After a poor final 40 minutes resulted in a 5-2 loss to San Jose in game one of the California road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in L.A for the first of a back-to-back against the Western Conference’s last-place team (10:30 p.m. ET, SNO).
While the Leafs worked Ilya Mikheyev into a full practice yesterday and put him back on a line with John Tavares — a very good sign for the first year NHLer’s prospects of a possible return prior to the playoffs — it will still be a few more weeks minimum before he’s back in game action. With Mikheyev taking regular line rushes, there are no clear indications of the changes that might come to the forward lines tonight, but there’s reason to expect a few tweaks after an uneven performance in San Jose.
On the back-end, considering he was back practicing with the second powerplay unit, we’ll likely see Rasmus Sandin back in the lineup tonight. Keefe noted the burden put on Sandin after Jake Muzzin’s injury through a busy part of the schedule — the same could be true for Calle Rosen, who while more of a veteran, has been in a bit of a whirlwind since being re-acquired from Colorado at the trade deadline. It remains to be seen if Timothy Liljegren or Rosen will make way.
In recent pressers, Sheldon Keefe has been warning about how well the bottom-feeding LA Kings have been playing in a spoiler capacity these past few weeks — they’ve won three in a row including wins over some quality opposition in Pittsburgh and Vegas. This season, they’re tied for fourth with the Maple Leafs with 2.45 xGF/60 at 5-on-5 and sit 14th in xGA/60. Isolating for just their last ten games, though, the Kings have dropped to 14th in xG and 25th in xGA. Their work in the defensive zone has worsened dramatically over time, particularly recently:
However, goaltender Calvin Petersen, who backstopped the Kings to the recent wins vs. Vegas and Pittsburgh, has been impressive since his callup (.926 save percentage), stopping 41 of 42 and 35 of 36 in those games. After inconsistent goaltending all season, the team has gotten .956 netminding at 5v5 over the past two weeks (third in the NHL).
Between the flat performance in San Jose and LA’s recent form, there is no reason for the Leafs to overlook the opponent tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the LA Kings:
This team is going to work here in LA. They are going to make it hard on us. They have been doing that very well here in the games we have seen of them recently here. They have been playing good hockey. They’re a young, energetic team that is playing fast and with a lot of good structure.
Keefe on Jack Campbell starting two of three this week (Andersen tonight, Campbell tomorrow):
It’s healthy for us and it’s healthy for Fred. That’s really the idea behind it — to be able to manage Fred’s workload. We still have to be able to get wins and be able to play good hockey no matter who is in the net. I felt that even before acquiring Jack Campbell. The confidence he has brought to our entire team allows us to be able to make better decisions for Fred for his health and workload looking at the big picture while also recognizing we are in a battle here, a fight to make the playoffs. We believe that no matter who is in the net, we can get wins.
Keefe on whether Pierre Engvall has “hit a wall” in his first stint in the NHL:
I don’t know if hitting a wall is the right term, but he is certainly not playing at the level he was when he first arrived here. It really made a big difference to our team. He is a guy we need to get a lot more out of. I’ve talked to him about that — about thinking a little bit less and skating and using the physical attributes he has to get on top of the puck and spend more time in the offensive zone generating more shots and chances and being around the net.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #47 Pierre Engvall
#73 Kyle Clifford – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#62 Denis Malgin – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#52 Martin Marincin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Scratched: Calle Rosen
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Andreas Johnsson, Jake Muzzin
Los Angeles Kings Projected Lines
#19 Alex Iafallo – #11 Anze Kopitar – #23 Dustin Brown
#12 Trevor Moore – #46 Blake Lizotte – #22 Trevor Lewis
#9 Adrian Kempe – #42 Gabriel Vilardi – #29 Martin Frk
#74 Nikolai Prokhorkin – #10 Mike Amadio – #51 Austin Wagner
#15 Ben Hutton – #8 Drew Doughty
#55 Mikey Anderson – #3 Matt Roy
#56 Kurtis MacDermid – #26 Sean Walker
#32 Jonathan Quick (starter)
#40 Cal Petersen
Injured: Jeff Carter