Now sporting six wins in their last seven games and 12 goals in the last two games against Vancouver, the Toronto Maple Leafs, despite suffering another long-term injury, will look to complete a clean sweep in their third consecutive meeting with the fast-imploding Canucks (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
Wayne Simmonds’ bad break — a clearance from Alex Edler that struck him on the wrist — during Saturday’s game seems to have concluded in the worst possible way, as the 31-year-old will be out approximately a month-and-a-half with a broken wrist. Although they both started skating on their own again today, Simmonds joins Joe Thornton and Nick Robertson as forwards dealing with injuries at the moment. Travis Dermott is still dealing with something minor as well, while Jack Campbell remains on IR and has yet to skate.
The only player who has been on the Leafs‘ roster all season but hasn’t played, Rasmus Sandin, will make his season debut tonight. It has no doubt been a tough few weeks for the former first-rounder, who remained out of the lineup multiple times even when Sheldon Keefe dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Following that experiment, Pierre Engvall, Travis Boyd, and Nic Petan were all thrust into roles as the Leafs went back to 12 forwards. Tonight, after Simmonds’ injury, they will return to 11F/7D and will have both Mikko Lehtonen and Rasmus Sandin in the lineup.
Based on morning skate lines, it will be Alexander Barabanov who enters into the lineup tonight at forward, with Nic Petan sitting out. We can expect some experimentation with the second winger on the Tavares-Nylander line, while the Alex Kerfoot and Travis Boyd lines will be shuffling quite a bit in order for Keefe to observe more combinations now that three forwards who played on opening night are on the mend.
Canucks head coach Travis Green was somewhat tight-lipped in his pre-game availability, but he did mention that Olli Juolevi will make his season debut tonight. The 22-year-old has had a tough development curve after he was drafted fifth overall back in 2016. His first post-draft year was solid, but since then, he’s struggled to live up to expectations at the AHL level and become a consistent offensive threat. He has 38 points in 63 games with Utica (AHL) the last two seasons.
Without much in the way of adjustments to make, the Canucks will just simply have to be much more competitive tonight if they’re to keep the game close. Vancouver fans will be justifiably outraged if the team allows itself to be swept in two straight series (vs. MTL and TOR) without pride kicking in at some point. Given the Leafs‘ uneven lineup at forward, the Canucks will hope that their depth can match up with Toronto better than it has in the last two games.
Speaking of the last two games, here’s a simple rundown of the five-on-five stats from these two lopsided Leafs-Canucks matchups:
stats from evolving-hockey
- xG: 6.3 to 2.4
- Shot attempts: 96 to 57
- Shots on goal: 58 to 36
The goaltending matchup will be the same as it was Saturday — Frederik Andersen vs. Braden Holtby.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the 11F/7D setup:
It gives us a chance to get [Sandin] in the lineup, but it also gives us a chance to move things around a little bit in Simmonds’ absence and to try different things with the lines and get other people opportunities. I expect we’ll have a rotation of people throughout the game filling in with the Tavares-Nylander pairing. Not just that, obviously — when you’ve got 11 people, the changes will be all throughout the lineup.
Keefe on the impact of Simmonds’ injury:
[He’s] obviously a big loss for us. We do think there’s progress here for both Thornton and Robertson. In Jumbo’s case, in particular, we know that he’ll bring a lot to us and will help insulate some of that loss from Simmonds in terms of his personality, voice, and experience on our bench and in our dressing room. But we’re expecting our team to adapt, and those that get the opportunity, you’re expecting them to take advantage and keep our team moving forward.
Keefe on Vesey’s quiet showings so far:
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get to know his game and trying to watch him very closely because he hasn’t jumped off the page really in any game. I take the time to go back and make sure that I’m sure about what I’m seeing or not seeing. I think, in doing so, there’s a lot of things he does that we value and don’t necessarily jump out in the game in terms of getting the puck back and being in good spots defensively.
You lose sight of the fact that he’s scored two even-strength goals for us here, which is significant. It paces out basically to be 10 even-strength goals for us in a 56-game season — we would take that. We think he’s bringing value, but he certainly expects more from himself.
Keefe on Sandin’s first game:
I just want him to go out and have fun, enjoy every shift, every minute that he gets. It’s not going to be a lot for him out there today. We think Mikko [Lehtonen] is coming off his best game. Mikko will be part of the regular rotation and [Sandin] will get shifts here and there and fill in as Dave Hakstol sees fit. We definitely want to get him some shifts and get him going. We’ve moved a lot of forwards in and out to give them an opportunity, but he hasn’t had that quite yet.
Travis Green on his team’s busy schedule thus far and lack of practice:
I almost feel like, even though we’re [fifteen] games into the year, we’ve been doing things in practice that you might almost do right before a season starts. We’ve had so little time to work on parts of our game that I think have not been sharp enough. We’ve been relying on video to work on that, but sometimes you really need to get on the ice and do the work.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#26 Jimmy Vesey – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza
#94 Alexander Barabanov – #72 Travis Boyd
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#46 Mikko Lehtonen – #22 Zach Bogosian
#38 Rasmus Sandin
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Extras: Pierre Engvall, Adam Brooks
Injured: Nick Robertson, Joe Thornton, Jack Campbell, Travis Dermott, Wayne Simmonds
Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines
#9 JT Miller – #40 Elias Pettersson – #6 Brock Boeser
#70 Tanner Pearson – #53 Bo Horvat – #35 Louis Eriksson
#35 Justin Bailey – #20 Brandon Sutter – #36 Nils Hoglander
#64 Tyler Motte – #83 Jay Beagle – #26 Antoine Roussel
#43 Quinn Hughes – #4 Jordie Benn
#88 Nate Schmidt – #57 Tyler Myers
#23 Alexander Edler – #48 Olli Juolevi
#49 Braden Holtby (starter)
#35 Thatcher Demko
Injured: Micheal Ferland, Jayce Hawyrluk, Travis Hamonic