After picking up a much-needed win over the LA Kings on Tuesday, the Maple Leafs welcome another Western Conference opponent to Toronto tonight in what will be a tougher test against the 9-5-2 Vegas Golden Knights (7 p.m ET, SNO).
A matchup with Los Angeles came at the right time for the Maple Leafs. Despite again not having their best stuff, they were able to squeak a win out of a low-event game thanks to some solid goaltending by Frederik Andersen and timely offense from Auston Matthews and William Nylander in the third period.
No offense to Los Angeles, but Vegas has a much more dangerous roster that likely won’t offer Toronto the same wiggle room to find their way offensively like they were afforded on Tuesday. A big advantage for Vegas comes in both their depth and chemistry at forward, particularly among their top-six group. With the exception of Mark Stone, who was acquired from the Senators in February’s trade deadline last year, they have five forwards who’ve spent quite a bit of time together dating back to the beginning of last season. The trio of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith, in particular, has spent just under 1700 minutes (or approx. 154 games) together over the last two-and-a-bit seasons.
The Golden Knights have been in the upper echelon of the league in underlying shot and chance numbers for the better part of their existence as an NHL franchise. That mostly remains the case so far in 2019-20 — the Knights sit sixth in shot attempts for and 16th against. Their offensive contributions have been even better when accounting for shot location, with an xGF/60 rating that ranks second in the league at 2.8 at 5-on-5.
Through 16 games this year, Vegas is also second in expected goals on the power play. In overall efficiency at 5-on-4, they’re only slightly less impressive at 23.6%, which ranks seventh in the NHL. Staying out of the box, a problem area in the first 16 games for the Leafs, is going to be imperative tonight.
Unlike the situation in Toronto, some of that man-advantage prowess for Vegas comes from a very capable second unit. The top unit of Shea Theodore, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and Cody Glass has eclipsed the 40-minute mark on the man advantage this year, but second-unit regulars Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith have all spent over 35 minutes on the power play as well. As has been their ethos since joining the league, Vegas gets it done thanks to strong overall depth at forward in addition to their hard-working, high-tempo identity, active defense, and stellar goaltending.
In goal tonight, Frederik Andersen will go again for the Leafs as he looks to make it three wins in a row for himself and the team. Vegas will rest starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who has all of Vegas’s nine wins this season, in favour of Toronto-native Malcolm Subban. Both Subban and former Leaf Garret Sparks are still on the roster, but it appears Sparks is playing third fiddle at the moment.
Game Day Quotes
Auston Matthews and Travis Dermott on the challenge presented by Vegas:
I think their depth, their speed, every area of the ice. They’ve got good forwards, good goaltending, I think they just come at you in waves. It’s always a challenge playing these guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and skill and we’ve got to make sure that we kind of harness them.
Vegas is a good team and they’re going to be excited to be in here and they’re going to play well. I think we’ve got to come together here, ride off a little momentum that we’ve got now, and try to build off the positives that we’ve had lately. Just have a good game, work hard, and see what happens.
Travis Dermott on how his familiarity with Justin Holl has helped the pairing settle in quickly:
I think it’s important. Last year with [Ozhiganov], we had some times where it was hard to communicate. Holl and I have been buddies for a while now, so I think you don’t even think about how tight you are. You don’t know what he’s going to do, but you have a good feel — I’ve seen him go back for pucks a million times, so I have a better feel than the forechecker of what he’s going to do.
Mike Babcock on getting special teams back on track:
I didn’t think, going into the year, just with all the changes that we had, our penalty kill was going to get a lot of traction right away. I thought we’ve done a lot of good things on it, but we’ve found the puck in our net a few times. The number doesn’t look as good and doesn’t make you as proud as you want it to.
I think you’ll see our power play get rolling right here again — we have a good scheme, we get good opportunities. I think over a period of time, that’ll work itself out. But I also think, for scorers, that’s where you get your puck touches. That’s where you get feeling good. It’s an important part of the game for your scorers.
Babcock on the Knight’s strengths:
Obviously, their top six forwards are very good and Fleury just seems to get better with time. They acquired defensemen from all over. It’s interesting to kind of analyze the draft now three years later and see the D aquired from teams and the decisions you thought were good and then the ones you thought weren’t. Now you know if you were right or not. They’ve done a real good job there. They’ve built a good franchise and a good program on the ice.
Babcock on where he feels his team’s form is at right now:
I think our team’s been doing good, if I’m not mistaken. We’re 3-1-1 in our last five. We seem to be getting some traction,. The guys seem to be getting to know each other and there seems to be more juice in our group, which is positive.
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
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #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: Jason Spezza
Injured: Zach Hyman
Matthews – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – Moore – Nylander
Vegas Golden Knights Projected Lines
#81 Jonathan Marchessault – #71 William Karlsson – #19 Reilly Smith
#67 Max Pacioretty – #26 Paul Stastny – #61 Mark Stone
#73 Brandon Pirri – #21 Cody Eakin – #9 Cody Glass
28 Will Carrier – #10 Nicolas Roy – #92 Tomas Nosek
#3 Brayden McNabb – #88 Nate Schmidt
#14 Nicolas Hague – #27 Shea Theodore
#15 Jon Merrill – #5 Deryk Engelland
#30 Malcolm Subban (starter)
#29 Marc-Andre Fleury
Injured: Alex Tuch