The scrutiny on tonight’s performance will be intense as the Toronto Maple Leafs welcome the Penguins into Scotiabank Arena for a rematch following Tuesday’s debacle in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET, TSN4).
Now out of a playoff spot, it’s truly put-up-or-shut-up time for the Maple Leafs, and the schedule is handing them no favours with a second straight matchup against the Penguins, who are surging despite their own injury-related adversity, going 6-1-1 since the break. While the matchup moves to Toronto tonight, the added challenge of Evgeni Malkin returning to the lineup means the situation is not going to get any easier unless the Leafs dig in deeper for the solution.
Serving as a welcome distraction, Kyle Dubas and the Leafs front office made two minor trades to upgrade their forward depth yesterday, acquiring both Denis Malgin and Max Veronneau in separate trades with Florida and Ottawa, respectively. Veronneau, an undrafted winger who played four seasons at Princeton University and has bounced between Ottawa and Belleville (AHL) this season, will likely join the Marlies and play big minutes on one of their top two lines.
Malgin — a small but skilled 23-year-old right-handed winger/center — has been confirmed as an addition to the lineup tonight and provides some upside as a depth scorer. Malgin has now played nearly 200 games at the NHL level between the 2016-17 season and now with a Goals Above Replacement/60 rating of 0.25, which bests current/former depth forwards such as Pontus Aberg, Trevor Moore, Dmytro Timashov, Tyler Ennis, Frederik Gauthier, and Kyle Clifford.
Where Malgin will place in the lineup is a bit of a guessing game, as is the rest of the forward group. Frederik Gauthier was slotted into an unfamiliar spot on Tuesday between Pierre Engvall and Kasperi Kapanen, so there’s a good chance the mix was going to change regardless of the trades that took place. The forward lines in practice yesterday were identical to the last game, but it doesn’t seem like Keefe has any intention of keeping it that way. Both Dmytro Timashov and Frederik Gauthier played in the last game and have been bouncing in and out of the scratches as of late, so it’s very likely one of those two is comes out for Malgin; today’s indications are it will be Timashov coming out. Egor Korshkov remains with the team after sitting on Tuesday and is also an option to replace either Gauthier or Timashov.
Sheldon Keefe hints at a lineup reshuffling for tonight's game vs. Pittsburgh, but won't share where exactly Denis Malgin fits in or what the trickle down effect will be.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 20, 2020
In net, Sheldon Keefe has put his faith in Frederik Andersen as he attempts to reverse what has been one of his worst stretches of play as a Leaf. Andersen has gone 4-4-2 in 2020 with a save percentage of .884 in his last 10 starts, but there is a lot to be said for the fact that the Leafs are only going as far as Andersen can take them this year. Coming off of injury, Andersen is arguably owed this opportunity to work through his rust after serving as the low-maintenance lynchpin of this team during so many years of chancy, high-event hockey.
As for the team as a whole, we’ve had two straight days of a media circus with the team giving out quotes about its need to put its work before its skill and to improve its work ethic and overall resiliency. Mitch Marner went as far as to say that the team seems to “give up” on some nights when the game is not going its way. Leafs fans can be forgiven for feeling sick and tired of hearing the same cliches from group after group of players and coaches alike. More than just saying the right things, there simply has to be a response on the ice tonight from Andersen on out.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on what he wants to see from the team tonight:
Just want to see a response in our effort, our enthusiasm, our competitiveness — all of those things that we know are really important. We’ve talked a number of times as a team about the foundation to give yourself a chance at any sort of success as a team — to give you a chance to let your skill be the difference. If you don’t have that foundation, you are going to be in tough. We certainly learned that here recently. We get a chance to respond here tonight and I’m looking forward to it.
Keefe on the lineup changes for tonight:
I am not going to share that with you today. We’re going to hold onto that one. We’re going to have some chances from what we’ve had in the past. We are going to save that for tonight. We’re excited to add him to the group just in terms of having another player that has a really strong skill set. Our depth has taken a bit of a hit here recently, and that is going to help our cause. In terms of the other deal that was made, I think that is one that more has Marlies implications to it.
Keefe on whether the scrutiny of the market makes it more challenging during times of adversity:
It is an additional challenge. There is noise and attention. That is part of the beauty of being here. People care. When things were going great, people were behind us and pushing us and celebrating the turnaround and success of the team at that time. That is kind of what fuels me every day — knowing that people care about what we are doing and knowing that I am getting up every morning with a purpose and mission of what I want to accomplish to help the team and help the city and help the fans. That is all part of it. That is a big reason why all of our players are here. Our captain — that is why he is here. He signed up for this. He wants to be a part of it. Jason Spezza is another guy. That’s what he signed up for. That is what is great about being a Maple Leaf.
Keefe on the big-picture meaning of tonight’s game:
We can’t overreact to one game, just like how we don’t want to overreact to two games in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. We’ve got to remain consistent in our approach and what we go through every day. We can go out today and have the best game of the season — it doesn’t mean we are out of the woods. We are looking for consistency here. That is what we are looking for. But we need signs of life at this time. That is what we are really looking for from our team. We are going to have a really challenging opponent again on the other side and the schedule is not going to let up for us any time soon or really the rest of the way. We need to get to a higher level as a team. We can only handle the day in front of us today.
John Tavares on the team’s need to find another level competitively speaking:
At times, we are competing hard and the attention to detail and focus is there, but it’s about just winning some of those battles and some of those races that are crucial. Special teams, the other night, we were on the wrong side of. It’s another area we have to be better in. We’ve just go to find ways to get the puck more in those instances especially along the boards and in the corner and fighting to get to the interior of the ice for better quality of chances that way, and defending hard in that area. It’s just being ultra competitive and finding another level outside of your own comfort zone.
Jason Spezza on the need for urgency:
We’ve seen teams up their intensity and their desperation this time of year. To this point, we haven’t been able to get there, but there is lots of track left. We know what we have to do differently. This is a big challenge for us.
Spezza on the Penguins ability to pair work and skill:
They are just a hard team to play against. They have the high-end skill and still make the difficult plays and the pretty plays, but they also know how to shut games down. They bring an intensity to the game that is important this time of year. I think they are just a team that plays with a lot of confidence because of the success they’ve had. I think that is something we can learn from them — just how to bring it more consistently than we’ve been doing it. It is going to be important for us here in the stretch run.
Spezza on the amount of media and fan criticism the team is receiving of late:
We are getting criticized, but that is part of the game. When you don’t win games, you open yourself up to criticism. Last year, everyone talked about how they cruised into playoffs and didn’t play meaningful games. Now we’re playing meaningful hockey. We’re exactly where we want to be and we have a chance to grow. We put ourselves in a position where we control our fate if we win our games. That is a great spot for a team to be in and that is a great challenge.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Note: Line combinations are expected to be shaken up by game time
#88 William Nylander – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #11 Zach Hyman
#47 Pierre Engvall – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#73 Kyle Clifford – #19 Jason Spezza – #62 Denis Malgin
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#23 Travis Dermott – #52 Martin Marincin
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Scratched: Egor Korshkov, Dmytro Timashov
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Andreas Johnsson
Pittsburgh Penguins Projected Lines
#16 Jason Zucker – #87 Sidney Crosby – #12 Dominik Simon
#19 Jared McCann – #71 Evgeni Malkin – #17 Bryan Rust
#13 Brandon Tanev – #53 Teddy Blueger – #72 Patric Hornqvist
#24 Dominik Kahun – #26 Andrew Agozzino – #37 Sam Lafferty
#3 Jack Johnson – #58 Kris Letang
#28 Marcus Pettersson – #4 Justin Schultz
#50 Juuso Riikola – #2 Chad Ruhwedel
#30 Matt Murray (starter)
#35 Tristan Jarry
Injured: Nick Bjugstad, Jake Guentzel, Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, Zach Aston-Reese