Coming off of a successful trip into Winnipeg, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made their way to Calgary for a back-to-back against the 16-19-2 Flames (9 p.m. EST, TSN4/Sportsnet West).
Stringing together wins now that their goaltending has rebounded, the Maple Leafs are on a promising upward trend. In their last 10, Toronto is second in the NHL in xGF% at nearly 59%:
It’s no coincidence that the team’s best stretch of goaltending corresponds with their best stretch of results this season. In the month of February, the Leafs went 9-2-1 at had a team save percentage of .937 at five-on-five — second in the league that month — and a save percentage of .923 in all situations (eighth in the NHL). Frederik Andersen started the Leafs‘ first seven games in February, going 5-1-1 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA — by far his best stretch of the season.
Since March 20, Campbell has given the team .950 goaltending — with one .870 start from Hutchinson — and the team has gone 5-0-1. Combine consistent control over the quality shots and chances with stellar goaltending, and this Leafs team is coming out on the winning end of games the vast majority of the time.
After missing the Flames’ last game on Friday, Mikael Backlund will return to his usual line with Milan Lucic and Andrew Mangiapane tonight. That line, as well as the top two lines for Calgary, have remained consistently intact since Sutter took over on March 4th.
Since the coaching change, the Flames have gone 6-8-1 and continue to find themselves on the outside looking in on a playoff spot in the North Division. They haven’t underperformed at 5v5 under Sutter, necessarily — ranking 13th in xGF% — but they have had little support in goal, ranking second-last in save percentage over Sutter’s tenure, and are in the bottom half of the league on both sides of special teams.
Earlier in the year, goaltending was a big strength for the Flames, with Jakob Markstrom looking every bit like the reliable starter he grew into in Vancouver. However, Markstrom has now lost his last five starts and was pulled after two periods Monday against Winnipeg after giving up four goals on 23 shots. Backup David Rittich has not been the best alternate this season with a 4-6-1 record and a .907 save percentage. It appears that Rittich, who hasn’t started since March 27th, will get the start tonight, but head coach Darryl Sutter didn’t confirm.
As the Leafs continue to carefully manage his workload, Jack Campbell rested yesterday and may not dress tonight. Regardless of whether he backs up or not, it will be Michael Hutchinson getting the start for the Leafs. The 31-year-old started in Monday’s overtime loss to the Oilers and is 3-2-1 on the season with a .915 save percentage.
Game Day Quotes
Chris Tanev on preparing to play the Leafs:
You’ve got to be firing on all cylinders against them. They don’t give up much [or] many odd-man rushes, so you’ve got to play a 2-1 game — 1-0, 2-0. They play such a structured game defensively. They forecheck extremely well, get a lot of pucks back, and they have a great power play. They’re doing all the right things right now, and we have to match that intensity and even step it up a level here.
Sheldon Keefe on Jack Campbell not starting and potentially giving him the night off:
I think you can only go off of what we’ve seen here. The potential is great. He’s gaining more confidence and gaining more experience. As we’ve talked about, we have to continue to be smart with how we manage his workload despite the fact that we don’t have [Andersen] available.
Keefe on his team’s struggling power play:
It’s obviously near the top of our list of things we need to sort out — we’ve got to get it going. We knew, coming into this road trip, we were playing Winnipeg and now Calgary — the two top penalty kills in our division. We knew it would be a difficult time to find our way out of [the slump].
At the very least, you’re looking for your powerplay to generate positive momentum for your team. Sometimes it’s not going to go in the net, but we’re not generating enough positive energy for our group coming out of the power play. The more we do that, the puck is going to find its way in.
We’ve gone through [tactics]. That’s really where we’ve been at here the last number of weeks — we’ve been changing a number of things, probably too many things. We’ve been changing the tactics a little bit, changing the plan, then changing the personnel and moving things around quite a bit.
That’s something that we’ve talked about — we need to get back to what had worked for us. We started this trip out [by] kind of loading up the one unit and giving that a go. We just didn’t like that. We’re just settling back into how we started the season, which was very successful for us.
Having two groups, working with each group individually, having a little bit of a different plan for each group and just really looking to build that chemistry that has kind of lost its way here — partially to injuries we went through with Matthews and Simmonds — and then chasing it from there… We’re just looking to get some more cohesion.
Keefe on Ilya Mikheyev and his linemates:
I would say that he’s giving us consistent energy and consistent speed. He’s been good for us on the penalty kill, finding ways to generate chances. I would say I’m happy with it.
I think what I’m looking for is that line to come together. I feel like when that line — with Engvall there, or Kerfoot, whoever we’ve had with [him] — we need them to be rolling for us. Mikheyev is a big part of that, so when he’s at his best, that line tends to go. We want to continue what he’s doing, but also finding ways for the chemistry of the line to really come together.
Like we’ve seen with Engvall and Hyman when they’re there, that is three players with similar types of skillsets in terms of being able to forecheck, turn pucks over, be hard to take it from. That line is a difference-maker for us. Simmonds has the ability to do that as well.
I’m focusing on individuals, of course, but I’m also focusing on how our lines can come together here. We’d like to see Mikheyev work with his linemates a little bit better.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#97 Joe Thornton – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#30 Michael Hutchinson (starter)
#35 Veini Vehvilainen
Extras: Martin Marincin, Alexander Barabanov, Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Scott Sabourin, Jack Campbell
Injured: Frederik Andersen
Calgary Flames Projected Lines
#19 Matthew Tkachuk – #28 Elias Lindholm – #29 Dillon Dube
#13 Johnny Gaudreau– #23 Sean Monahan– #18 Brett Ritchie
#17 Milan Lucic – #11 Mikael Backlund – #88 Andrew Mangiapane
#93 Sam Bennett – #10 Derek Ryan – #27 Josh Leivo
#5 Mark Giordano – #4 Rasmus Andersson
#55 Noah Hanifin – #8 Chris Tanev
#6 Jusso Valimaki – #26 Michael Stone
#33 David Rittich (starter)
#25 Jakob Markstrom