After their first big win over a good team this season on Saturday, the Toronto Maple Leafs kick off another tough back-to-back tonight against the 3-3-2 Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m EST, SNO).
It looks like good news for the Maple Leafs on the Andreas Johnsson injury after he blocked a shot off the back of his knee on Saturday and left the game. According to Johnsson, the injury is “one of the smallest you can have”, so he looks like a confirmed “in” for tonight’s game.
With John Tavares out injured and Johnsson leaving the game, the line blender was in full force against the Bruins. Encouragingly, secondary-cast members like Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev, Trevor Moore, and Dmytro Timashov were once again drivers for the Leafs. Kerfoot and Mikheyev, in particular, have provided a lot of consistency as a duo all season — in 86 minutes together at 5-on-5 this season, they’ve controlled 57.7% of the scoring chances. They’ll continue to play a key role with Mitch Marner on their right side tonight.
That appears to be the way Mike Babcock is leaning, anyway — Nick Foligno – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cam Atkinson line is a respectable threat, but it’s not the Bruins top line, and Babcock appears more comfortable matching up either the Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander or Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Marner line against it as opposed to keeping Matthews-Marner together, which we may see again tomorrow in Boston.
Since losing their first two games of the season, including their home opener 4-1 against Toronto, the Blue Jackets haven’t been perfect but they have improved dramatically. If you remove their first two games, the Jackets rank seventh league-wide in shot attempts against and third in expected goals against. A defense-first mindset has been a focus of the Blue Jackets under John Tortorella, and it will be even more the case this year with significantly less star power offensively compared to 2018-19.
Additionally, since those first two games, the Blue Jackets are second in scoring chances against on the PK. The Leafs, after a shocking power play-less game against the Bruins, now haven’t seen any time on the man advantage in almost a game and a half. Assuming that trend ends tonight, it could make for a good test for the Leafs‘ power play with Columbus’ willingness to be aggressive up ice and ability to clog up lanes with sticks and bodies.
Josh Anderson, a 27-goal scorer last year, returns tonight after missing all but the first two games of the year. Anderson is one of the Jackets more prolific 5-on-5 players outside of the top-line duo of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson. Tortorella will keep both the top line and the trio of Nyqvist-Wennberg-Bjorkstrand intact, which means Anderson slides in on the right-wing with Boone Jenner and rookie Alex Texier.
The goalie battle will be the same as the last meeting: Frederik Andersen in for Toronto, Joonas Korpisalo for Columbus. With the Bruins on the docket tomorrow, that should make for a healthy debate among the media and fan base as to whether Andersen should start tonight or tomorrow. Babcock has been rather definitive on it: Your odds of winning a back-to-back as a tired team are roughly 29%, so take the points when you can get them.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Dmytro Timashov and Trevor Moore:
They’ve got big asses, so they weigh a lot. You laugh, but it’s the truth. You can get under people, you can win retrieval races, you can own lanes, and you have good balance. The other thing about it is they’re not kids. Next to their age, they’ve been in it a long time. [Moore] played college then in the American League. [Timashov] was a star in the World juniors… what year was that? There you go.
Babcock on Andersen getting the first start of the back-to-back:
Let’s take this a little bit furthter. Let’s do the math here because you guys ask me this all the time. can you imagine if you lost game one [of the back-to-back], and then you went to game two tired? I don’t know. That’s what makes no sense to me at all.
Babcock on where Justin Holl has improved this year:
Confidence, strength, size, knowing what it takes. I think when you come out of the American League, you think it’s the same — it’s not. They’re just bigger, faster, they’re harder, they’re big men. The skill guy in the American League is one size. The skill guy in the NHL is another. I think he’s done a nice job for us this year. He can always skate, but his physical play in the defensive zone and keeping pucks away from our net and keeping people off our net is biggest change in his game, and his ability to sort it out down low. If you’re an offensive defenseman, we can probably turn a blind eye to poor defensive play at times. If you don’t generate offense, you’ve got to be really good defensively. that’s the bottom line.
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 (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Kevin Gravel, Nic Petan
Injured: Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott, John Tavares
Marner – Nylander – Matthews
Kerfoot – Moore – Spezza
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
#71 Nick Foligno – #18 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #13 Cam Atkinson
#42 Alexandre Texier – #38 Boone Jenner – #77 Josh Anderson
#14 Gustav Nyquist – #10 Alexander Wennberg – #28 Oliver Bjorkstrand
#22 Sonny Milano – #20 Riley Nash – #52 Emil Bemstrom
#28 Zach Werenski – #3 Seth Jones
#46 Dean Kukan – #65 Markus Nutivaara
#44 Vladislav Gavrikov – #58 David Savard
#70 Joonas Korpisalo (starter)
#90 Elvis Merzlikins