After what has been a whirlwind 72 hours, Sheldon Keefe now has two practices under his belt as the Toronto Maple Leafs enter their first meeting against the Colorado Avalanche since the Nazem Kadri for Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot trade last June (7 p.m. ET, CBC).
Thursday’s win in Glendale was a gratifying victory for the team and fan base. It’s not the first time a team has rallied together after a mid-season coaching change and won their first game under the new boss on the back of renewed energy — that was almost expected. Nevertheless, it was hard not to feel optimistic about how confident, energetic, and loose (in a good way) the Maple Leafs looked against Arizona. The coaching change and their rejuvenated play on Thursday make made tonight’s circled-on-the-calendar matchup against an exciting Colorado team even more highly anticipated.
It’d be one thing for fans to overhype one game if this was a Leafs team that hadn’t proven it can be a dynamic offensive team in recent history; it’s the fact that the group was suddenly generating the quality scoring chances fans became accustomed to over the past three seasons (and very early on in 2019-20) but had dried up in the last month or so under the previous coach.
The Avalanche came into the season with a bit of a rejigged roster and the goal of improving on a season where they earned the final wildcard spot before a surprise trip to the second round. So far, they’ve accomplished that with a 13-7-1 start (6-2-1 at home), sitting second in the Central Division.
However, despite the solid record thus far, Colorado hasn’t really controlled the run of play consistently. Of course, when you take Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog out of the lineup — both have been out with injuries since late October — the expectations change quite a bit. Still, the Avalanche have relied more on goaltending and hot sticks than they would like: Their for and against rates in xG are around the same relative to the league at 22nd and 24th (2.2 vs 2.4), respectively, while their goal rates at 5-on-5 are second and fourth, respectively.
Before the Vegas game, we talked about the Knights having the largest negative discrepancy between xG and actual goals; Colorado is the exact opposite, as they’ve outperformed what they’ve generated more than any other team in the league this year.
For the Avalanche, the absence of Landeskog and Rantanen at the top of the lineup has been exacerbated by the additional loss of depth pieces like Colin Wilson, Tyson Jost (questionable, could play), and Matt Calvert. That means a good chunk of the Avalanche top nine will be missing tonight versus a Leafs team that is relatively healthy (missing Mitch Marner and Trevor Moore), making this a definite “winnable” game against a Colorado team that fell 3-2 to Minnesota in the last game of a five-game road trip on Thursday.
Sheldon Keefe put a new coat of paint on the Leafs lineup on Thursday, rejigging all of his forward lines except the team’s most consistent in Johnsson – Matthews – Nylander. After playing 18 straight games together, Keefe opted to split up Nick Shore and Frederik Gauthier, who had been on a line together with a heavy d-zone assignment for most of this season under Mike Babcock, and subbed in the more offensively-able Nic Petan in that RW spot. Shore will sub back in on that line tonight in place of Petan out of respect for Shore’s hometown game in Denver. Otherwise, all lines and pairings remain the same.
Game Day Quotes
Nazem Kadri to David Amber on hearing about the trade back in June:
I was called. I think Dubas called me. It was really quick. It was a bit surprising. It was only a 40-45 second conversation. I felt like I maybe deserved a little bit better after 10 years. I was a little bit bitter afterward.
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar on the Leafs:
They’re a really good team. Their record to this point in the season hasn’t been great, but we know with the new coach, there is going to be a spark. There are going to be guys trying to earn more ice time and impress their coach, number one. Number two, if you look at the underlying numbers of their team — their efficiency breaking out of the zone — we know they’ve got lots of firepower, skill, and speed. Their numbers say they should have a better record that they have right now. Certainly, we’ve played them enough in the recent past within a similar group that we know this is a team that we’re really going to have to work hard against and be ready to check.
Tyson Barrie on returning to Colorado:
I am sure there will be some emotions going around. I had such a good time here and met so many good people. It became home. It is nice to come back. It will be fun to see all the boys.
Barrie on checking in on his old house now occupied by Nazem Kadri:
Yeah, we’ll see if I need to rip a coffee machine out of the wall to get back at him. A couple of our guys are going over there, so I’ll get the report.
We met each other a few times just from playing each other. I wasn’t going to rent my place out and I don’t think he had plans to with his, etiher. We kind of got in touch, “What do you think of this? Maybe thiis could work.” And it did. We both trusted each other and kind of just stepped into each other’s homes. It’s been a good fit so far.
Barrie on the opportunity on PP1:
It’s big for confidence. It will be a good confidence booster. Our power play hasn’t been going so hot, for maybe we can get it going.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #11 Zach Hyman
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#47 Pierre Engvall – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #94 Tyson Barrie
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#50 Kasimir Kaskisuo
Scratched: Martin Marincin, Dmytro Timashov, Nic Petan
Injured: Mitch Marner, Trevor Moore
Barrie – Nylander – Matthews
Kapanen – Kerfoot– Spezza
Colorado Avalanche Projected Lines
#95 Andre Burakovsky – #29 Nathan Mackinnon – #72 Joonas Donskoi
#13 Valeri Nichushkin – #91 Nazem Kadri – #37 J.T Compher
#83 Matthew Nieto – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – #12 Jayson Megna
#25 Logan O’Connor – #81 Vladislav Kamenev – #45 T.J Tynan
#49 Samuel Girard – #6 Erik Johnson
#27 Ryan Graves – #8 Cale Makar
#16 Nikita Zadorov – #28 Ian Cole
#31 Phillip Grubauer (starter)
#39 Pavel Francouz
Injured: Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Colin Wilson, Tyson Jost, Matt Calvert