Facing their first real bit of adversity under Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs won’t have it easy tonight as Nazem Kadri and the Avalanche visit Toronto in Mitch Marner’s return from injury (7 p.m. ET, SN).

The constant flow of injuries made the Leafs’ decisions for them for a little while but, now that they have enough healthy bodies in the lineup, they were forced to lose someone. That someone was Nick Shore, who was waived yesterday and claimed off waivers by the Winnipeg Jets this morning.

Ultimately, Shore wasn’t getting much action in Keefe’s lineup in Toronto and Kyle Dubas decided he wasn’t going to waive younger players with higher ceilings in favor of an average bottom-line forward. Shore certainly could have continued to contribute for the Leafs while giving them right-handed center depth, but it looks like Jason Spezza is going to continue to play a more regular role along with a cast of younger depth wingers in Nic Petan, Dmytro Timashov, and Pierre Engvall.

Without a morning skate to draw from, I’m left to guess what might happen lineup wise tonight as Mitch Marner makes his return. Here’s what I expect to happen:

  • Now that Zach Hyman is back and has a few games under him, Keefe seems keen on getting him onto a matchup line in an attempt to allow Tavares and Matthews’ lines slightly easier matchups, particularly at home. I’d expect that line (Hyman-Kerfoot-Kapanen) to remain intact and moves to happen elsewhere in the lineup.
  • Mitch Marner will slide back with Tavares, obviously, which likely bumps Jason Spezza off that line after a one-game trial next to the Leaf captain. Marner also takes Rielly off the top power play, leaving this five-man unit: Barrie (top), Matthews-Nylander-Marner (middle), Tavares (net-front/down-low).
  • Spezza looks more and more like someone Keefe wants to keep in the lineup. He’s been quick to swap Timashov, Shore, and Petan but hasn’t scratched Spezza outside of the second game of the back-to-back with Buffalo. Frederik Gauthier hasn’t sat out a game this year, but tonight could be his first. Another possibility has Spezza on the wing in place of Timashov/Petan while Gauthier stays at centre. Based on who played last night, my best guess is they move Spezza to the bottom line on the wing with Gauthier and Engvall.

Perhaps the most surprising lineup news came this morning:

Andersen has only twice started on consecutive days in his Leafs career, both times in the 2016-17 season. He went 1-1 in the second half of those back-to-backs with a .943 Sv%.

Riding a three-game win streak and a spectacular offensive performance in Mikko Rantanen’s return on Saturday, the Avalanche have another reason to get up for tonight’s game as Nazem Kadri plays his first game back in Toronto. Expect a video tribute for the eight-year Leafs veteran at Scotiabank tonight.

Colorado has continued to outscore their underlying numbers, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago before the Leafs-Avalanche game in Denver. Both the Avs overall shot generation (CF) and their location-adjusted numbers (xGF) are very average relative to the rest of the league, but they continue to score at a high rate. With such an abundance of playmaking and finishing talent among forwards like MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, Burakovsky, Doonskoi, Kadri, Makar, and Girard, it should be expected that they outperform their possession and chance share on a lot of nights. Still, it feels like some regression is in their future. Here’s how they look relative to the league when you compare goal production (GF +/- per 60) and shot production (xGF +/- per 60):

The Leafs need a response tonight after Sheldon Keefe had his first wake-up call moment with the team last night when they gave up on the game and their goalie after the 3-1 goal. Perhaps that’s half the reason for the decision to start Andersen tonight; partly the uncertain backup situation, partly the quality of the opposition offense, and partly a challenge to the team to respond in front of a goalie who carries this team more than his fair share and deserved a lot better in Philly last night.

Game Day Quotes

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Zach Hyman – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#47 Pierre Engvall – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza

#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #94 Tyson Barrie

#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson

Scratched: Dmytro Timashov
Injured: Trevor Moore

PP Units

Matthews – Nylander – Marner

Kerfoot – Petan – Spezza

Colorado Avalanche Projected Lines

#72 Joonas Donskoi – #29 Nathan Mackinnon – #96 Mikko Rantanen
#11 Matt Calvert – #91 Nazem Kadri – #37 J.T Compher
#13 Valeri Nichushkin – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – #25 Logan O’Connor
#81 Vladislav Kamenev – #17 Tyson Jost – #45 T.J Tynan

#49 Samuel Girard – #48 Calle Rosen
#16 Nikita Zadorov – #8 Cale Makar
#28 Ian Cole – #27 Ryan Graves

#31 Phillip Grubauer (starter)
#39 Pavel Francouz

Injured: Gabriel Landeskog, Colin Wilson, Andre Burakovsky, Erik Johnson