coaching staff to break up their rotation on the fourth line, and that’s exactly what this line has forced them to do. The trio was forechecking better than anyone on the team on Saturday in Detroit and finished with a 70% share of expected goals. They’ll be looking to continue their momentum tonight against a Wild team that hasn’t gotten a whole lot out of its bottom six so far this season.
Game Day Quotes
Bruce Boudreau on the decision to scratch Kevin Fiala:
I just think we can get more out of him. He’s a really skilled player. For our team, we need more from our skilled players. It’s as simple as that. We sat Ryan Donato the other day, and he came back and I thought performed really well. We’re hoping for the same effect on Kevin.
Boudreau on the team’s shutout win over Ottawa:
I don’t want to put anyone down or anything, but we are not going to score five goals every night. We’ve got to hold teams to one or two. If you do that, you usually have success.
Those are the kinds of games we are going to have to win. 6-5 is probably not in our repertoire. 2-1, 3-1… If we can do that lot, we’ll be a successful team.
Mike Babcock on the challenge presented by the Wild:
They’re going to give you nothing through the neutral zone and nothing in front of their net. If you play slow, they are going to frustrate you. They are going to play a good, hard, heavy game, and they’re going to be hard on our D and hard on our goalie. When you look at that, there are a lot of things we need to be focused on to make sure we are dialed in and ready to go.
Babcock on the team’s 1-2-1 home record:
We haven’t looked after home ice like you’d like to. You want it to be automatic. You want the other team to know it’s impossible to win in your building. That hasn’t been the case.
Babcock on the Tavares line’s struggles:
It’s early in the year. Sometimes you get off to a real hot start and you fade a little bit. Sometimes you don’t get started the way you want numbers-wise and it’s still going your way. The biggest thing is you just be patient and you work. As a good pro, you come in and you do your work each and every day. It’s great when everything goes good and you don’t think about anything. Sometimes, when it doesn’t go as good, you’ve got to dig in a little bit more. But steady on the rudder. Just keep going and you’ll find your way.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#24 Kasperi Kapanen – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #42 Trevor Moore
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore
#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#52 Martin Marincin – #3 Justin Holl
#31 Frederik Andersen
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Kevin Gravel, Jason Spezza, Nic Petan
Injured: Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Nylander – Moore – Kerfoot
Minnesota Wild Projected Lines
#11 Zach Parise – #9 Mikko Koivu – #16 Jason Zucker
#20 Gerald Mayhew – #12 Eric Staal – #38 Ryan Hartman
#17 Marcus Foligno – #14 Joel Eriksson-Ek – #19 Luke Kunin
#6 Ryan Donato – #49 Victor Rask – #18 Jordan Greenway
#20 Ryan Suter – #13 Matt Dumba
#25 Jonas Brodin – #46 Jared Spurgeon
#60 Carson Soucy – #77 Brad Hunt
#40 Devan Dubnyk
#32 Alex Stalock
Scratched: Kevin Fiala
Injured: Greg Pateryn, Mats Zuccarello