After a convincing high-scoring win in New York last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs fly back home to take on the Red Wings as they attempt to go two-for-two on the back-to-back for the first time this season (7 p.m. ET, CBC).
Toronto’s previous back-to-back was the first source of adversity for Sheldon Keefe as Leafs head coach as the team lost both games, 6-1 to Philadelphia and 3-1 to Colorado. Now, they have a chance to win both games against a lowly opponent in the second game of this weekend’s back-to-back in order to maintain a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division and earn their 10th win in 15 games under Keefe.
We won’t know until closer to puck drop, but it’s expected that Trevor Moore will make his return tonight. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s likely Dmytro Timashov who will sit out for Moore. Timashov is one of the only Leafs whose stock has fallen a little under Keefe, at least in terms of the number of healthy scratches he’s received as Keefe, unlike his predecessor, has not been willing to sit Jason Spezza in favour of Timashov and Pierre Engvall has overtaken him on the depth chart. Frederik Gauthier, who missed three games in-a-row in favor of Spezza at center initially, has worked his way back into the lineup while scoring twice in three games.
The Red Wings are coming off an epic losing streak that ended last week with a win against the Jets. From November 14th to December 10th, they went 0-10-2, with those ten regulation losses occurring consecutively. It’s been a rough go for new GM Steve Yzerman, who has tried to work through injuries with a team that isn’t equipped with the depth to compete very well even when at full strength. It’s highly likely they finish with the best lottery odds in the league — they’re the only team in the NHL with over 20 regulation losses and sit last in the NHL by six points.
The Leafs looked like they were waiting for the right time to throw Michael Hutchinson back in net — while the Red Wings haven’t played since Tuesday, tonight is as good of a chance as you’re going to get. This season has been a worst-case scenario for Hutchinson, but as awful as it has been, goalies are an enigma in this sport and it wouldn’t be impossible for Hutchinson to gain some confidence and turn it around heading into the second half of the year. On the other hand, if the Leafs keep things relatively quiet in their end tonight and Hutchinson still can’t secure a win, it could be his last game with the Leafs.
For Detroit, it will be Jonathan Bernier going again. You may remember a very ill Bernier entering the game out of the press box and stopping 37 of 40 against Toronto last month after Jimmy Howard got hurt; in his three starts against the Leafs since joning the Red Wings, he is 1-1-1 with a .874 save percentage. In 19 starts this year, he’s gone 7-10-2 with a .898 Sv% and a GSAx of -9.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the opportunity for the team to sweep a back-to-back set for the first time this season:
The last time we played a back-to-back, we had an excellent effort. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but we believe if we are going to have efforts like that, more often than not, it will work out for us. We are looking to remove the excuse of the back-to-back and just get out and play.
Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill on matching up better against the Leafs after a blowout loss to them last time in Detroit:
We’ve got to make sure that we are not spending the whole night defending. I think that’s an important thing for our team right now and it’s important against Toronto. We need to put the puck behind them as much as we can and we have a good forecheck and good o-zone and a good o-zone hound, with good tracks and gaps so we can play in their end as much as possible.
Dylan Larkin on the challenge against the Leafs:
It is going to be an exciting game. It is a Saturday night in Toronto. They played last night, so we need to come out with a good start — a better start than when we played them last time. It is a big game for us. It is a big game for them. We’ve got two games here before Christmas and we need to exert everything and play a solid two games.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#88 William Nylander – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #94 Tyson Barrie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #83 Cody Ceci
#30 Michael Hutchinson (starter)
#31 Frederik Andersen
Scratched: Timothy Liljegren, Pontus Aberg, Dmytro Timashov
Injured: Andreas Johnsson
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines
#39 Anthony Mantha – #71 Dylan Larkin – #11 Filip Zadina
#14 Robby Fabbri – #51 Valteri Filppula – #59 Tyler Bertuzzi
#43 Darren Helm – #41 Luke Glendening – #72 Andreas Athanasiou
#73 Adam Erne – #81 Frans Nielsen – #29 Brendan Perlini
#22 Patrick Nemeth – #125 Mike Green
#83 Trevor Daley – #17 Filip Hronek
#32 Brian Lashoff – #74 Madison Bowey
#45 Jonathan Bernier (starter)
#1 Calvin Pickard
Injured: Dan Dekeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Jimmy Howard