After weeks of concern and uncertainty around the league regarding the situation with the Canucks, who lost more than half their roster to a Covid-19 variant outbreak, Vancouver will play their first game since March 24th when they play host to the Leafs tonight at Rogers Arena (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).

Drawing pushback from the PHWA, the Canucks organization barred media from their facilities once the outbreak ravaged the team. With all of us on the outside looking in unsure of what kind of condition the returning players on Vancouver’s roster are in, it is undoubtedly a bizarre context for both of these teams to play in as they attempt to put aside the circumstances and treat this like any other competitive NHL game.

The game itself feels a little bit irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, as the most important part is that the majority of those affected in the Canucks organization appear to be on the road to a full recovery.

“I think it’s been really important that we’ve had the extra days of practice for our team. Not only physically — obviously, they’ve gone through a lot in the last few weeks — but maybe more importantly, mentally. Just to get through a few more days and feel good about themselves — get through a practice where you’re not struggling to get through [it].”

– Travis Green

On the Maple Leafs‘ side of things, they will be getting both Auston Matthews and William Nylander back in their lineup tonight. Nylander has missed the team’s last five games in Covid-protocol but did not contract the virus, while Matthews sat out last game after tweaking something related to the wrist injury he missed time with earlier in the season.

With Nick Robertson up on the Tavares and Nylander line, it may well be a partial preview of what Keefe is currently envisioning for his playoff lineup, with Robertson as the current stand-in for Nick Foligno. Keefe also has Hyman back with Mikheyev and Kerfoot — his preferred checking line from earlier in the season — and has loaded up his top man-advantage unit in an attempt to get a badly-ailing power play back on track with a dozen games left to play in the 2021 regular season.

The Leafs will enter this game in a bit of a no-win situation as far as the media and fan narratives are concerned: If they beat up on a Vancouver team that is dealing with a terrible situation, it’s a case of “so what,” but if they lose, they’ll be the team that lost to the Covid-ravaged Canucks. Putting aside all of the outside noise, the Leafs need to focus on getting their game back to a better place after three straight losses in which they’ve been much less effective at dictating the run of play, not to mention the special teams woes that need to turn around quickly.

Game Day Quotes

Travis Green on his own ongoing recovery from Covid:

I’m feeling better, stronger every day. I came in the last couple of days just to be around the coaches and see some of the players and watch practice [on Friday]. Went on the ice today and ran practice — it was good to be back. The last few weeks have been trying for sure.

My voice has come a long way in the past couple of days — it’s getting stronger every day. I’m a little raspy now after running a practice, but I think I’ll be fine to [coach tonight].

Green on his expectation for his team given the circumstances:

As far as expectations, I know there’s a lot of people out there [saying] ‘how can you expect to do this or that?’ — hey, we’re here to win. That’s our mindset. That’s how our group feels, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Sheldon Keefe on the return of William Nylander:

: His skill and production is something to brings to us a lot, be it 5v5 or the power play. He gives us a boost in those areas. In this time we’ve played without him, I think some areas of our game have really slowed down.

It has been very apparent that when you take out someone like Will with his strengths — how he brings the puck up the ice, how he gets through the neutral zone, how he attacks the blue line — those are all areas that we have really dried up. We haven’t had nearly as much control of the puck. I think that is something he does very well for us. It will be nice to have that back.

Sheldon Keefe on how Nick Robertson has looked:

He is playing with a lot of confidence with the puck and without the puck. He is skating hard. He is out there looking to make a difference. He doesn’t look overwhelmed by any means.

I think he is just getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. When he gets the puck, he is looking to make something happen. He is working and competing. He has been good defensively. There are lots of really good things I have seen from him for sure.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #11 Zach Hyman
#97 Joe Thornton – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds

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

#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#33 David Rittich

Extras: Joey Duszak, Scott Sabourin, Martin Marincin, Pierre Engvall
Injured: Frederik Andersen, Riley Nash
Quarantine: Nick Foligno, Ben Hutton

Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines

#70 Tanner Pearson  – #53 Bo Horvat – #36 Nils Hoglander
#24 Jimmy Vesey – #9 JT Miller – #6 Brock Boeser
#56 Marc Michaelis – #20 Brandon Sutter – #72 Travis Boyd
#26 Antoine Roussel – #44 Tyler Graovac – #79 Jayce Hawryluk

#23 Alexander Edler – #57 Tyler Myers
#43 Quinn Hughes – #27 Travis Hamonic
#55 Guillaume Brisebois – #63 Jalen Chatfield

#49 Braden Holtby (starter)
#65 Michael Dipietro

Covid-Protocol: Nate Schmidt, Jake Virtanen
Unfit to Play: Thatcher Demko, Tyler Motte, Olli Juolevi
Injured: Elias Pettersson, Micheal Ferland, Jay Beagle