Coming off of an emphatic show of faith by their General Manager before the trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs enter the first of a back-to-back versus Montreal and Calgary against a struggling Habs team that has lost three games in a row (7 p.m. EST, TSN 2&4)
With Carey Price continuing to deal with an upper-body injury, the Habs will further lean on Jake Allen, who has started Montreal’s last three games. Allen gave up 11 goals in those three games and, while it’s hard to argue this hasn’t been his worst stretch of the season, has gotten less support from the team in front of him than usual.
In their last three games (April 7th vs. TOR, April 8th vs. WPG, and April 10th vs. WPG), Montreal has given up over 2.6 xGoalsAgainst/60 at five-on-five, which is way higher than their second-ranked 1.95/60 rating on the season. For perspective, the Canucks own the worst xGA/60 rate in the league this season at just under 2.8. Only two of their 11 goals against in those games were on the power play, so it’s been mainly a five-on-five problem in Montreal as of late.
In response, head coach Dominique Ducharme has shaken his lines up quite a bit just two games removed from last Wednesday’s game against Toronto. Brendan Gallagher remains out for at least a month, pushing what was already a four-line team even more into a balanced approach over four lines.
In Thursday’s 4-2 loss to Winnipeg, Nick Suzuki and Corey Perry both played over 20 minutes but went scoreless after their line scored twice against the Leafs in their previous game. However, in their 5-0 loss to Winnipeg on Saturday, no Habs forward played fewer than 11:00 minutes or more than 18:00 minutes overall. Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar were the only forwards with decent 5v5 numbers in the loss — meanwhile, Perry played significantly less at five-on-five as most of Montreal’s lines were in the blender throughout the game.
Ducharme’s team is missing a top offensive contributor and leader in Gallagher, are still working Eric Staal into the lineup, and have struggled to score and defend at 5v5 as of late. As a result, the Habs’ lines will continue to shuffle tonight. With Staal, Danault/Tatar, Anderson, and Toffoli all on different lines, this might be the most spread-out Montreal’s forward units have looked all season.
On the Leafs‘ side of things, Nick Robertson will make his return to the Leafs‘ lineup tonight, taking Alexander Barabanov’s spot on the fourth line after Barabanov was traded to San Jose this afternoon. Robertson made the roster out of camp but had an unfortunate start to the year, picking up a knee injury a little over two minutes into his first NHL game. Since recovering and joining the Marlies, Robertson has 10 points in 14 games (three goals, seven assists). With a new recruit arriving on the left side in the form of Nick Foligno and William Nylander soon to return, this is an opportunity for Robertson to get himself up to speed at the NHL level and keep himself firmly on the radar for when injuries inevitably strike.
While it will be at least a week or so before Foligno or any of Toronto’s other newcomers make their debut for the Leafs, David Rittich, who has remained in Calgary the last few days, is expected to be available for tomorrow’s Leafs vs. Flames game. That would put the Leafs in a perfect position to give Rittich his first start in order to rest Jack Campbell, who will start tonight in search of a 12-0-0 start the season.
Game Day Quotes
Tomas Tatar on getting back to playing a tight, high-support style of hockey:
We have to play like a puzzle. I’ve said it many times. You have to be close to each other and help each other in each zone. That’s why it’s so important — it’s not just the D-zone. We have to have a block of five in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone as well to create more offense. We have to get back to that system and structure to be that way. We all have to buy in and do it.
Sheldon Keefe on the addition of Nick Foligno:
Just one of these guys that does whatever it takes to win. [He’s] versatile, can play any position anywhere in the lineup, can play the game anyway you want to play it, great leadership qualities, plays really hard — I think he just checks so many boxes of the things you need to do when it counts the most.
Keefe on why Nick Robertson is entering the lineup tonight:
Nylander being out has given is an opportunity to look at some different things. Obviously, we got Barabanov in for a couple. Now we’ll give Nick his opportunity.
Keefe on the addition of David Rittich:
Well, he’s certainly played very well against the Leafs, so that definitely stands out. He’s obviously got experience in the league and he’s played well well against [us], so our team has a strong impression of him. His addition definitely adds to our depth in goal, and that’s a very good thing.
Keefe on the internal competition created by the deadline additions:
I think it’ll have an impact for sure, just in terms of the competition for spots and ice — that’s definitely a thing. There may also be an opportunity for us, as things get going, to try different things and utilize the depth that we have, if we remain healthy.
There will be times where we have to move people in and out of the lineup. We’ll take it a day at a time and it’ll sort itself out. Anytime you add more depth, especially established players, it makes your group stronger, no doubt.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#97 Joe Thornton – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza
#89 Nick Robertson – #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
Covid list (precautionary): William Nylander
Extras: Martin Marincin, Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Scott Sabourin, Veini Vehvilainen
Injured: Frederik Andersen, Riley Nash
Soon Entering Quarantine: Nick Foligno, Ben Hutton, Riley Nash
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#73 Tyler Toffoli – #14 Nick Suzuki – #71 Jake Evans
#92 Jonathan Drouin – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #17 Josh Anderson
#90 Tomas Tatar – #24 Philip Danault – #41 Paul Byron
#62 Artturi Lehkonen – #21 Eric Staal – #94 Corey Perry
#77 Brett Kulak – #6 Shea Weber
#44 Joel Edmundson – #26 Jeff Petry
#27 Alexander Romanov – #64 Otto Leskinen
#34 Jake Allen (starter)
#30 Cayden Primeau
Injured: Brendan Gallagher, Ben Chiarot, Joel Armia, Carey Price