After leveling the series with a big bounce-back performance in Game 2, the Maple Leafs will have to cope with the substantial loss of Jake Muzzin by making the necessary adjustments heading into a potentially series-deciding back-to-back starting tonight at 8 p.m. ET (Sportsnet).
John Tavares, after a mediocre performance on Sunday, was the best player on the ice in Game 2 statistically, dominating in all situations and leading both teams with a 1.2 individual Expected Goals — compared to the Blue Jackets’ total of just 1.7 as an entire team, it really underscores the contrast in the teams’ Game 2 performances. Plenty of Leaf players had great nights possession-wise, obviously — the Matthews line leading the charge — but Tavares made the most of his possessions, creating plentiful opportunities in the slot area alongside William Nylander, a combination that will remain intact tonight.
“Any time you get two guys like that [Matthews and Tavares] playing as hungry as they are and as committed as they are, they had a lot of opportunities to score, but there were a lot of other intangibles it provides for us as well,” said Sheldon Keefe.
On the other bench, John Tortorella, no doubt looking to spark his club after a real dud of a Game 2 performance, will presumably shake up his lines after new combinations were put through their paces at practice yesterday. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Pierre-Luc Dubois, who played 278 minutes (48 games) together this 70-game regular season, will be split up, with the former moving to the speedy Alex Wennberg’s wing opposite Gustav Nyquist. Dubois will remain with rookie Alex Texier, who led the team in shot attempts in Game 2, while Cam Atkinson will move onto their wing.
Toronto really overwhelmed the Blue Jackets with their pace and puck possession in Game 2, dominating a game that could have easily ended in a lopsided score if Joonas Korpiaslo wasn’t as dialed in as he is at the moment. Their ability to open up the neutral zone, stretch the Columbus defense a little bit, and spend time in the offensive zone really took the sting out of the Blue Jackets’ forecheck as they spent much of the game simply hanging on or dumping and changing.
The Leafs‘ play even prompted a classic Tortorella post-game presser in which he refused to answer questions about the game his team had just played. Despite the thorough beatdown, however, Columbus is not an easy team to discourage and the Leafs should be prepared for a push right out of the starting gates tonight.
“I’m fully expecting they are going to be a whole lot better today,” said Keefe.
In wake of the Jake Muzzin injury, we could see Keefe go with the extra options 7D provides and dress both Martin Marincin and Rasmus Sandin tonight, but he wasn’t giving any hints in his game-day availability. If he goes with six on the blue line, it sounds like Marincin has the nod for tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Justin Holl on Martin Marincin entering the lineup:
Yeah, Marty is a great player. I played with him on the Marlies pretty much the whole year when we won the Calder Cup. He’s very dependable, great defensively, great control of his stick, and really good on the PK. There are lots of things that he can contribute for sure.
Holl on playing alongside Travis Dermott with Jake Muzzin out for the series:
I feel very comfortable with Travis. We were playing together before the pause and I think he stepped in there really nicely and played really well. He’s fast, he’s very good offensively, and he’s very dependable defensively. I feel very comfortable with him and I have a lot of confidence in his abilities.
Alex Kerfoot on his line’s performances:
I think we’ve just gotten better as a line. Amongst the three of us, I think we have a lot of speed and we need to use that to our advantage — just making it hard on other teams and getting in on the forecheck and disrupting as much as we can so we can play in the offensive zone. We’ve done a good job, but I still think we can generate more chances once we get into the o-zone. But overall, I thought our team game last game was really good.
Sheldon Keefe on why there hasn’t been a PP goal yet from the Leafs through two games:
Like anybody, when the game ends the other day and you’re 0-5 on the power play, you don’t feel great about it. You know that you should be able to cash-in there. As you go through the video and break it down, we liked a lot of things about our process there. We thought we entered the zone really well, we spent a lot of time in their end, and we had six very good scoring chances. The process we really liked and we think if we keep getting those types of looks, it will go in for us.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#89 Nick Robertson – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#73 Kyle Clifford – #47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza
##23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#52 Martin Marincin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Robertson – Kerfoot – Spezza
Extras: Rasmus Sandin, Denis Malgin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen, Frederik Gauthier
Injured: Andreas Johnsson, Jake Muzzin
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
#42 Alexandre Texier – #18 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #13 Cam Atkinson
#14 Gustav Nyquist – #10 Alexander Wennberg – #28 Oliver Bjorkstrand
#71 Nick Foligno – #38 Boone Jenner – #19 Liam Foudy
#50 Eric Robinson – #20 Riley Nash – #52 Emil Bemstrom
#8 Zach Werenski – #3 Seth Jones
#44 Vladislav Gavrikov – #58 David Savard
#27 Ryan Murray – #46 Dean Kukan
#70 Joonas Korpisalo (starter)
#90 Elvis Merzlikins
Injured: Josh Anderson