The Toronto Maple Leafs will finish training camp with a Blue and White intrasquad game tonight at 7 p.m. ET (TSN4 & Sportsnet Ontario).
Here is how the logistics of the night break down:
Team Rosters (with jersey numbers)
- The game will be refereed by an NHL officiating crew
- There will be three 20-minute periods, with a shootout at the end of the first and second periods
- The teams will play a five-minute, sudden death three-on-three overtime period regardless of the score after regulation
- The starting goalies will play 40 minutes each
- The first and fourth lines — Thornton – Matthews – Marner & Barabanov – Spezza – Simmonds — will play for Team Blue
- The second and third lines — Vesey – Tavares – Nylander and Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman — will play for Team White
- The first and fourth pairings — Rielly – Brodie & Sandin – Dermott — will play for Team Blue
- The second and third pairings — Muzzin – Holl & Lehtonen – Bogosian — will play for Team White
- Jack Campbell plays two periods for Team White
- Frederik Andersen plays two periods for Team Blue
- Aaron Dell switches teams and plays one period for each squad
- Sheldon Keefe, Dave Hakstol, and Manny Malhotra will coach one period for each team in the first and second periods, then split up for the third
- Paul MacLean and Marlies head coach Greg Moore will work the opposite bench
Joe Thornton – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner (Team Blue)
Jimmy Vesey – John Tavares – William Nylander (Team White)
Ilya Mikheyev – Pierre Engvall – Zach Hyman (Team White)
Alex Barabanov – Jason Spezza – Wayne Simmonds (Team Blue)
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie (Team Blue)
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl (Team White)
Mikko Lehtonen – Zach Bogosian (Team White)
Rasmus Sandin – Travis Dermott (Team Blue)
Kivihlame (actually; White, not Blue)
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) January 9, 2021
Storylines to Watch
- The emphasis on practicing the shootout, in both training camp this week and in tonight’s intrasquad game, likely has a lot to do with the number of points the team has left on the table in this category over the past few seasons, including a 1-5 record in shootouts in 2019-20. Part of it is needing a few more saves (.615 save percentage, 21st in the NHL last season), but a 21.4% success rate for Leaf shooters last season (24th in the NHL) is really inexcusable given the offensive talent on the team. Considering each and every extra point goes to either your team or a division rival, it is even more critical this season than your average year.
- It’s likely we see the line combinations above, save for Alex Kerfoot taking back his spot from Pierre Engvall if Kerfoot is healthy enough to play, on opening night on Wednesday. But Nick Robertson has another NHL rookie (Barabanov) and a 900k depth signing (Jimmy Vesey) ahead of him on the depth chart on the left wing. Robertson insisted on partaking in Leafs camp, skipping a World Junior tournament where his country won gold, to best prepare himself for the NHL season. He should be hungry to give the coaching staff something to think about.
- While he is right-handed, the same goes for Joey Anderson. He hasn’t received much attention this camp on account of his inclusion in the second group, but he looked like an NHL player in New Jersey last season, and he could offer a fourth-line energy presence if Barabanov doesn’t stake a firm claim to a spot in the early stages of the season.
- The starting power-play units were unveiled yesterday, and the biggest surprise was captain John Tavares joining William Nylander on PP2, allowing both Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds to start on the first unit. Sheldon Keefe was already reminding us yesterday that last year’s top unit isn’t likely to disappear forever, and how they balance the minute share is something to monitor. They will likely want Matthews out there for ~1:30 of most power plays, and that only leaves crumbs for your $11 million captain and $6.75 million 30+ goal scorer on the other unit.
The two units will be on opposite sides in this game, which might have been part of the reason they lined up that way with both Tavares and Nylander on the second unit, as it would’ve been difficult to have a competitive game if they kept last year’s top unit all on one squad. We’ll know better based on how the team practices this week, but Keefe has stated an intent to establish two units from the start. With Mitch Marner in the bumper position on PP1, Thornton on the halfwall, and Nylander and Tavares moved to unit two, it takes away two natural shooters from the unit. That said, Simmonds (net front) and Thornton (half wall) have been major power-play assets throughout their career in their respective roles (there are some good insights from Simmonds on the net-front role in the game day quotes below). We’ll see how the dynamic looks tonight; with Hyman at the net-front of the other unit, they’ve got a little more muck-and-grind in front of the net than where they left off in the playoffs with Nylander and Kapanen in those roles.
- Pierre Engvall will receive an opportunity to center the third line in place of Kerfoot. His waiver exemption lasts seven more games, but he also earns $1.25 million, which is $175k above the buriable cap threshold if he’s sent to the taxi squad. The Leafs are hoping he can be a factor at center ice this season; whether Spezza can be a full-time center this year remains to be seen, and they’re likely going to want to give Spezza some nights off throughout the year. Travis Boyd, and to a lesser extent Adam Brooks, are also in this mix.
- In addition to our first looks at Thornton, Vesey, Simmonds, Barabanov up front, the Leafs have major internal competition brewing on their third and fourth defense pairings with newcomers Mikko Lehtonen and Zach Bogosian competing with Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott for minutes. Lots to keep an eye on there.
Game Day Quotes
Wayne Simmonds on his net-front power-play role, and how he’s honed his skills there over the years:
I got a chance to play behind guys like Ryan Smyth, who has been one of the greatest net-front presences in the NHL, and Michal Handzus as well. I picked those guys brains a lot throughout the three years I was in LA. Smitty would help me out a tremendous amount.
Going into Philly, I got the chance to work with Scott Hartnell and learn some tricks of the trade from there. A guy I have watched my whole career is Corey Perry — the way that he does things in front of the net, and how slick he is, and the patience that he has. Those are guys that I have picked up some tips off of.
Watching goalies, and being able to change the angle of the screen — whether it is a low or high screen — and making plays as well… I went into Philadelphia in my first year nine years ago now, and I started to make plays in front of the net. Not only are you there as a screen, but you are there for tipping and to make those low plays and puck retrievals. The evolution just continues for me to get better every year. I am a student of the game, and I am looking to learn every time I get a chance.
Keefe on Simmonds as an asset at the net-front:
He has a great history of producing at the net front, whether that is he himself scoring or just contributing because of the issue a good net-front presence can cause for the goaltenders and penalty killers. We want to give him that opportunity. It obviously expands his role with us, and that is important.
We think he has a lot to offer. Prioritizing the net-front is something we wanted to do right from the start. We see that with Simmonds on one unit and Hyman on another. We want to give that a go. I thought William Nylander made great progress in that position last year, and John Tavares is also very good in that spot. We have options. In the early going, we want to give this a look.
TJ Brodie on his pairing with Morgan Rielly:
He’s an easy guy to play with. He does everything so well. It is pretty easy to read him. He is so skilled. You just let him do his thing out there.