After a frustrating OT loss last night against Columbus, the Toronto Maple Leafs face arguably their toughest game of the season so far against a Bruins team that has been rested and waiting for them in Boston since the weekend (7 p.m EST, TSN4).
The Leafs are now entering the thick of their brutal October schedule. It’s not an excuse for poor play — last night’s result was self-inflicted — but seven games in 11 days with three back-to-backs — including a home-and-home against Boston where Toronto plays a game in between but the Bruins don’t — is a hellova opening-month arrangement courtesy of the schedule makers.
All of that considered, combined with the fact that backup Michael Hutchinson will start, makes this a real uphill battle for the Leafs tonight. According to Sean Tierney’s prediction model, the Leafs have a 40.4% chance of winning tonight, their lowest odds of victory in any single game this year. Look at it this way if you’re the Leafs, though: A point tonight, let alone a win, could be a real momentum gainer heading into yet another tough back-to-back set this weekend (San Jose, Montreal).
The Leafs enter tonight’s game with (likely) the same lineup and combos as Saturday’s tilt, although we won’t know for sure until closer to 7 p.m without the morning skate. The Bruins are forced to make at least one change with Karson Khulman looking like he’ll be out with an injury, although the lines will likely be shaken up even more as they continue to tinker with units 2-4 in David Krejci’s absence.
In practice this morning, the Bruins had Brett Ritchie up with secondary duo Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk. Ritchie hasn’t brought much offensive prowess to the table in his NHL career to date, although he was a useful secondary piece in both the 16-17 and 17-18 seasons with Dallas prior to a big dip offensively last year. Ritchie has been an above-average player in terms of shot and chance suppression relative to his teammates throughout his career.
We talked about the fourth lines before the last Leafs-Bruins game and the similar roles they both play with their defensive-zone deployment that helps free up the top lines for their respective teams. With Joakim Nordstrom battling a minor injury, the Bruins have called up Anders Bjork to fill out that group with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. In 20 games last season, Bjork was well below team average with an xGF% of 44.7%. However, his 12 points in 30 back in 2016-17 coming out of college and his AHL scoring rates suggest there might be some upside left for Boston to explore with the player.
Game Day Quotes
David Pastrnak on Auston Matthews:
Yeah, I mean, he has an unbelivable shot and skill set. He can find the soft spot. Every time he’s 100% healthy, he’s showing that. I just think he’s a hell of a player.
Hockey’s a team sport, and I think we can all agree that they have some great players. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving him credit when he deserves it.
Bruce Cassidy on Anders Bjork and how he’ll fit on the Bruins’ defensive bottom line:
When he left, he was bringing lots of energy. He was on top of pucks, he was attacking the net — did a lot of things well. He seems stronger, sustains his shifts better from first period to third period. I put him on that line because I think he has certainly some of what [Nordstrom] brings on that line — they’re effective because they’re hard to play against. Some of them are tenacious. Some of them are on pucks. Some are both. I think his defensive game has improved, so we’ll see if he’s prepared for [the defensive responsibility].
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 – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #26 Nick Shore – #61 Nic Petan
#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#25 Kevin Gravel – #3 Justin Holl
#30 Michael Hutchinson (starter)
#31 Frederik Andersen
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Jason Spezza
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 – #18 Brett Ritchie
#43 Danton Heinen – #26 Par Lindholm – #42 David Backes
#10 Anders Bjork – #52 Sean Kuraly – #14 Chris Wagner
#33 Zdeno Chara – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#47 Torey Krug – #25 Brandon Carlo
#48 Matt Grzelcyk – #75 Connor Clifton
#40 Tuukka Rask (starter)
#41 Jaroslav Halak
Injured: David Krejci, John Moore, Kevan Miller, Karson Khulman