After a storybook first game back for the recovering Vancouver Canucks — Braden Holtby stole the show and earned his team an overtime win — the Maple Leafs will attempt to bury more of their chances in the rematch tonight (9 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario/West).
As the situation with the Canucks organization unfolded over the last few weeks, the last thing on anyone’s mind was their playoff chances. The fact that they’ve begun to work themselves back into the conversation is surprising, to say the least. With the fifth-place Calgary Flames continuing to struggle — losing 11 of their last 16 games — and the Montreal Canadiens dropping eight of their last 11, the door has cracked open just a touch for Vancouver:
Club was at 6% on March 31st, when a COVID outbreak put them on pause for 18 days. Their playoff odds have since tripled.
Habs leaving the door wide open.
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) April 20, 2021
After running roughshod over Vancouver in a three-game sweep at the start of February, the Leafs have now lost three consecutive to the Canucks dating back to March 4. They need to steer their ship north again at the top of the North Division standings after a 0-2-2 stretch that has dropped their lead to four ahead of the Jets, who play the Leafs three more times.
The Leafs will make a series of lineup changes tonight from Sunday’s overtime loss. David Rittich will start — giving Jack Campbell another night off and Rittich a second opportunity to get his bearings on his new team — Rasmus Sandin will be a late addition to the lineup (replacing Travis Dermott), and it appears Adam Brooks and Pierre Engvall will step in for Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev, with Mikheyev battling a day-to-day injury and Hyman out for at least two weeks due to an MCL sprain.
Sandin only played five minutes in a game against Vancouver on February 8th before he was sent down to the Marlies and sustained an injury in his first game with them. That means the 21-year-old has appeared in a total of one AHL game and one NHL game in the last 13+ months — far from an ideal development program for the team’s top defense prospect.
It’s been made clear, through both Sheldon Keefe and Kyle Dubas’ remarks in recent weeks and months, that Sandin remains in the organization’s plans for this season. It appears that the Leafs want to get Sandin some minutes down the stretch so that they can feel more comfortable including him in a playoff lineup if need be, in addition to playing a bit of catchup on critical development time (in the form of actual game action) with the Marlies currently on a Covid-induced pause in their schedule.
After he was given a slap on the wrist at practice for missing a team meeting — he wore a grey “extras” sweater in practice yesterday — William Nylander will be allowed to play tonight coming off of his one-goal, one-assist performance against Vancouver on Sunday. Given the chaos of Nylander’s recent couple of weeks with the Covid scare and quarantine — which he handled well and was transparent with the organization about — there was probably some benefit of the doubt that the coaching staff wanted to afford Nylander. It doesn’t hurt Nylander’s case that the Leafs are short on bodies at the moment, or that he has six points in his last three games dating back to April 4 (all two-point performances — vs. CGY x2 and VAN).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on why now was the time to get Rasmus Sandin in the lineup:
We’ve got some game-time decisions here today with a lot of our lineup. With Rasmus, we’ve looking for ways to get him back in, as I talked about the other day. Our ideal scenario would have had him with the Marlies first to get up and running, but the circumstances changed and we’re running out of time, so we do have to find a way to get him in here soon.
His pathway to be an NHL player is to be a guy that shows he can handle to defensive responsibilities, handle defending at the NHL, and handle the physicality. Doing that at five-on-five is the most important thing. That’s a pathway for him to utilize the skills that he has in term of his offense, the way he distributes the puck, and any contributions he can make on the power play. That’s really what we’re looking for.
As we reflect on last season, the defensive pieces and being able to give him minutes at five-on-five that you need to be able to get out of your defensemen — there were some issues there where showed he needed more time.
He hasn’t necessarily had more experience in game action just because of the circumstances the world has brought on us the last little while, and then you add on his injury. He has grown [though]. He’s an older man now, he’s continued to develop, and he’s stronger.
He has a pathway here to become a full-time NHL player. It’s just a matter of if he can do it in this short timeframe we have and the circumstances that are in front of us.
Keefe on whether William Nylander’s tardiness is a disappointing thing to see so close to the playoffs:
Yeah, of course. It speaks to the level of focus that we [expect] and that’s why we responded the way that we did. We don’t just brush it aside. Everything’s important always, but even more so this time of year.
Justin Holl on playing with Morgan Rielly versus Jake Muzzin:
We had talked about it the day before — it was just one of those deals where we wanted to be prepared for any eventuality, especially going into the playoffs [where we want to] be ready to play against anybody at any time.
I love playing with [Rielly]. I love playing with [Muzzin]. They’re both great players and both easy to play with. In both circumstances, I’m in good hands.
Holl on Rasmus Sandin’s tough luck in 2021:
He’s had a tough go of things, breaking his foot earlier in the year. it was kind of a weird break in a place where it wasn’t healthy to be on it all the time, so it was a bit of a longer recovery. I know that he was disappointed with that, but he came to the rink every day with a positive attitude and had one sole focus, which was getting better and being ready to contribute.
I’m really happy he’s getting an opportunity tonight — he’s a great player and I’m sure it’ll show tonight.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#97 Joe Thornton – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#89 Nick Robertson – #77 Adam Brooks – #19 Jason Spezza
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 T.J Brodie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #22 Zach Bogosian
#33 David Rittich (starter)
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras/Taxi: Joey Duszak, Martin Marincin, Travis Dermott, Veini Vehvilainen, Timothy Liljegren
Injured: Frederik Andersen, Riley Nash, Ilya Mikheyev, Zach Hyman
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
#15 Matthew Highmore – #72 Travis Boyd – #18 Jake Virtanen
#26 Antoine Roussel – #20 Brandon Sutter – #13 Jayce Hawryluk
#88 Nate Schmidt – #57 Tyler Myers
#43 Quinn Hughes – #27 Travis Hamonic
#48 Olli Juolevi – #63 Jalen Chatfield
#49 Braden Holtby (starter)
#65 Michael Dipietro
Suspended: Alex Edler
Unfit to Play: Thatcher Demko, Tyler Motte
Injured: Elias Pettersson, Micheal Ferland, Jay Beagle