After the floodgates opened against St. Louis, the Toronto Maple Leafs look to continue their offensive momentum in their annual trip to Vancouver (10 p.m. ET, SN).
The Canucks and Maple Leafs find themselves in similar places in the standings at the moment. Both teams are a few spots down the ladder from a top-two wildcard spot but, thanks to weaker divisions, are only two points back from a top-three divisional spot. It sounds bizarre to call the Atlantic Division “weak” based on how competitive it has been the last couple of seasons, but that’s the reality of the situation approaching the halfway mark of the 2019-20 campaign.
One of the most exciting things for Canucks fans last year was not only Elias Pettersson’s immediate scoring dominance in the NHL, but his chemistry and comfort level with fellow young star Brock Boeser. The two have continued to play with each other the majority of the time at evens (350 minutes total in 19-20) and have continued to impress, combining for 18 goals for and 12 goals against in that time together, with a nearly identical xGF% at 59.6.
Unlike with Matthews-Nylander, the Canucks have complemented that duo with a player who has arguably been its third-best forward in J.T Miller. There was a lot of talk in the off-season about Miller’s contract, but he’s become a massive part of what success the Cancucks have had this year. In their 258 minutes as a line this year, Miller-Boeser-Pettersson has produced extremely well — 11 GF, 6GA, 61.2 CF%, and 65.2 xGF%.
In that matchup, the Leafs will be hoping to get a similar effort out of Hyman – Tavares – Marner as they did against Ryan O’Reilly’s line on the road in St. Louis on Saturday; the Tavares’ line owned 80% of the 5v5 shot attempts (even in a lopsided game that was in hand after 20 minutes), 100% of 5v5 shots on goal, and outscored O’Reilly’s line 1-0 at evens.
Keefe mentioned after Saturday’s game against the Blues that he didn’t think it was the right game to put much stock into Pontus Aberg’s performance on the Matthews line. That makes some sense considering the Leafs potted four goals in the first period and it turned the game into a bit of score-effects anomaly. Kevin Papetti made some fair points about Aberg’s lack of fit there in the last game review, but the Leafs are going to give this a bit of run to see if it clicks.
The lineup tonight for Keefe will, therefore, look the same as Saturday, with Dmytro Timashov and Frederik Gauthier remaining the healthy scratches.
Game Day Quotes
Canucks head coach Travis Green on Sheldon Keefe-coached teams:
I coached against Sheldon for a bit against the Marlies. I think his teams play a lot like the Leafs play — a highly-skilled team that wants to play with the puck; a puck possession team. Well organized.
You better be good in your d-zone coverage. You better be good in how you defend. Your commitment to a 200-foot game better be on or they’re going to score a lot on you.
Green on whether Josh Leivo is better than he was anticipating when he was acquired from the Leafs:
Probably, yeah. I don’t think we knew. Whenever you trade for a player, you are not quite sure what you are getting, especially in that situation, where he hadn’t played a lot in the NHL yet. We had seen him a bit in the minors. A fresh start and maybe better opportunity with a team that wasn’t quite as good as the team he was on — you always hope in those situations that a player will take off.
It seems like we’ve talked about Leivs a lot in the last month or so. When he is on his game, he is a big body that can skate, that can be strong on the puck, that can win a puck battle, and can make a play. Those are guys that you need. I think he hasn’t gone through the grind, maybe, where he is an everyday player throughout a season and consistency is something we’ve talked to him about. When he is a consistent player and plays that way, he is very effective.
Morgan Rielly on developing chemistry with Tyson Barrie:
It is going well. We’ve got to keep working on a couple of things. We are pretty open with one another and we talk about how we can improve and the things we want to do better. I think we’ve got a ways to go, but we are looking forward to the challenges that are coming. We want to make it work. We’ve both said that. We are just going to keep talking and keep trying to improve.
Rielly on whether it’s different playing with more of a free-wheeling defense partner:
That is probably different. Well, Gards was a gambler. It’s different, but it’s fun.
Sheldon Keefe on the Leafs’ four B.C. born players (Alex Kerfoot, Morgan Rielly, Tyson Barrie, Nic Petan) returning to Vancouver:
I talked to each of them [about it]. I know they are excited to spend some time at home with family and friends. That is always an exciting time, definitely. It is nice that the schedule has worked out for them the way that it has and for them to spend a little extra time here. It can give them a little boost and revive them a little bit in terms of the grind of the season that inevitably comes for everyone. That is definitely a treat for them. I felt the same when I came back to Toronto as a player.
Keefe on Tavares and Marner finding their timing together again:
I think it is still going to take time. The last game was the first time that Hyman has been with them, so that is a different dynamic as well. Mitch is just trying to find his legs and find his game, both in terms of the fact that he is recovering from an injury but also playing a little bit differently in terms of my arrival here and the changes that we’ve made. But it is very clear the impact he makes on the game. To me, John has just been very reliable and very good in all areas of the game since I’ve been here.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#46 Pontus Aberg – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#61 Nic Petan – #47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Dmytro Timashov, Martin Marincin, Frederik Gauthier
Injured: Trevor Moore, Andreas Johnsson
Matthews – Nylander – Marner
Kapanen – Petan – Spezza
Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines
#70 Tanner Pearson – #53 Bo Horvat – #17 Josh Leivo
#9 J.T. Miller – #40 Elias Pettersson – #6 Brock Boeser
#26 Antoine Roussel – #88 Adam Gaudette – #18 Jake Virtanen
#20 Brandon Sutter – #83 Jay Beagle – #79 Micheal Ferland
#43 Quinn Hughes – #57 Tyler Myers
#5 Oscar Fantenberg – #8 Chris Tanev
#63 Jalen Chatfield – #51 Troy Stecher
#25 Jacob Markstrom (starter)
#35 Thatcher Demko
Injured: Alex Edler, Tyler Graovac, Tyler Motte