Following a Saturday night’s “win by a hair” over Philadelphia, the Maple Leafs are searching for the ever-elusive 60-minute performance against the 5-9-0 Kings tonight as John Tavares and Jake Muzzin return to the Toronto lineup (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN4).
Not many Leafs fans were satisfied with Toronto’s shootout win over the Flyers on the weekend, and rightfully so — the team was outshot 35-14 by a tired and mediocre Philly team in the final 45 minutes of play. It may sound like handwringing to criticize the two points, but with the bar set at Cup contention, the focus is on the process with this Leafs team more than anything else.
In a league with a grueling 82-game schedule and intense parity compared to other leagues, that’s how it should be. Considering how this season has started (the team has eight losses and seven wins), the Leafs are going to need to string together their first hot streak of the year with a more consistent performance level from game-to-game if they’re going to placate a concerned fan base as we head into a lighter schedule in the month of November.
Getting Jake Muzzin and John Tavares back, arguably their two most consistent players on the roster this year, should be a massive boost towards that end. While there are many factors at play, it’s hard not to notice the dip the power play has experienced since Tavares’ finger injury. JT will provide some stability in the middle of Toronto’s power play, not to mention his ability to match up and produce against the best players, freeing up Auston Matthews in the process. Muzzin’s return will help out a struggling penalty kill and give the Leafs back their only truly reliable shutdown defender from the first month of the season.
In addition to the big returns of Tavares and Muzzin, Nic Petan has been called up after a short loan spell with the Marlies over the weekend when he notched two goals and three assists in two games. He will join Frederik Gauthier’s line tonight while also receiving some second powerplay unit duty, with Dmytro Timashov making away.
Petan’s story is one we’ve seen with countless fringe NHLers before him; he’s skilled, but he isn’t cracking most NHL top sixes and he hasn’t improved his work rate and details without the puck enough to stick in the lineup in a bottom-of-the-lineup role. The Leafs are trying to keep their fourth-liners hungry here, but there could be a subplot at play also given they’re going to have to move out bodies via trade or waivers to get down to a 21-man roster once Zach Hyman returns (potentially this weekend). Some impressive AHL production followed by a couple of games in the NHL might be a bit of a showcase scenario, but lots could change here.
On Saturday, L.A broke through with a 4-3 OT win against fellow early-2010s dynasty team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Drew Doughty’s OT winner notched the Kings first win after a four-game losing streak in which they scored just seven goals. On the season, Los Angeles hasn’t gotten caved-in possession-wise whatsoever (they’re 9th CF% and xGF%) — their problems largely have stemmed from a lack of scoring depth, their league-worst combined special teams, and very poor goaltending.
In goal tonight for L.A will be the struggling former-star Jonathan Quick. After last season’s .888 save percentage, he’s had an even worse start this year with a .858 and the league’s worst -13.5 GSAx.
For the Leafs, Frederik Andersen will get the start after a strong performance featuring some key saves in the second half of the game, OT, and in the shootout on Saturday. The Leafs are hoping Andersen can go on a bit of a run and find his rhythm here, something he should be able to do more easily this month with fewer back-to-backs on the docket.
Game Day Quotes
John Tavares on his readiness to return:
I feel really good. I’ve made really good progress. I am ready to play and I’m excited to be back at it.
Mike Babcock on Nic Petan’s recall:
We liked what he’s done the whole time. We liked that he’s worked hard. We liked that he didn’t ask to go down, but he wanted to play and we wanted to get him in.
Babcock on the effect taking so many penalties has had on the team recently:
We’ve taken so many penalties in the last little while here. Any way you look at it, if you take five minors, that means the game’s 50-minutes long. 20-minute guys play 16.5 minutes if you don’t penalty kill. That’s just the math. We haven’t had much sucess in games, with the exception of last game, where we take four or more penalties. You take three or under — and that’s what we’ve done over the years — you kill like crazy because you’ve got energy and you’ve got jam.
Travis Dermott on Justin Holl’s success this year:
Kudos to him. I know last year was really hard on him. Big offseason for him. He came in ready to prove himself and that’s what he’s doing.
[It hasn’t changed him off the ice], which is the best part. You ask anyone throughout this room last year, I don’t think anyone would have been happy going through what he went through. I don’t think there was a guy with a smile on his face more than Hollsy. He earned a lot of respect from a lot of guys in here for going through that with the attitude that he had. That makes everyone a little happier for him this year when things start working out.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#42 Trevor Moore – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alexander Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#61 Nic Petan – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Kevin Gravel, Martin Marincin, Dmytro Timashov, Jason Spezza
Injured: Zach Hyman
Matthews – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – Petan – Nylander
Los Angeles Kings Projected Lines
#38 Carl Grunstrom – #11 Anze Kopitar – #77 Jeff Carter
#17 Ilya Kovalchuk – #46 Blake Lizotte – #73 Tyler Toffoli
#18 Alex Iafallo – #9 Adrian Kempe – #23 Dustin Brown
#13 Kyle Clifford – #10 Mike Amadio – #422 Trevor Lewis
#27 Alec Martinez – #8 Drew Doughty
#15 Ben Hutton – #26 Sean Walker
#56 Kurtis MacDermid – #3 Matt Roy
#32 Jonathan Quick (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Injured: Derek Forbort