Tonight on Hockey Night in Canada, the Maple Leafs will look to make it three-for-three this season against the suddenly-slipping Montreal Canadiens, who were shutout by the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night (7 p.m. EST, CBC).
You could argue that, despite having Montreal carrying the majority of the scoring chances and shot attempts on the stat sheet, the Leafs played a pretty poised, patient game defensively and offensively, protecting the middle of the ice and limiting the (then-high scoring) Habs to few chances of note before breaking the game open with three goals inside eight minutes.
In general, the Leafs seem to be navigating the balance of offense-defense better than they have in past seasons during this excellent 11-2-1 start, although they’ll want to generate more sustained offensive pushes early in games than they have in the last two outings versus Vancouver and Montreal. The challenge tonight is that the Habs, after two consecutive losses, should be a far more desperate team than they were on Wednesday night.
With the American Hockey League’s Canadian Division beginning play last night and the Marlies‘ schedule set to kick-off Monday against Manitoba, a trio of Leaf rookies has been loaned to the farm: Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin, and Adam Brooks. The latter two have played important roles on the Marlies before, while Robertson would normally be ineligible to play for them if the OHL’s 2021 wasn’t still delayed, as he doesn’t turn 20 until September.
Robertson was singled out by Keefe as someone who would get an opportunity in the NHL again very soon. Robertson’s path back to the NHL is a bit easier given how easily he can plug into a bottom-six role on the wing and on the secondary power-play unit. Brooks is going to be an important piece of the Marlies center depth, while Sandin is badly in need of playing time having been stuck in behind Dermott and Lehtonen on the depth chart. He’s played all of five minutes of NHL (or AHL) action since March of 2020.
The veteran players coming in to fill the holes left on the taxi squad will be old-friend Martin Marincin and Scott Sabourin, who was added to the Marlies roster in October befoer signing a two-way NHL deal last week. Neither Sabourin nor Marincin will play tonight, nor is it likely they will appear for the Leafs anytime soon unless things suddenly get really thin.
The lineup will remain the same as it was Wednesday in Montreal, including Frederik Andersen in net. His backup, Jack Campbell, skated for the first time since his injury occurred. His return would allow Andersen to get some much-needed mid-season rest after starting Toronto’s last seven games.
Carey Price will start for the second straight game against Toronto after Jake Allen’s loss on Thursday, while Victor Mete replaces Brett Kulak on defense. Mete has been the focus of trade rumours as of late, as he’s been out of the lineup in favour of the more versatile Kulak and Alexander Romanov after playing 171 games with the Habs between 2017-2020.
Claude Julien didn’t specify changes at forward tonight for the Habs, although Corey Perry did practice with the second unit power-play yesterday, indicating he could return after missing Thursday’s game against Edmonton.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on a player like Vesey’s role when he is not scoring:
The big thing is just to make an impact on the game. You can do that in a lot of different ways: [on] the forecheck disrupting play there, there’s being above players and getting the puck back, playing in the offensive zone and not risking getting scored on and creating positive momentum for the team. Whether [Vesey] or [Mikheyev], Kerfoot or Engvall, all these guys, it’s a big part of what they need to bring to our team.
Keefe on Nick Robertson’s first shot in the AHL:
The biggest thing is just an opportunity to get these guys playing games. Robertson is, obviously, coming off of injury — he’s only played one minute of hockey this season. We believe strongly that, before long, he’ll get another opportunity here. We think the extra experience with the Marlies and just to get back moving off of his injury will set him up for greater success for when his time here does come.
Keefe on Sandin and Brooks’ assignment to the Marlies:
They’ll play a lot down there and, when we need them, they’ll be in a better position to help us and to take advantage of their opportunity.
Our organization values the Marlies greatly and the opportunities that are there. We need to take advantage of that while still acknowledging the taxi squad here, but the timing was right to get those guys playing.
Keefe on Zach Bogosian and his impact next to Dermott and other new defensemen:
He’s had a great impact on our entire team, just with his personality, his leadership, his experience. Having that presence while alongside whatever player he’s played with, whether it’s Dermott or Lehtonen or whomever, on the PK and five-on-five, he’s brought a lot for us there.
When we look at Demott, we just think he’s done a great job on his own. He’s really starting to recognize what our team needs from him and what he needs to do to set himself up for consistency and to be relied upon. He’s done a really good job of that.
Keefe on the positives defensively during Wednesday’s game:
I like that we stuck with it even though we didn’t get a good start. First of all, one of the keys is to not let Montreal get behind us and we did that after a pretty costly turnover early in the game. I liked that, despite getting down early, we didn’t chase it and we didn’t let unnecessary chances open the game up and allow more of those types of looks. We had numbers above the puck and we did a good job of keeping them to the outside.
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 – #47 Pierre Engvall
#61 Nic Petan – #72 Travis Boyd – #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)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Extras: Alexander Barabanov, Scott Sabourin, Mikko Lehtonen, Martin Marincin
Injured: Joe Thornton, Jack Campbell, Wayne Simmonds
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#90 Tomas Tatar – #24 Philip Danault – #11 Brendan Gallagher
#92 Jonathan Drouin – #14 Nick Suzuki – #17 Josh Anderson
#73 Tyler Toffoli – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #40 Joel Armia
#62 Artturi Lehkonen – #71 Jake Evans – #94 Corey Perry
#8 Ben Chiarot – #6 Shea Weber
#44 Joel Edmundson – #26 Jeff Petry
#53 Victor Mete – #27 Alexander Romanov
#31 Carey Price (starter)
#34 Jake Allen