The Maple Leafs, who generated little pushback after allowing an inexperienced Senators team to light them up in the second period last night, will attempt to salvage a split in the rematch in Ottawa tonight on Hockey Night in Canada (7 p.m. EST, CBC).
There’s no doubt that Toronto’s lineup will receive some sort of a shake-up for tonight’s game for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, it’s their first back-to-back situation in a compact season after a short camp and no preseason to evaluate their depth options. Secondly, last night’s second-period collapse, a second consecutive uneven performance, warrants one. Lastly, the ice time distribution has been pretty bizarre through two games.
As Anthony mentioned in his review of last night’s game, there is no excuse for having John Tavares play the 8th (!) most minutes among Leaf forwards. Joe Thornton, no matter how tertiary his role is playing on the wing next to puck carriers like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, shouldn’t be eclipsing Zach Hyman in five-on-five ice time most nights either, let alone Tavares, who now has five points in two games. Penalties have changed the flow of both games, but it’s still hard to wrap one’s head around, not to mention Mitch Marner’s 24:22 of all-situations ice time despite Marner clearly not having his A, B, or even C game on Friday night.
In terms of the specific line changes, it’s anyone’s guess. Sheldon Keefe has kept his bottom line’s minutes very limited, especially Alexander Barabanov, who appears to be coming out of the lineup. Robertson should add some hunger to the lineup and plenty of storyline intrigue in his first-ever NHL regular-season game.
Per NHL official roster update at approx. 11:30am, Nicholas Robertson added to team's active roster and Alexander Barabonov removed. The Leafs did this earlier in the week with Mikko Lehtonen, but didn't any change to their lineup. Should get some confirmation later this aft.
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After Keefe decided that 27-year-old rookie and KHL all-star Mikko Lehtonen should start the season observing game action from above given the lack of exhibition games, he may also get his first look. There hasn’t been any confirmation as of yet, but with the bottom pairing minutes hovering in the 12-minute range through two games, we may see the experimentation start soon. It also happens to be Lehtonen’s birthday.
There is also the possibility of dressing seven defensemen and 11 forwards — this would allow Toronto to keep Zach Bogosian in the lineup for secondary penalty-killing duties and leave Lehtonen to ease into more comfortable minutes at even strength. It also wouldn’t significantly affect the forward deployment as Keefe hasn’t played his depth forwards much at all. There are plenty of possibilities here.
Update (6:00 p.m. EST): There will be no changes on defense for tonight, per Sheldon Keefe.
One lineup tweak we know for sure is that Jack Campbell will tend the crease for the first time this season, with Aaron Dell serving as the backup, as Frederik Andersen won’t touch the ice tonight on his rest day, even for warmups. Considering Andersen’s trajectory in the last calendar year and his first two appearances this season, it feels like the baying wolves in this market are circling and ready to dig their teeth into a meaty goaltending controversy. As early as it is, with a good performance from Campbell tonight, you can bet it will dominate the storylines in the lead-up to Monday’s game versus the Jets.
It may feel dramatic in game three, but given all of the enough-is-enough talk we’ve heard from the Leafs about improving their overall consistency and work habits this season, coming off an ugly loss, the first real test is manufacturing a convincing response tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on Nick Robertson’s season debut:
We are really just looking for him to make an impact on each shift that he gets. That is a big one. He has the ability to do that even in the bubble. Probably the biggest area of development for him is some of the detail away from the puck. That will take some time to come.
We would like to see how he has developed from a strength perspective in the offseason. He has put in a lot of work. How can he handle the physicality of the NHL and the strength of the defenders? He and I have talked about how that was a big area we took out of the Columbus series. It gave him some struggles as part of developing as a young player.
He has lots of energy and lots of confidence. He will be moving out there tonight for sure.
Keefe on what the team needs to improve on after last night:
We thought we had a good first period until we got ourselves into penalty trouble. We weren’t generating a great deal ourselves offensively and think we can get better there. We had a pretty good first period, penalties aside, but we just didn’t stay with it.
We want to be a team that can play well when it is hard for the duration of the game. It just shows we have a ways to go in that regard. We are expecting our team to be a lot better in that area today.
Keefe on the need to generate more at the net:
It is not as simple as throwing it at the net blindly. That is not what we are looking for, but there is a purpose and a process behind creating looks at the net. We want to take advantage of those opportunities when they are there. Sometimes, we have such great skill on our team that they tend to want to look to build something better for themselves. It becomes difficult when you play against a team that is really structured and detailed and is focused on making it hard on you.
We experienced that in the playoff series against Columbus. That has been a focus of ours from day one of camp and we are yet to be able to bring it to the ice. That is what we are looking to do here today: take another step in that area.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines*
*unconfirmed, changes expected in warmups
#97 Joe Thornton – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#26 Jimmy Vesey – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #11 Zach Hyman
#89 Nick Robertson – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #76 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#29 Aaron Dell
Marner – Thornton – Matthews
Tavares – Kerfoot – Nylander
Extras: Alex Barabanov, Frederik Andersen, Rasmus Sandin, Mikko Lehtonen, Travis Boyd, Adam Brooks
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #9 Josh Norris – #19 Drake Batherson
#18 Tim Stutzle – #15 Derek Stepan – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#13 Nick Paul – #71 Chris Tierney – #28 Connor Brown
#23 Cedric Paquette – #36 Colin White – #16 Austin Watson
#72 Thomas Chabot – #44 Erik Gudbranson
#38 Mike Reilly – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#55 Braydon Coburn – #3 Josh Brown
#30 Matt Murray (starter)
#1 Marcus Hogberg
Scratches: Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Wolanin, Colin White, Artem Anisimov