Sporting a 2-1-0 record after three games in four days from Wednesday-Saturday, the Maple Leafs are back home and ready to take on a Winnipeg Jets team that is already feeling the effects of the injury bug to start the season (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
While there were some concerns around multiple Jets players being exposed to Covid-19, it appears that no one outside of Tucker Poolman was exposed in any way. The Jets canceled their practice on Saturday out of caution but resumed regular skating yesterday.
Patrik Laine, who scored two goals in Winnipeg’s first game, left both yesterday and today’s practice early. Head coach Paul Maurice simply mentioned that Laine had “trouble warming up,” so it’s safe to assume he’s dealing with something minor, but he won’t play tonight. That’s a big piece of the Jets’ offense, especially their power play, that will be missing tonight.
Jansen Harkins will draw in with Laine sitting out, although it’s not clear how the Jets will reconfigure their lines without their best goal-scorer. We’ll have to wait until warmups for their official line combos.
Dylan Demelo, who signed a four-year deal at 3-million AAV with the Jets in October, is not with the team as he’s at home taking care of his newborn child.
The Jets began their schedule back on Thursday prior to the Leafs‘ back-to-back against Ottawa, coming out on top of a competitive contest against the Flames off of a Patrick Laine overtime winner.
While both teams fired around 40 shot attempts by the start of overtime, Calgary had the jump from the start. The Flames scored three times in the first period despite the relative lack of shots and chances for both teams in the opening frame — Patrik Laine tied it up 1-1 before Johnny Gaudreau’s power-play goal and an Elias Lindholm 5v5 tally put the Flames up 3-1. The second period was dominant for the Jets, who were able to control play and tie the game through Mark Schiefele and a Kyle Connor PP goal.
The big news on the Maple Leafs side of things is that the team will dress seven defensemen, allowing Mikko Lehtonen to make his NHL debut. While it has been a while since the Leafs have dressed an extra defenseman and one fewer forward, this year’s team was more likely to go that route on certain nights knowing the number of defensemen in the organization that are able to play NHL minutes.
Given how little Barabanov, along with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds, has played, it was inevitable that Toronto would experiment with rotating two of those players into their top three lines rather than having a trio take a regular shift, allowing them to get Lehtonen his first taste of NHL action in a 7th D/power-play role.
In net, we may be witnessing the start of what could be a more active goalie rotation in Toronto. Frederik Andersen will start tonight after not dressing on Saturday, but it sounds as though the coaching staff’s approach with backup Jack Campbell won’t follow the same course of action as in recent years:
“I definitely see us mixing him in — we’re not just waiting on the back-to-backs for him. In terms of when he’ll play again, we’re going to take our time. Fred is taking today and we’ll go from there.”
– Sheldon Keefe after Monday’s morning skate
Last year’s Vezina winner, Connor Hellebuyck, will start for Winnipeg.
Pierre Engvall, who was technically on the AHL roster until today, will join Alex Barabanov, Travis Boyd, and Adam Brooks as an extra forward on the taxi squad after appearing to have disappointed the coaching staff in training camp. We’ll have to wait to see if and when Engvall gets into the lineup. It’s worth noting that Barabanov was the third forward on the bottom line at practice this morning before Keefe announced he was playing 11F/7D.
Game Day Quotes
Matthews on his line with Joe Thronton and Mitch Marner’s performance so far:
I think we were just competing hard. All three games we’ve done some good stuff. There’s just been times where [there was] a little bit of miscommunication, especially in the d-zone. As far as competing is concerned, I think we’ve been doing a lot of good things. Obviously, we got rewarded on Saturday and we feel good about that.
Matthews on the amount of young talent in the North Division:
That’s what makes this division so exciting. Every team has a lot of firepower, a lot of good young players, and that makes for pretty exciting games. Like I said, it’s always fun going against top players in this league. I think it raises your game. You want to make sure you come out ready to play every night in this league.
Sheldon Keefe on Nick Robertson’s status:
He has an MRI yesterday. The results we got back were good news considering how it was looking, but he is going to miss some time — about four weeks for him.
Keefe on Matthews working on his physique in the offseason:
I have seen that for sure. He’s on the puck a lot quicker. His stamina seems to be improved as well with the way he’s able to maintain speed and pressure on the puck throughout his shift, so that’s really good. [His fitness] was really evident from the first day of camp. The first few days, in particular, were really demanding for the guys with lots of skating and he was right at the front of the pack, so it looks like the work he’s put in paid off.
Keefe on how he expects Lehtonen to play in his first NHL game:
I don’t know if I’ve seen a great deal from practice necessarily. We haven’t practiced very much since [training camp]. It’s more just that we wanted to give him last week just as a chance to watch the games and be in more meetings and get a better feel for things.
Here now, we don’t want too much time to elapse before he gets in a game, so we’ll get him in here today and really get a feel for how he can compete in the league. Dressing seven defensemen, we’ll have to see how much he plays, but he’ll get back on the powerplay, so we’ll see how he does there. At even strength, he’ll get his minutes. We want him to show his game can translate at this level.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#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
#19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#46 Mikko Lehtonen
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Marner – Thornton – Matthews
Tavares – Kerfoot – Nylander
Extras: Rasmus Sandin, Travis Boyd, Pierre Engvall, Alexander Barabanov, Adam Brooks
Injured: Nick Robertson
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#27 Nikolaj Ehlers – #55 Mark Schiefele – #26 Blake Wheeler
#81 Kyle Connor – #25 Paul Stastny – #95 Mathieu Perreault
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #82 Mason Appleton
#12 Jansen Harkins – #11 Nate Thompson – #23 Trevor Lewis
#44 Josh Morrisey – #8 Sami Niku
#24 Derek Forbort – #4 Neal Pionk
#64 Logan Stanley – #88 Nathan Beaulieu
#37 Connor Hellebuyck (starter)
#30 Laurent Brossoit
Out: Patrik Laine, Tucker Poolman, Dylan Demelo