The Toronto Maple Leafs enter their annual next-gen game winners of their last four consecutive after scoring 19 goals over those contests, but they will face a good test today against last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists, the 22-12-2 Carolina Hurricanes (2 p.m. ET, Sportsnet).
The expectation is the lineup will return to its original state within the top nine-forward group after the Sheldon Keefe finished the game versus Detroit with a total line rejig (Hyman – Matthews – Marner / Mikheyev – Tavares – Engvall / Nylander – Kerfoot – Kapanen). Without a morning skate, though, we won’t know for sure until right near puck drop.
On the fourth line, after making his return to the lineup on Thursday, Trevor Moore is out today; it’s unclear whether this is precautionary or if there has been a re-aggravation of his injury after he took a knock to the head in practice shortly before he was slated to return from a shoulder ailment. That likely means Jason Spezza will step in for Moore on the fourth line next to Frederik Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov. Additionally, Jeremy Bracco has been recalled from the Marlies as an extra body in case an injury takes place in warmups.
This afternoon game marks the return of Jake Gardiner to the Scotiabank Arena as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. Expect an acknowledgment from the organization during the first TV timeout, and hopefully a classy response from the home fans. A proud Leaf, Gardiner gave the franchise many good seasons and was one of the leading even-strength point-producing defensemen in the league over his time in Toronto. In fact, prior to his back injury in February of 2019, Gardiner was fifth among NHL defensemen in even-strength points since 2016.
In net for the Canes will be another former Leaf in James Reimer, who is currently on a run of six wins in his last seven starts, a stretch that includes two shutouts and a .950 save percentage.
This Hurricanes team presents a good challenge for the Leafs today — they’re a lower-event, stingier team than the Leafs at 5v5 with good goaltending and depth throughout their lineup, and they’re well-drilled on both sides of special teams. With the Panthers, Canadiens and Sabres in action later tonight, this is an opportunity for the Leafs to punctuate their recent turnaround under Sheldon Keefe with a win that would seat them in a divisional playoff spot as of the holiday break.
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
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #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: Jeremy Bracco, Martin Marincin
Injured: Andreas Johnsson, Trevor Moore
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines
#37 Andrei Svechnikov – #11 Jordan Staal – #13 Warren Foegele
#21 Nino Niederreiter – #20 Sebastian Aho – #86 Teuvo Teravainen
#19 Ryan Dzingel – #56 Erik Huala – #88 Martin Necas
#23 Brock McGinn – #71 Lucas Wallmark – #48 Jordan Martinook
#74 Jacob Slavin – #19 Dougie Hamilton
#6 Joel Edmundson – #22 Brett Pesce
#51 Jake Gardiner – #57 Trevor Van Riemsdyk
#47 James Reimer (starter)
#34 Petr Mrazek