After conceding 10 goals in three games versus the Senators, the Maple Leafs will look to clean their game up while keeping their scoring momentum rolling as they head to Montreal for a 1st vs. 2nd-place matchup against a well-rested Canadiens squad (7 p.m. EST, CBC).
The Habs, oddly enough, have been resting since they played the Leafs a full week ago. Toronto, of course, has played three times since then, which we could view a couple of different ways: The Canadiens have been afforded the rare opportunity in this condensed schedule to rest and practice up, but it is a long time to go without competitive game action.
The practice week may have come at a good time for the Habs, who lost a bit of their mojo in their last few games, particularly on the defensive side. They’re 1-2-0 in their last three, scoring just four goals in those games, and have been trending down statistically since the 10-game mark both in terms of overall shot share and shot quality.
During their two-game set against the Leafs last week, Montreal surrendered their fifth and second-highest expected goals against rates at five-on-five. They’ve been able to keep teams to a rate of 2.0 expected goals against or below in eight of 15 games this year, but they haven’t managed to in any of their past four games.
Here are both Montreal and Toronto’s rolling average xG shares this season, with the Leafs highlighted in blue:
As you can see, Toronto has suffered a similar fate in recent games defensively. The Leafs gave up an astoundingly poor 1.38 xGoalsAgainst at five-on-five in the third period alone on Thursday against the Sens. Granted, they were up 6-2 going into the period, but a standard score adjustment only takes it down to 1.28 — not to mention, they gave up a 5-1 lead in one period just three days earlier. While a game like that is an anomaly, the Leafs‘ play with the lead has been a bit erratic of late, including giving up a lead and falling in regulation to this Montreal team one week ago.
With Zach Hyman returning to the lineup after a blocked shot kept him out on Thursday, Nic Petan will sit again. While Sheldon Keefe has kept a semi-regular rotation active this season, it might be a bit of a wait for Alex Galchenyuk to make his debut, as Travis Boyd is looking more and more like a regular in Keefe’s lineup. He’s been mixed into the power play with players like Hyman, Thornton, and Simmonds missing time, and he has helped solidify an effective bottom line with Jason Spezza.
Zach Bogosian will return tonight as well after a rest day kept him out against Ottawa. He’ll pair with Travis Dermott, while Mikko Lehtonen will sit out again after a forgettable showing on Thursday.
The goaltending matchup is, once again, Fredrik Andersen vs. Carey Price. Price has stopped 70 of 79 over the three games in the season series so far (1-1-1) for a .886 save percentage, while Andersen has stopped 84 of 92 for a .913 save percentage (2-1-0).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the Habs keeping Matthews at bay so far this season:
Just as a team, they defend really well. Their defensemen are strong and protect the net well and they defend well as a team with a group of five people, so chances are a little harder to come by. He’s had some good looks through different games against them, but it just hasn’t gone through.
The goaltender has a say there as well, but he’s had the opportunities. They just haven’t gone in for him. We’ll have to keep working to find them as a team.
Keefe on T.J Brodie’s discipline:
He’s a smart player — he doesn’t put himself in bad spots. He has his stick on the ice a lot and disrupts a lot of plays which, at times, [means the stick] can get in people’s feet and lead to tripping or hooking or whatever it might be, but he does a really good job with it. The game he plays is very methodical and that helps keep him out of trouble.
Keefe on Thornton returning to the Matthews line without skipping a beat:
It’s easy to forget that line was going pretty good before he got hurt. In terms of taking a step, that’s just part of having a little more time together. We’ve seen really nothing but positives from those guys playing together right from the start of the season.
Keefe on the Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber pairing:
They’re very good; they’re strong, they protect the net well. I think, as a team, Montreal is harder to create scoring chances against, not just for Auston’s line, but for our entire team. It is going to be an extra challenge. They’re just going to have to continue with the recipe they had the other day.
Keefe on Travis Boyd:
Right from the time he got into the lineup, he’s shown that he brings value to the group in whatever situation it is. He’s producing offense from lower in the lineup. He’s also just being smart and in the right places on the ice, picking up our systems really well.
We’ve talked to him and whoever he might be playing with, telling them to continue making plays and take advantage of their offensive touches. We’re expecting a real high level from them in terms of structure, work ethic, and competitiveness in all areas of the game.
He would be the first to admit that he didn’t have a great camp or a great showing with us from the get-go, but he kept working and got more comfortable. He’s a good example of why, especially in the early going of the season, you change the lineup up and give people a chance because you don’t really know what you have, especially in a season like this. He’s been able to take advantage of that.
Morgan Rielly on Auston Matthews and his line:
I think it’s just the way he works. He’s always in the right spots, but that’s not easy. He works hard to be there and his linemates look for him. I think, as a group, they’re just working hard at both ends of the ice, and it’s paying off.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#97 Joe Thornton – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #11 Zach Hyman
#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: Alex Galchenyuk, Alex Barabanov, Nic Petan, Scott Sabourin, Martin Marincin
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#73 Tyler Toffoli – #24 Philip Danault – #11 Brendan Gallagher
#92 Jonathan Drouin – #14 Nick Suzuki – #17 Josh Anderson
#90 Tomas Tatar – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #40 Joel Armia
#62 Artturi Lehkonen – #71 Jake Evans – #41 Paul Byron
#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
Scratched: Corey Perry, Brett Kulak