The Toronto Maple Leafs look to enter the All-Star Break on a high note as they host an Original Six rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, on Hockey Night in Canada (7 p.m. ET, CBC).
Thursday’s shootout loss to the Flames ticked a lot of boxes for the Leafs despite the unfavorable result — Andersen looked comfortable in net, Dermott-Holl held their own against Calgary’s top forwards, and the Tavares line was the team’s best. A fabulous performance overall and a few game-changing saves from Flames starter David Rittich stole the two points for Calgary, but there were still positives to build on for the Leafs.
Tonight, they face a Blackhawks team with a less favorable outlook on a playoff spot despite wins in their last three games. On the season, the Hawks are 17th and 30th in expected goals for and against, respectively. However, in their last five, they are seventh and 27th, respectively. Outside of a short stretch in late October, Chicago hasn’t had a more than intermittent spells above 50% xG, so the current trend is one they will need to sustain as they try to make up ground in the playoff race.
With injuries to Brandon Saad (who may return to action tonight after a month on the shelf), Andrew Shaw, and Dylan Strome at forward, the Blackhawks have needed scorers outside of Patrick Kane, Alex Debrincat, and Jonathan Toews to step up in their absence. One pleasant revelation has been the play of Dominik Kubalik, a 24-year-old former seventh-rounder who has been lighting it up as of late alongside Jonathan Toews. He has six goals in his last five games and, on the season, is second on the team in points/60 just behind only Patrick Kane. Kubalik was drafted by the L.A Kings initially back in 2013 but never signed there; he inked a one-year ELC with Chicago this past May after a successful year as one of the Swiss league’s top scorers.
With a 1A/1B goalie situation, it isn’t easy to guess who the Blackhawks are going to start in net on any given night, but tonight it will be Corey Crawford, who has started 23 games to Robin Lehner’s 25 this season. Lehner’s numbers are far superior this season, but for now, the Blackhawks are still splitting his starts with their 2x William Jennings-winning franchise goalie from their 2013 and 2015 Cup wins. Healthy again after a couple of years of battling concussion symptoms, Crawford has put up and record of 8-13-2 this season, with a save percentage of .908 and a GSAx of -0.6.
Tonight is no time to look forward to vacation plans for the Leafs; with soft opposition on the docket for the Florida Panthers (vs. Detroit), Columbus Blue Jackets (vs. New Jersey), and Philadelphia (vs. Los Angeles) tonight, this is a big pre-break game in the standings.
Game Day Quotes
Zach Hyman on the low odds of a low-scoring game tonight:
There’s always a possibility but, yeah, they’re definitely a high powered team that likes to score, so It’ll be a good test for us on the defensive side to make sure we’re taking care of the puck because they’ve got some dangerous players.
Hyman on Patrick Kane:
You’ve got to be aware when you’re on the ice against him. Guys like that want the puck all the time, but they tend to find areas on the ice where they disappear so you have to find them. Always being aware when players like that are on the ice is going to be important.
Sheldon Keefe on the Blackhawks:
Well, they have a lot of skill right throughout their four lines and on their defense that are involved, can score goals, and make a lot of plays. They can score goals in bunches, so we’re going to be put to the test defensively in that sense, and it’s going to be a challenge for us to get them to defend as much as possible.
Keefe on sophomore Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton:
I think there’s a lot of similarities in what most teams are doing. I know Jeremy a little bit working with him in our development camp, which he attended. We’ve chatted since I’ve got this job. Obviously, he was in a similar situation last year taking over mid-season. We’ve compared notes a little bit on that front. It was nice to see him get his opportunity last year as well. Based on the way he likes to coach, he encourages players to play on offense, so that’s really what we’re preparing for.
Keefe on managing the team’s concentration level before a week-long break:
Yeah, it’s a mental task here today. We talked about it here this morning and I can talk about it all I want. It’s really on them to make the decision that this game is important, and it certainly is. We’ll talk about it again here when they come back for the game tonight, and then the puck will drop and we’ll find out. I hope that our team is engaged and that yesterday gave us a chance to get prepared for this final game.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#52 Martin Marincin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #83 Cody Ceci
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks
Injured: Trevor Moore, Ilya Mikheyev, Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly
Sheldon Keefe said #Leafs have some game-time decisions forthcoming with regards to lineup vs. Blackhawks. Certain guys dealing with things, will take warmups and decide from there who’s in.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 18, 2020
Chicago Blackhawks Projected Lines
#20 Brandon Saad – #19 Jonathan Toews – #8 Dominik Kubalik
#92 Alex Nylander – #22 Ryan Carpenter – #88 Patrick Kane
#12 Alex Bebrincat – #64 David Kampf – #77 Kirby Dach
#91 Drake Caggiula – #15 Zach Smith – #36 Matthew Highmore
#2 Duncan Keith – #27 Adam Boqvist
#56 Erik Gustafsson – #5 Connor Murphy
#6 Olli Maatta – #68 Slater Koekkoek
#50 Corey Crawford (starter)
#40 Robin Lehner
Injured: Calvin De Haan, Andrew Shaw, Dylan Strome