Now one week into the Sheldon Keefe era, the Toronto Maple Leafs attempt to make it three-in-a-row under their new bench boss when they pay a visit to the 31st-place Detroit Red Wings (7-16-3), who are mired in a five-game losing skid (7 p.m ET, SN).
Sheldon Keefe looks to be making it a priority to keep everyone on the roster involved and engaged in his first handful of games as Leafs coach. Dmytro Timashov, who hasn’t gotten in the lineup since Toronto’s embarrassing 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh last Tuesday, will enter the mix tonight alongside Frederik Gauthier and Pierre Engvall, while Nick Shore will sit out (Alex Kerfoot also exits the lineup for two games due to suspension).
Engvall, the 2014 seventh-rounder selected a year before Timashov, has managed to stay in the lineup in all three games proceeding his callup last week. The tools are impressive: a great skater, tenacious, responsible and often above the puck, a big body. He’s been able to prove he can offer extra utility for Keefe in penalty-killing situations while being trusted with some defensive-zone starts.
Currently, Nick Shore, Dmytro Timashov, and Frederik Gauthier are 1, 2 and 3 in the NHL in defensive zone starts per 60 minutes, and it’s not particularly close. Keefe is still very early in his tenure, but if one thing is looking likely, it’s that there won’t be nearly the same rigid deployment of players game after game as there was under the previous coaching regime. We’ve yet to see Keefe coach at home with the benefit of last change, but there has been a more balanced four-line-and-three-pair approach to matchups and deployment than there was under Mike Babcock. When possible, Keefe has looked to get the Mikheyev – Tavares – Hyman line out against the opposition’s best.
The Red Wings certainly haven’t surprised anyone with their poor first quarter of the year. Under the surface results, their numbers haven’t been completely atrocious relative to expectations, but they’re still well below average. 30th in goals for and 28th in goals against, the underlying numbers are a little kinder to them: Defensively, they’ve allowed 2.25 expected goals against per sixty at 5-on-5, good for 19th league-wide. While there is less deviation when it comes to expected goals versus actual goals (thus why a lot of teams don’t look as bad in xG metrics), Detroit’s league average output still indicates that, with some improvement in their goaltending, their actual goals against numbers could creep back up toward the average as the season moves along.
Offensively, it’s a sadder state of affairs for the Red Wings. Their 30th place ranking in goals for is matched by both their location-adjusted output (26th in xGF/60) and their overall shot output (31st in CF/60). With very little proven scoring among the depth lines and injuries impacting the lineup, this is where it’s hard to expect too much from Detroit until they’re further along in their rebuild under GM Steve Yzerman.
It should be a team ripe for the picking for a Leafs team that is feeling the good vibes of a coaching change, back-to-back wins, and a couple of productive practice days early this week.
Game Day Quotes
John Tavares on his season thus far:
I probably haven’t been as consistent as I would like. I think some of it is just capitalizing on some on my opportunities, but certainly I’ll continue to try and find another level and work towards that and find ways to be consistent and productive.
Morgan Rielly on the recent Babcock/Marner controversy:
Well, I think I kind of.. You knew what was going on. I don’t think that we looked into it too much. We handled it at the time and just kind of forgot about it, to be honest with you. I think Mitch has [forgotten about it]. I think Mitch is doing a good job with it. You know, it’s not something that we’ve been thinking about.
I don’t know what the impact of it is going to be. As players, you just have to be prepared to do your job. Aoaches are all different in the way that they motivate and the way that they prepare, so as players we just try to stay focused and stick together.
Sheldon Keefe on the goal of the two team practices this week:
We feel like we’ve been able to make some progress. We’ve tried not to stray too far from the couple key things that we’ve focused on last week — we just tried to build upon it and add some depth to it and tried to get extra reps in before we start expanding out.
Keefe on the Tavares line:
I think they’ve been really good. Both guys, Mikheyev and Hyman, just their speed onto the puck and creating turnovers, they’ve paired really well with John. John has been really responsible right from faceoffs having those guys organized and getting the puck back. We matched them up as best we could against the MacKinnon line in Colorado and I think they did a good job against a really challenging player. In the Arizona game, they were pretty dominant. It hasn’t been a lot that shows up on the scoreboard, but we’ve been very happy with their play.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #11 Zach Hyman
#61 Nic Petan – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#47 Pierre Engvall – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #41 Dmytro Timashov
#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, Nick Shore
Injured: Mitch Marner, Trevor Moore
Suspended: Alex Kerfoot
Barrie – Nylander – Matthews
Kapanen – Petan – Spezza
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #71 Dylan Larkin – #14 Robby Fabbri
#43 Darren Helm – #51 Valteri Filppula – #11 Filip Zadina
#72 Andreas Athanasiou – #81 Frans Nielsen – #41 Luke Glendening
#29 Brendan Perlini – #70 Christoffer Ehn – #67 Taro Hirose
#22 Patrick Nemeth – #17 Filip Hronek
#21 Dennis Cholowski – #25 Mike Green
#52 Jonathan Ericsson – #74 Madison Bowey
#35 Jimmy Howard (starter)
#45 Jonathan Bernier
Injured: Justin Abdelkader, Anthony Mantha