Following a dull game in which they failed to produce offensively, the Maple Leafs are now without two-thirds of their first line from Wednesday’s loss as Auston Matthews and Joe Thornton are sidelined for tonight’s rematch against Edmonton (7 p.m. EST, TSN4, SN West).
Thornton will be out after leaving Wednesday’s game early due to a fractured rib that will land him on the long-term injury reserve for at least a month. Thought to be much less serious, ‘upper body soreness’ will force Matthews out with a day-to-day timeline.
No one would argue that this has been a flawless start to the season for Toronto’s forward group in terms of 5v5 offensive production — their top three lines haven’t been clicking at the same time for much of this young season, and the team’s offensive numbers reflect this (mid-pack in expected goals/60, high-danger chances per 60, and just seven 5v5 goals through five games). However, there was a definition of roles that was starting to form on the top three units manufactured by Sheldon Keefe, and it is back to the drawing board in that respect tonight. Matthews’ line has some of the best overall shot share metrics in the league and has been pretty unlucky overall, Kerfoot’s line was mostly handling their job of taking a share of the more difficult assignments without drowning, and Tavares and Nylander’s line was producing, albeit mostly on the power play with more needed at 5v5 given the softer deployment.
With Matthews and his linemate Thornton out, Hyman will elevate onto a line with Tavares and Marner, leaving Alex Kerfoot in between Nylander and Jimmy Vesey. With Hyman up next to Tavares, hopefully, it will create a line with two forwards willing to simplify and get pucks on net with bodies crashing the crease. Edmonton showed a willingness to collapse in the defensive zone and defend in layers in the last game, leaving the Leafs — who were too content to circle the perimeter and try to find the perfect pass or shooting look — to generate almost nothing of note. The Leafs were out-chanced (1.23 vs. 0.75 xGoals at even strength) despite a clear possession advantage.
Afforded just the two opportunities versus Edmonton last game, Toronto’s power play will likely return to a “loaded” top unit as much as is possible without Matthews — Tavares in the bumper role, William Nylander on the half-wall opposite Marner.
It will likely be a very busy night for the heavily-relied-on Tavares, Nylander, Hyman, Kerfoot, and Marner, although it would be a nice lift if Pierre Engvall’s line with Mikheyev and Simmonds could give the Leafs something in the way of offensive zone time, or if the team could at least get an energy boost out of Adam Brooks and Alexander Barabanov on the new fourth line. To be fair to them, they are going to need enough ice time to actually get themselves into the game.
The goaltending matchup tonight will be the same as Wednesday: Frederik Andersen (2-2-0, .886 Sv%) vs. Mikko Koskinen (2-3-0, .906 Sv%).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the need to break through offensively:
Obviously, we need to get more offense at five-on-five. No matter who’s in the lineup, no matter what the lines are, we’ve got to get to the net a lot more. It’s been an issue for us, not just last game. Obviously, last game highlighted it a lot because we didn’t get the power play goal to supplement our offense that way, but it’s been an issue for us and we need to find ways to get to the net more consistently.
JT, Will, Mitch, Hyman — all these guys [need to be better], but all the way through the lineup — Vesey, Mikheyev — all these guys need to do a better job of helping us get there.
Keefe on getting the offense going early tonight:
I think the first goal is important in every game but in particular with how last game went for us, we didn’t generate much offense. Obviously, we want to get out to a good start and getting the first goal would go a long way in that regard. That being said, I was really encouraged with our team despite trailing 1-0. Perhaps it was the nature of the goal, given that we were in pretty good defensive spots and just kind of ended up putting it in our own net inadvertently. We didn’t panic, and we didn’t’ change our game I thought until late in the third when we really had to press. We didn’t really open it up, and that was good.
That being said, Edmonton, the more you went through that game you just see the type of commitment they have away from the puck — that made things really difficult. It’s a tough game to play when you’re constantly going through four of five people, so it’s on us to get comfortable in that because I think we’re going to see a lot of it throughout the schedule.
John Tavares on what needs to change tonight after Wednesday’s loss:
The other night was a tight hockey game. Both teams were well prepared and made it difficult to produce much offense. Obviously, we want to find ways to make it cleaner through the neutral zone and get on our forecheck — make it easier to get inside and create more opportunities to make it thought on them and their goaltender.
Tavares on the bizarre nature of the season:
I haven’t watched too much outside of our division just because I think there’s so much focus on that and that’s what really matters. Obviously, it’s going to be a strange year — there’s going to be interesting situations that arise so you just need to prepare yourself on a daily basis and be ready for the unexpected. Try not to be caught off guard understanding that with the way things can change so fast, it can be very unpredictable.
Tavares on changes in his speed and agility this season:
In the summertime, that break was really difficult in some ways. The positive side of it for me was the ability to kind of slow things down and rest up and really get healthy to feel good about starting from scratch and build myself back up to play.
Not playing for as long as we’d like, you feel really healthy and fresh going into the offseason [more than] any typical offseason where you’ve kind of been through the yearly grind and the schedule and the travel. I was able to kind of get right back it after resetting mentally — just able to focus on those areas that can help me become more consistent.
I’m always trying to work on my pace, being more dynamic — it’s always something I’ve had to work on. I was trying to get a little lighter — I didn’t try to be really drastic, it’s just something I’ve been very mindful of the last few years. Obviously, being healthy is key — the previous whole offseason with the oblique [injury], it took a really long time to get over that. I kind of had a good reset and I was able to focus on those things.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #26 Jimmy Vesey
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#94 Alexander Barabanov – #77 Adam Brooks – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras: Rasmus Sandin, Mikko Lehtonen, Travis Boyd, Joey Anderson
Injured: Nick Robertson, Joe Thornton, Auston Matthews
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #97 Connor McDavid – #44 Zach Kassian
#21 Dominik Kahun – #29 Leon Draisaitl – #56 Kailer Yamamoto
#63 Tyler Ennis – #8 Kyle Turris – #13 Jesse Puljujarvi
#15 Josh Archibald – #14 Devin Shore – #18 James Neal
#25 Darnell Nurse – #20 Slater Koekkoek
4 Kris Russell– #22 Tyson Barrie
#84 William Lagesson – #6 Adam Larsson
#19 Mikko Koskinen (starter)
#50 Stuart Skinner
Extras: Caleb Jones, Jujhar Khaira, Ryan McLeod, Patrick Russell
Injured: Oscar Klefbom, Mike Smith