A sloppy first 40 minutes followed by a strong third period proved enough last night as the Maple Leafs received strong goaltending from Michael Hutchinson and timely goals from Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Tonight, they’ll look to bring a complete effort in the rematch against a desperate but fragile Calgary team (9:30 p.m EST, TSN4/Sportsnet West).
Sheldon Keefe’s quest to find balance in the lower half of his forward group has been an ongoing process. Alex Galchenyuk has been found money thus far and is fitting in on his line with John Tavares at the moment, while Zach Hyman is unquestionably the best fit with the Auston Matthews line. However, that’s left the bottom six somewhat rudderless in the last few games. They certainly haven’t been terrible, but the standards are high here, and odds are the mix is going to change in the next week leading up to the deadline.
For tonight, the team’s energy levels may factor into Sheldon Keefe’s lineup calculations. Keefe has gone to a more balanced look before on the second of back-to-backs — including one against Calgary two weeks ago — and that could be the case tonight if he wants to run four lines and get some of his bottom-six players going. Oftentimes, that’s involved rotating Hyman down to the third line and moving Joe Thornton up.
Speaking of Thornton, he played 10:33 last night — his lowest TOI figure of the season — and has now gone nine games without a point, a stretch that includes just four shots on goal. The argument to load manage Thornton with more nights off in these back-to-back situations is a sound one, but if he is going to dress, getting him involved and contributing again — he’s largely been a bystander since March 4, with just one point in his last 14 games — might also be a consideration.
All of that said, Jack Campbell is the only confirmed lineup change for the Leafs. He skated this morning and left early, but he is still expected to start tonight. Through his eight wins, which have been splattered across different points in the season due to nagging injuries, Campbell numbers are some of the most efficient among all goaltenders this season: He ranks second in save percentage behind Petr Mrazek, who has only played five games, and first in GSAx per 60. Basic logic dictates he will return to Earth one day — the Leafs just hope it’s a graceful rather than a precipitous regression.
Darryl Sutter, who subbed in Joakim Nordstrom and Nikita Nesterov into the lineup yesterday to give Josh Leivo and Juuso Valimaki some rest, seemed to hint that he’ll be going back to the latter two tonight.
The only other change for Calgary will be in net, where Jakob Markstrom, winless in his last four games, will start. Markstrom started this season 6-3-1, with his team scoring at a high pace, but he has dropped off as the season has progressed. This season, he’s 12-13-2 with a .901 save percentage and a GSAx rating of -9.7.
Game Day Quotes
Darryl Sutter on his team’s inconsistency as of late:
When you say it’s by periods or by shifts, that’s not by games. The problem with our team is not [if] they can play at that pace now — the problem with some of our players is sustaining that pace. For example, last night [we did a good job] against the Matthews and Tavares lines if you look at it as a whole, but then you look at two or three shifts where guys couldn’t keep up with them.
How much of that is related to conditioning, or other parts of their game? That’s not for me to publicly debate. There is a difference in [other] clubs and ours in terms of that. You have to be able to play.
There are guys that play 10 minutes. There are guys that play 23 minutes. Off the top of my head, I’m going to bet [Mark Giordano] played the most minutes last night and probably played the most quality minutes. You have a lot of guys that are looked on as really good players that play in the teens or less, and if they can’t sustain a high pace of play and execution against top players, that means that they are getting outplayed badly one-on-one.
Sutter on what needs to improve for Juuso Valimaki and other fringe players on the Flames roster:
I don’t know if you can [improve on] much during the season, just because of the way this season is, but the skating has to improve, the puck play has to improve, and seeing the game has to improve. There’s not just one thing with [Valimaki] there. He’s got lots to work on to become a regular NHLer.
He hasn’t had much experience, to be quite honest… The bottom line is, with a lot of these players, okay has kind of been the benchmark. You have to be a bit above ok.
More quotes to come from the Leafs‘ dressing room
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
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Extras: Martin Marincin, Alexander Barabanov, Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Scott Sabourin, Veini Vehvilainen
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 Juuso Valimaki – #26 Michael Stone
#25 Jakob Markstrom (starter)
#33 David Rittich