Tonight marks the halfway point in this shortened 2021 NHL season. While it’s been a successful half for the Maple Leafs, they’re tonight focused on breaking a streak of three straight regulation losses and avoid a further shrinking of their lead in the North Division (7 p.m. EST, TSN 3&4).
Signed to his initial deal with the club almost two calendar years ago, Kenny Agostino will make his debut with the Maple Leafs tonight, replacing Travis Boyd. This is far from an NHL debut for Agostino, who first cracked an NHL roster in March of 2014 with the Calgary Flames and has since played 85 NHL games amidst a very successful career in the AHL. Following the 2016-17 season in which he tallied 83 points (24 goals, 59 assists) in 65 games for the Chicago Wolves, he was awarded the AHL’s most-valuable-player award.
Agostino was called up to the Leafs two weeks ago shortly after the Leaf acquired Alex Galchenyuk and begun the process of trying to refine his game in the minors. Per evolving-hockey’s Goals-Above-Replacement model, Agostino is above replacement value both offensively and defensively with a 3.2 GAR rating in 85 NHL games. Given his production on the Marlies since last season and NHL experience, this feels like a well-earned if not overdue opportunity.
No further changes are expected tonight for the Leafs. While Auston Matthews missed practice again, Sheldon Keefe expects him to continue to play through his wrist injury tonight.
Although the priority for Toronto at the moment is to simply get back in the win column, once they (hopefully) get back to winning, it might be time to get Timothy Liljegren into the lineup. The 21-year-old played 11 games for the Maple Leafs last year and, while Zach Bogosian is the clear sixth option on defense at the moment, the veteran was given the day-off a couple of weeks ago and could sit again in order to get Liljegren an opportunity. The Leafs have a back-to-back coming up next Friday-Saturday that may be the best chance to get the former 17th-overall pick back into action.
Nathan Beaulieu, who paired with Dylan Demelo last game, will be out weeks after blocking a shot in their win on Tuesday. 22-year-old Logan Stanley, who’s played 11 games this season averaging 11:46 of ice time, will replace him on the bottom pair.
Connor Hellebuyck, who’s gone 4-1 in his last five starts and more or less stole the last games despite allowing three goals, is the confirmed starter for the Jets, while Frederik Andersen will start again for the Leafs, with Jack Campbell yet to practice with the rest of the team as he works his way back to 100%.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the lack of changes on defense as of late and keeping Mikko Lehtonen scratched:
We’ve reached a different phase of the season here. We gave lots of opportunities to different people early in the season, Mikko being one. At times [we changed things] when we didn’t really have a reason to change the lineup to give more opportunity for [Lehtonen] and others. Obviously, we’re at a point here now where the season has lots of momentum and we’re [at] the halfway point. You’ve got to give yourself the best opportunity to win everyday. That’s all part of it here now — everybody’s just going to have to wait for their next opportunity and continue to put in the proper work to do so.
In Mikko’s case specifically, we have no doubts or questions about the work that he puts in. He’s extremely committed, extremely focused, and works very hard, so we’re happy with those kinds of things. For the last little while, we just haven’t seen a reason to make the change on defense.
Keefe on the Jets’ tendency to use three forwards in 3-on-3 OT:
With the types of forwards that they have, when you get three of them on at the same time, there’s lots of skill. They’re obviously very dynamic but, at the same time, when you’re fortunate enough to get the puck, it presents some opportunities the other way potentially. I haven’t given it a great deal of thought. I think the first 60 minutes is occupying enough of our time.
Keefe on getting Kenny Agostino into the mix:
He’s a guy that’s worked really hard and really waited for an opportunity to play. He’s never complained. He’s continued to work and has been a real leader and one of, if not the best, players down with the Marlies. Just another guy that hasn’t been given the same opportunities that a number of others have, and yet he’s still there and does his thing. In the games he’s played with the Marlies, he’s continued being the player that he’s established himself as in the American League.
He also has NHL experience and, when we signed him into the organization a couple of offseasons ago, he was a guy coming off a full season in the NHL and hasn’t really had his chance here yet. We just think, with the way things have gone here for us in the last little bit, both because I haven’t liked what we’ve gotten out of our fourth line in the last little while and also having a fresh body in at forward and someone who’s fresh and ready for his chance, we think it might inject something into the group today.
Keefe on his relationship with Joe Thornton:
He made it very clear that he wants to be coached when we chatted [before signing] him. That remains true. If you’ve got something that you think can help his game or help our team, he’s open to talk about it takes it very well. He’s open to suggestions — not just from me, but from the rest of our coaching staff and even our player development staff. The way that he conducts himself — he’s all about getting better and given himself the best opportunity to succeed despite what he’s been through in his career. He obviously has a lot of feedback that he provides as well and is valuable.
He’s a guy that just loves to be on the ice because he loves the game. He feels it’s really important for himself to just have continuous reps — Jason Spezza is the same in that sense. At their age, they just feel that they want to continue to be on the ice and to stay sharp.
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 – #19 Jason Spezza – #20 Kenny Agostino
#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: Scott Sabourin, Nic Petan, Alexander Barabanov, Travis Boyd, Timothy Liljegren, Mikko Lehtonen
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#25 Paul Stastny – #55 Mark Schiefele – #26 Blake Wheeler
#81 Kyle Connor – #13 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #82 Mason Appleton
#95 Mathieu Perreault – #11 Nate Thompson – #23 Trevor Lewis
#44 Josh Morrisey – #3 Tucker Poolman
#24 Derek Forbort – #4 Neal Pionk
#64 Logan Stanley – #2 Dylan Demelo
#37 Connor Hellebuyck (starter)
#30 Laurent Brossoit