A big redemption win against the Penguins got the Toronto Maple Leafs back into the win column with one of their most dominant performances of the season. Tonight, they’re looking to build on it at home against a tired Carolina Hurricanes team in their final game before the trade deadline (7 p.m. ET, HNIC).
Both the Leafs and Hurricanes are currently sitting at 72 points, with the Leafs having played two more games than Carolina. While the Leafs have reclaimed the third divisional playoff spot for the time being, the Hurricanes are competing in a hotly-contested Metro Division and are just one point out of a wildcard spot with a record of 34-22-4. According to moneypuck.com, both the Leafs and Hurricanes have nearly identical odds of making the playoffs at just over 69%.
There has been a stark contrast in the Hurricanes’ output recently and their first 50 games of the season. It hasn’t affected their results all that much, but Carolina has not controlled the expected goals at the level they usually do (xGF trend below):
A 5-2 loss to the Rangers last night was the Hurricanes’ third loss by three or more goals in their last eight games. Their team save percentage in their last ten games is .888 compared to .904 on the year, while their overall xGF% has dipped from 53.2% on the season to 46% in their last ten. They’ve seen a significant shooting boost during this last stretch, going from 9.6% on the season to 11.5%, which has helped make up for the reduction in offensive opportunities generated.
Changes to the Leafs lineup tonight won’t be clear until warmups as the team did not practice yesterday amid a seven-games-in-12-days stretch. However, one can assume that Alex Kerfoot’s place at center in between Pierre Engvall and Kasperi Kapanen is secure for tonight after the line’s performance against Pittsburgh. Sheldon Keefe mentioned earlier this week his concern for his bottom six as of late and it seems the acquisition of Denis Malgin has afforded him the flexibility to move Kerfoot back to the middle. One game is one game, but the Leafs’ overall balance looked much improved on Thursday.
Frederik Andersen is expected to start for Toronto after he earned a huge win, both for himself and the team, on Thursday. For Carolina, with Petr Mrazek having played yesterday, they will start their 1B James Reimer, who is 14-6-2 on the season with a .914 Sv% and a GSAx of 7.6 — good for third in the NHL among all goalies. The last time the Leafs squared off against James Reimer, though, he was chased from the net very early in a wild 8-6 win by Toronto just before Christmas.
Game Day Quotes
Auston Matthews on Thursday’s big win:
I think we just kind of found a staple of how we’d like to play. Obviously, we’d like to do that more consistently. Like we talked about earlier this week, we’re playing some good teams here. Obviously, Carolina is a very good team and they play to their structure. We need another effort like we had the other night.
Pierre Engvall on what the team did well on Thursday:
If you get down to it, we worked hard. We stayed with our structure and we had a lot of fun out there. The work was the biggest thing for us in that game.
The forecheck was really good — we stopped them down there and got the long sequences there in the offensive zone. That was really good for us. We’ve got to keep doing what we did.
Engvall getting back on a line with Kapanen and Kerfoot:
Me, Kappy, and Kerfoot play well together, so it’s good to play with those guys again. I think we have good chemistry and I think all the other lines do, too. It’s good to see all four lines role.
Sheldon Keefe on the importance of continuing to compete hard:
One hockey game doesn’t make a season — it shows us what we’re capable of and we want to build upon that for sure. We want to enjoy that feeling — enjoy the feeling of when it’s tough and it’s a struggle and also when it’s going well and recognize what you did well and what you did to the opposition. We want to be able to enjoy that and do it again.
Keefe on how hard it is to maintain momentum throughout a season:
It is a challenge and that’s why you see the ups and downs of a season over 82 games. There’s the mental challenge of it and there is the physical challenge with the schedule and [injuries]. We’re at the time of the year here now where the teams that are the most focused and the most consistent are the ones that succeed.
Keefe on the trade deadline and his experience with it as a player:
My only memory is that no one would ever want me, so I wasn’t too concerned about it. We’re not talking about it. I know that it’s out there, but we’re just going about our business here, and we’ve got a lot of pros in the room that have been through this a lot. It’s a time of the year where everyone would be going through it to a certain degree. We’ve just got to keep the focus on what we have to do on the ice.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #62 Denis Malgin
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#73 Kyle Clifford – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#52 Martin Marincin – #23 Travis Dermott
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Scratched: Dmytro Timashov
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Andreas Johnsson
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines
#37 Andrei Svechnikov – #20 Sebastian Aho – #86 Teuvo Teravainen
#13 Warren Foegele – #11 Jordan Staal – #14 Justin Williams
#21 Nino Niederreiter – #56 Erik Haula – #88 Martin Necas
#18 Ryan Dzingel – #71 Lucas Wallmark – #23 Brock McGinn
#74 Jacob Slavin – #57 Trevor Van Riemsdyk
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Brett Pesce
#4 Haydn Fleury – #6 Joel Edmundson
#47 James Reimer (starter)
#34 Petr Mrazek
Injured: Dougie Hamilton, Jordan Martinook