With seven wins in their last nine games and a four-game win streak currently active, the Toronto Maple Leafs return home to take on the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens for the first time since February 20th (7:30 p.m EST, Sportsnet).


Update (5:10 p.m. EST): William Nylander is out tonight for precautionary reasons related to possible Covid exposure. The game will go ahead as planned.


As the Vancouver Canucks battle scary Covid-related issues and Calgary continues to flame out at the bottom of standings with a 16-21-3 record, the top four in the NHL’s North Division is beginning to further separate itself from the pack. All of the Leafs, Jets, Oilers, and Canadiens are sitting with a points percentage above .600, with the Flames, Canucks, and Senators all at below .500. Montreal, despite being five points behind the Oilers, has a nearly identical PTS% with four games in hand on Edmonton.

Whether it ends up having a major impact or not, the battle for seeding and home-ice advantage should be a tight one in the North Division as the top-four teams further distance themselves from the also rans.

With Brendan Gallagher leaving Monday’s game after suffering a broken thumb (placed on LTIR this morning), one of the league’s most consistent and effective 5v5 lines will be split up for the time being. Philip Danault and Tomas Tatar, who have led the team in scoring the last 10 games, will be joined by Jesperi Kotkaniemi tonight.


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Kotkaniemi has continued to struggle defensively this season relative to his teammates. Since his first season, in which he found a niche as an easy-deployment bottom-six forward who was able to contribute offensively without giving much of anything up defensively. However, in 19-20, his results flipped on their head as his linemates became less consistent and the Habs’ struggled as a team. He posted a higher xGA/60 than any other player on his team last season, and that was despite a higher percentage of offensive zone starts than the year prior. Things have slowly begun to turn around for him this year, however, and getting a look next to two of his team’s most consistent players should provide an opportunity for growth.

While we would really need to stretch to make the argument there is another elite overall team in this division outside of the Leafs, the Habs present the biggest challenge in regards to their consistent territorial control over games at 5v5, as they dictate that area of the game at an elite level statistically. While the absence of Gallagher — and Carey Price, although the Leafs generally have his number — weakens their lineup, the Habs’ 5v5 structure makes for a challenge that is at least closer to the playoff reality of what the team is likely to face if it were to go on a deep run in the postseason.

Despite not leaving the game on Monday, Price didn’t make the trip to Toronto in order to be evaluated for an injury sustained during that game. Cayden Primeau, who has two starts in his NHL career, will back up with the veteran Jake Allen starting. Allen is 5-3-4 on the season with a .922 save percentage and a GSAx of 4.2.

The undefeated Jack Campbell, who is 9-0-0 with a .944 Sv%, will start his second consecutive game for Toronto.


Game Day Quotes

Justin Holl on the Tavares line:

They’ve been buzzing and getting a lot of chances. [Galchenyuk’s] been doing a great job being aggressive and getting on the forecheck and working hard all over the ice . They’re starting to get rewarded for it, which is really great to see.

Holl on whether the condensed schedule is making conditioning difficult:

I was talking about it with [Tavares] this morning, actually. I said, “I can’t remember… Are the games always this condensed?'” He said, “In the second half of the year, it’s kind of similar to this.”

It’s not too different, but I think with coming back from the west coast and only getting a day — things of that nature are the challenges that we’re dealing with. That being said, I think we’ve been handling it well and guys have been smart about their recovery.

Sheldon Keefe on what is allowing his team to win so many games of late:

Special teams are a big factor. When we went on that stretch where we weren’t winning, [it seemed] like all the games were all one-goal games. Our powerp lay wasn’t getting it done for us and the penalty kill seemed to be letting one in consistently. We’ve stabilized the PK, and it’s become one of our strengths here again. The power play, obviously, had been reeling, but in a huge moment, it scored us a massive goal to get us a lead the other night.

Those things make a big difference, but the things I focus on are the consistency of the mindset of our team and just remaining calm and confident and evenkeeled. Throughout each of those stretches that you mentioned, the guys have come in and continued to work.

When we were losing, guys didn’t get down on each other. They just continued to come to the rink, work hard, be positive, and put in the necessary work to make sure that it does [turn around]. I think that’s what I take out of this season — the spirit of the team has been consistent.

Keefe on whether Campbell’s attitude has changed since he’s become more successful this season:

It [was] the same as it is now. He’s a guy that comes in and has lots of energy about him. He’s got a bounce in his step all the time. He works every single day to the maximum that he can on the ice and off the ice. He’s a guy that the players love to be around.

No matter the circumstance — whether he’s playing, or he’s not playing, or if he’s injured, or if he’s healthy — when you encounter him around the room, he makes it better with the energy that he has. He’s done that since he arrived in the trade from L.A.


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Forwards
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #91 John Tavares – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#97 Joe Thornton  –  #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza
#94 Alex Barabanov  – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Wayne Simmonds

Defensemen
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian

Goaltenders
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson

Covid list (precautionary): William Nylander
Extras:
 Martin Marincin, Alexander Barabanov, Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Scott Sabourin, Veini Vehvilainen
Injured: Frederik Andersen


Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines

Forwards
#94 Corey Perry – #14 Nick Suzuki – #17 Josh Anderson
#92 Jonathan Drouin – #21 Eric Staal – #73 Tyler Toffoli
#90 Tomas Tatar – #24 Philip Danault – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi
#62 Artturi Lehkonen – #71 Jake Evans – #41 Paul Byron

Defensemen
#44 Joel Edmundson – #6 Shea Weber
#77 Brett Kulak – #26 Jeff Petry
#53 Victor Mete – #27 Alexander Romanov

Goaltenders
#34 Jake Allen (starter)
#30 Cayden Primeau

Injured: Brendan Gallagher, Ben Chiarot, Joel Armia, Carey Price