After suffering an embarrassing overtime defeat to Ottawa on Monday, the Maple Leafs will have one goal tonight: take care of business against the 4-12-1 Ottawa Senators with a 60-minute effort that nips the latest mini-crisis in Leafs Nation in the bud (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
It appears as though the Leafs needed another lesson on not sleeping on the Senators this year. Ottawa may lack enough proven impact players on offense and quality puck-movers on defense, but they have pride; they aren’t going to go away if you let them hang around and invite them back into the game, and they’re capable of hounding the opposition on the forecheck and forcing an inattentive team into mistakes. Overall, they aren’t a great possession team, but the Senators have managed to produce the seventh-most shot attempts per 60 in the NHL, and they’re eighth-best in expected goals quality.
Of course, while they generally defend reasonably well against the rush, their overall own-zone game and struggles with puck movement off of the backend mean the Sens typically end up surrendering a lot of defensively. That was certainly the case in Monday’s game as the Leafs dominated the five-on-five game. They produced their highest five-on-five xGF total in any single game this season, but their collapse late in the final 21 minutes canceled out their great start.
It clearly doesn’t take much for the Sens to get motivated again the Leafs, and Toronto handed them that opportunity last game with bad giveaways and two very costly penalties. The Leafs simply lost sight of the habits and details needed to close out any NHL team, no matter their position in the standings.
Despite the ugly loss, Sheldon Keefe will keep his lineup the same tonight, in a move that seems to be geared towards a message of: “I”m not changing a thing. We’re responding to this the right way, with the exact same group.”
Pierre Engvall will remain on Kefoot’s wing, while Nic Petan continues to sit, with Travis Boyd and Jimmy Vesey remaining on the bottom line. Vesey, who was brought in because of his decent scoring ability and low-cost, only has two goals and an assist in 16 games, while his xGoal share is only 45%. Seen as a competent finisher who can play a secondary penalty-killing role, he’s received some praise from Sheldon Keefe for his effort and detail in the defensive zone, but it’s clear that his contributions there haven’t been enough to offset his subpar season offensively so far.
With Alex Galchenyuk added to the fold just before Monday’s game and set to practice tomorrow for the first time with Toronto, Vesey should be feeling serious urgency as his margin for forgettable performances is shrinking by the day.
Frederik Andersen, starting again tonight with Jack Campbell still a week-or-so away from returning, received some flak for his role in the loss as the Leafs began to turn pucks over and surrender chances last game. For the most part, it was that he was an easy target more than anything, as it’s hard to blame Andersen on any of the Sens’ last four goals, including the overtime winner. Nonetheless, he — like Tavares and Rielly, as the other two scapegoats on Monday — will want to come up with a big response for his team.
Matt Murray, who hasn’t played since last Thursday, looks to be healthy or close to healthy based on his practice status. However, D.J Smith doesn’t name his starter before games, so there’s no confirmation as of yet.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on his opinion of John Tavares’ season thus far:
You can tell he’s fighting it a bit right now. I focus on the positive things that have come out of his game. To me, in the first ten games or so, I saw him skate as well as I’ve seen in my time here.
Throughout the season, I know we want to focus on his production and all those kinds of things, but we’ve asked all of our players to be more responsible and aware defensively, and he’s been great in that regard. While production offensively is down a little bit here, [goals against] while he’s on the ice have been down. In fact, I know it’s too early in the season to make any determinations on anything, but his goal share is higher than it’s been in a long time.
I see him being above the puck a lot more. I see him [do well] in 50-50 situations where a player has to make a decision of, ‘”Are they going to lean on the offensive side of it and be in a favourable position to make a play offensively,” — I’ve seen him erring on the defensive side in those situations.
When you look at the amount of rush chances we’ve given up, that has reduced in this season compared to historical numbers. Those are the examples that have led to that. John has been excellent in that regard. When we reflected on last season, that was an area I wanted to see him grow in. To me, those decisions have been a lot more responsible on the defensive side.
Keefe on if his team took Ottawa too lightly:
No, I don’t think so. In fact, we had a number of discussions before the game about how difficult the game was going to be. We watched the pre-scout. We had a number of stats that show the strength of Ottawa’s team. They’ve got some areas of their game, especially defensively, where they’re one of the top teams in the NHL in terms of how they defend. They give up virtually nothing off the rush — we got more off the rush [on Monday] than, frankly, we expected. Tonight’s game will be a little bit different in that regard. We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for them.
Keefe on his opinion of William Nylander’s season thus far:
I’d say something very [similar to what I said about Tavares]. I have a couple of things. The defensive stuff we’ve talked about is a factor. I think Will is right there, too, along the same lines — the amount goals that he’s given up while he’s on the ice has reduced and, again, his goal share is up higher than it’s been in his career.
Their production is right there with a lot of teams in the league — and some very elite teams — in terms of their elite players’ five-on-five production. We magnify things here and, again, the expectations are high. Those guys are capable of more — they know that and we know that — but there’s been a lot of good things happening in terms of how they’re contributing to a team that’s gotten off to a very good start.
Keefe on Alex Galchenyuk:
[I’m] trying to get to know Alex’s game a little better and looking at some video and stuff like that. We’ll see how he fits in — we’ll see how it’s going with our [whole] team and determine the type of opportunity he’ll get. With his skill set and what he’s accomplished in the league, we see great potential for him but, obviously, he’s a guy that’s trying to find his way and find his game.
D.J Smith on Erik Brannstrom, who returns to the lineup tonight:
He’ll help us move the puck back there. I think he’s competitive and he can help us get some pucks to the net. He’s just got to do what he did in games prior.
Part of it is, we’ve got to get him in games and develop him.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#97 Joe Thornton – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #11 Zach Hyman
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #47 Pierre Engvall
#26 Jimmy Vesey – #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
Injured: Wayne Simmonds, Jack Campbell
Extras: Nic Petan, Alex Barabanov, Scott Sabourin, Mikko Lehtonen, Martin Marincin
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #71 Chris Tierney – #28 Connor Brown
#13 Nick Paul – #36 Colin White – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#18 Tim Stutzle – #15 Derek Stepan – #19 Drake Batherson
#51 Artem Anisimov – #9 Josh Norris – #16 Austin Watson
#72 Thomas Chabot – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#38 Mike Reilly – #2 Artem Zub
#26 Erik Brannstrom – #44 Erik Gudbranson
#30 Matt Murray (starter)
#1 Marcus Hogberg