While both teams are missing important players to injury, the Maple Leafs and Bruins will renew their rivalry for the 2019-20 season tonight in Toronto (7 p.m ET, CBC).
After he was caught in some friendly fire from Morgan Rielly on Wednesday night, the Leafs will be without John Tavares due to a broken finger, marking Tavares’ first absence since he signed in Toronto. With the captain out for at least two weeks, the middle six will have a new look, with only the Matthews and Gauthier lines staying intact from the game vs. Washington.
While it won’t take much for the coaching staff to shift things around, for now, they appear to have taken one of the team’s most consistent center-winger duos of late to skate with Mitch Marner while his usual center is sidelined — Alex Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev will join Marner, who will be under a little more scrutiny with his star centerman out of the lineup. Making essentially the same money as Tavares out of entry-level, the expectation is he’ll drive the line in his absence.
Meanwhile, Jason Spezza will get an opportunity after losing an early battle for bottom-line ice time as he slots in between Trevor Moore and Kasperi Kapanen. This is a big opportunity for a player that may not get too many of them when there is a full complement available up front as Babcock doesn’t appear to view the 36-year-old as an ideal fit for the fourth-line center/wing assignment that involves a lot of defensive zone starts (as well as penalty-killing contributions).
The Bruins find themselves in a similar position with David Krejci out. Krejci’s line with Jake DeBrusk has been a steady combination for Boston going back to the beginning of last season; with him out, the combos have essentially been put in a blender outside of the top line. Charlie Coyle has taken Krejci’s usual spot next to DeBrusk and sophomore Karson Khulman. Former Leaf Par Lindholm has gotten a bump in ice time as well with Krejci out, currently skating with Danton Heinen as well as newcomer Brett Ritchie.
Matchups will be a feeling-out process for two teams that looked much different at forward the last time they played each other in Game 7 of the playoffs. With so many bodies being shifted around especially, there won’t be as much hard matching as there will be an emphasis on getting the respective top lines out for advantageous situations in the offensive zone. Both the Leafs with Timashov-Gauthier-Shore and the Bruins with Wagner-Kuraly-Backes are trusting their fourth lines for defensive-zone draw responsibilities, freeing up the top lines for more o-zone starts. We should see our fair share of head-to-head time between the Matthews/Nylander and Bergeron/Marchand lines, though.
While Frederik Andersen is back in net for Toronto, Boston will start Jaroslav Halak tonight. The Bruins have a significantly less black and white situation in goal than Toronto does thanks to Halak’s stellar play. In 40 games played last year, Halak had his best statistical season since his days with St. Louis, finishing seventh in the NHL last season in GSAx, saving more than ten more goals above expected with a .922 save percentage.
Stats from evolving-hockey
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the psychological battle of playing the Bruins:
During the regular season, it’s a regular season game. Not all games are, as an individual, perceived equal. Some games you’re more excited for than others. Obviously, when you’ve played them two years in a row in the playoffs, you know a lot about them and they know a lot about you. You want to see where you’re at. They want the same. We play them twice here in three days, or four days, or whatever it is. It’s a good opportunity for us.
Babcock on Rielly and Ceci’s play as of late:
You have to remember a lot of our things are new, especially on the back-end. As they get up to speed, I thought it’s gotten better and better. I thought [Ceci] was really good these last couple of games here — really good. We spent a lot of time on nuances yesterday at practice. He’s still getting dialed in with that. It’s no different than [Muzzin and Barrie] — they just haven’t been around. In previous years when guys have been here two, three, four years, it’s just easier. That’s just the reality of having lots of turnover.
Babcock on the matchup against the Bergeron line with Tavares out:
Yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time on that the last couple of days. If you go through it in detail, what you find out is that Bergeron’s line starts on offensive zone faceoffs all the time so that would mean I’m always starting my guys in Dzone, so that doesn’t do me any good. In other situations, I’d like it a lot. In that situation, I don’t. They do the same thing with [Kuraly’s line] — they start his line, that takes some of the workload off [Bergeron]. Now that doesn’t mean [Bergeron] can’t go out there and take Dzone faceoffs, but what they’re trying to do is create an advantage for those guys — we’re going to do the same for [Matthews’ line].
Babcock on how the Gauthier line might handle tough matchups in the Dzone:
If you go through everything that’s been going on in our program, the fourth line’s bee steady on the rudder every night. They just seem to do their job. I spend less time worrying about them than everybody else.
Bruce Cassidy on the Leafs:
They look like they still score. They look like they’re still good on the power play. Defensively, we’re always looking at where we can expose teams, no matter who we play. It’s probably too early to tell that. When you’ve got new D-partners like that — I think that’s one area where chemistry’s really important, more than up front — so let’s judge them a little bit more down the road.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #16 Mitch Marner
#42 Trevor Moore – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#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, Nic Petan
Injured: Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott, John Tavares
Marner – Nylander – Matthews
Kerfoot – Moore – Spezza
Boston Bruins Projected Lines
#31 Brad Marchand – #34 Patrice Bergeron – #88 David Pastrnak
#74 Jake DeBrusk – #13 Charlie Coyle – #83 Karson Khulman
#43 Danton Heinen – #26 Par Lindholm – #18 Brett Ritchie
#14 Chris Wagner – #52 Sean Kuraly – #42 David Backes
#33 Zdeno Chara – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#47 Torey Krug – #25 Brandon Carlo
#48 Matt Grzelcyk – #75 Connor Clifton
#41 Jaroslav Halak (starter)
#40 Tuukka Rask
Injured: David Krejci, John Moore, Kevan Miller, Joakim Nordstrom