Coming off their first scoreless outing of the season, the Maple Leafs will continue to deal with injury adversity as they attempt to split this two-game set against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
The Leafs will get one significant piece back tonight after losing three players to nagging injuries before their last game: Zach Hyman will return to the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. However, Joe Thornton remains day-to-day while Jake Muzzin’s status hasn’t been updated. Most critically, Frederik will miss a second-straight game with an undisclosed minor injury, while Jack Campbell is still at least a few days away from returning to game action — that means the Leafs are going into a second straight game with a goalie tandem of Michael Hutchinson and rookie Joseph Woll.
Not to pile onto Hutchinson’s play amidst a difficult situation, but neither of his performances this season have really eased the nerves. Both the organization and its fanbase are aware of Hutchinson’s shaky past in Toronto, and there will undoubtedly be those who argue the situation in net is to blame if the Leafs have any apparent lack of confidence tonight. In fairness, Hutchinson did manage to win four of his last eight games with the Leafs last season, albeit against some offensively weaker teams in DET, NJ, NYI, and OTT. He won one regular-season game after being traded to Colorado during the season last year, before starting three playoff games with the Avalanche, going 2-0-1 and making 91 of 100 saves. If he gives the Leafs anything around average goaltending tonight, you’re hoping the team can find a way to get it done.
The high-end, possession-oriented matchup line that Calgary has been searching for since the infamous ‘3M’ line of Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik, and Mikael Backlund line played the majority of three seasons together between 2016-2019 has, to a degree, been reincarnated since Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane have become regulars in the Flames’ top-six over the last year or so. At the moment, their line alongside Matthew Tkachuk is taking the toughest matchups and relied upon as a top offensive line alongside the Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau pairing. Last season, on the back of Elias Lindholm’s successful move to center, Tkachuk-Lindholm-Mangiapane finished the season with a 57.5% xG share — very similar to the 56%, 57%, and 58% xG% marks that the Tkachuk-Backlund-Frolik line finished with in the three seasons between 2016-2019.
However, this season, and especially on Monday night, the Tkachuk-Lindholm-Mangiapane trio hasn’t been nearly as dominant, posting a 49% xG share in 71 minutes with Mangiapane, and a 38% xG share in 111 minutes with Dillon Dube. If I were Calgary, I wouldn’t be concerned about the long-term outlook given how consistent and versatile Lindholm and Tkachuk have been in Calgary in their roles. I would, however, be concerned about their recent struggles considering they’re going up against a Matthews-Marner combo that has torn most teams apart as of late.
The difference maker in Monday’s game, David Rittich, provided the Flames with a reprieve from their recent struggles in net: Calgary ranks 15th in Sv% (all-situations) this season, but over their last five games (2-3), they’ve dropped down to 25th. While Geoff Ward wouldn’t confirm whether Rittich would start — he said a decision on Jakob Markstrom would be made closer to puck drop — considering Rittich’s win last game and how much Markstrom has struggled lately, it seems more likely than not that we will see Rittich in the crease again tonight. Rittich posted a 34-save shutout victory in the last game but was 0-4 with a .873 save percentage before earning his first win on Monday.
Game Day Quotes
Morgan Rielly on missing players due to injury:
Playing this often, guys are going to go down. I don’t think we handled it that great [last game]. I thought when we lost Auston for a game earlier in the year, we did a great job playing without him and I just don’t think we did that last game. It’s up to us and others in the room to take responsibility for that and make sure we don’t allow that to happen again tonight.
Keefe on Kerfoot’s fit on the wing vs. at centre:
He’s effective, to me, at both. It’s no secret that playing wing is easier than it is playing center, so you’re going to be somewhat more effective in other areas of your game. It requires less energy. You don’t have to defend as much in your own zone. Responsibility is a lot less. [You don’t take as many] faceoffs. It’s an easier position to play.
Most players would benefit from not having some of those responsibilities. He’s a versatile guy for us and he knows that. I like him in both positions, wherever I’ve used him as of late. Because of the way he was playing and skating at center, it gave me great confidence that he’d have that energy and confidence to be able to bring alongside Tavares.
Keefe on T.J Brodie’s use of his stick defensively:
There’s a teaching element of having defensemen try to prioritize it and learn just how great a tool it is. It’s the number one rule of playing defense: having a good stick. Then there’s the instinctual stuff: the timing of it, the deception of it, hiding it and striking it when the time is right, there’s the angle you play with your blade… There’s so many things that go into it.
You talk about elite offensive players and how they have so many instinctual pieces to their game that are very difficult to teach; a player like T.J Brodie has that with how he uses his stick. It is a fundamental tool, but not many defensemen can do it to the level he does to break up plays.
Keefe on whether getting shutout will be motivation for his team:
I think they’ll have a little extra hunger around the net and work a little harder to get inside and make it harder on the goaltender. Obviously, [Rittich] has a lot of confidence and deservedly so — he was a big reason why we were shut out, obviously, and he was a big difference in the hockey game. We’ve got to get to [the net front] a lot better and be on offense a little bit more and do better on our power play.
Flames head coach Geoff Ward on combatting a Toronto offense that should be better tonight:
That’s the challenge in this league: There’s no bad teams. Every team has elite players, and Toronto has a lot of them. We understand the challenge in front of us, but to survive in this league, you have to be able to defend. That gives you an opportunity to win a game.
For us, it’s a fresh sheet tonight and we have to understand that we have to come with the same urgency and the same detail away from the puck.
Ward on Elias Lindholm’s workload (27:32 TOI on Monday):
The way he was going the other night, I was perfectly fine with it. He’s [had] a rest day and he’s in good shape, [but] tonight I’ll be paying a little more attention to it with the back-to-back tomorrow.
There’s other guys, too, that I feel can share the job he was doing the other night. We’ll have to make sure we’re well aware of that with how we are doing matchups.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #26 Jimmy Vesey
#94 Alexander Barabanov – #72 Travis Boyd – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#46 Mikko Lehtonen – #22 Zach Bogosian
#30 Michael Hutchinson (starter)
#60 Joseph Woll
Injured: Wayne Simmonds, Jack Campbell, Jake Muzzin, Joe Thornton (day-to-day), Frederik Andersen (day-to-day)
Extras: Alex Galchenyuk, Nic Petan, Scott Sabourin, Martin Marincin
Calgary Flames Projected Lines
#88 Andrew Mangiapane – #28 Elias Lindholm – #19 Matthew Tkachuk
#13 Johnny Gaudreau– #23 Sean Monahan– #93 Sam Bennett
#17 Milan Lucic – #11 Mikael Backlund – #29 Dillon Dube
#20 Joakim Nordstrom – #42 Glen Gawdin – #27 Josh Leivo
#5 Mark Giordano – #4 Rasmus Andersson
#55 Noah Hanifin – #8 Chris Tanev
#6 Jusso Valimaki – #58 Oliver Kylington
#33 David Rittich (starter)