Nick Foligno’s arrival comes at a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs could really use a boost. A critical two-game set gets underway tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, who now trail the slumping Leafs by four points with a game in hand (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Already winning over the hearts of Leafs Nation by emerging from his quarantine in Sudbury donning his dad’s ’93 Leafs hat, Foligno will make his debut in a position to succeed offensively, to say the least: He’ll suit up alongside the second-highest scoring duo in the NHL in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Nick Foligno rocking a hat his father passed along before he left to join #Leafs:
"It was a '93 edition here. I think it's got the Starter logo on the back. Nice to be able to rock it and bring a little bit of the old with the new." pic.twitter.com/5qUBAGnJ5o
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 22, 2021
Foligno’s role on the Leafs could be ever-evolving for the rest of the season and into the playoffs given his experience and versatility as a player, but there is the potential for a complementary fit inside the team’s top six.
Playing alongside high-end offensive players is not a situation Foligno has been in a whole lot in recent seasons in Columbus; he was never a regular linemate of Artemi Panarin’s before he left for New York, nor did he play all that much with Pierre-Luc Dubois (before the trade to Winnipeg) or Cam Atkinson. You’d have to go back to his time with Ryan Johansen in 2014-15 to find him regularly in a more traditional “top-six scoring line” situation, which was, of course, the year Foligno tallied a career-high 73 points.
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Foligno has spent a lot of time in recent seasons on a line with Boone Jenner, deployed in high-leverage situations defensively while flipping between wing and center as needed. Starting tonight, we’ll see how he fares in the “Zach Hyman” role, where he will need to able to make plays but serve as a third fiddle with the puck while providing value through his forechecking, net presence, and defensive conscience.
The insertion of Foligno onto the top line means Alex Galchenyuk will rejoin John Tavares and William Nylander, where Galchenyuk gained his solid footing to start his Leaf career. If Ilya Mikheyev can return from injury (game-time decision), it appears Pierre Engvall — not Adam Brooks, he of two goals in three NHL games this season — will be on the outside looking in on the top 12 tonight.
On defense, it isn’t surprising to see the more established pairings of Muzzin-Holl and Rielly-Brodie re-united given the team’s recent results and the gravity of these games. The loss of Zach Bogosian for “at least a week,” Travis Dermott will also re-enter the lineup on the right side of the ice next to Rasmus Sandin, who will stay in the top six after a solid performance (16:14 time on ice) in his first game in forever. Newcomer Ben Hutton, and taxi-squad regular Timothy Liljegren, will need to remain patient for now.
Even including their 5-2 loss to the Jets a week ago today, the Maple Leafs are rarely out-possessed, out-shot, or out-chanced by Winnipeg at even strength. The Toronto-Winnipeg battle has been a back-and-forth one this season, but Toronto still holds the upper hand with a 4-3-0 record while controlling 61% of xGoals and 55% of shot attempts in approximately 350 minutes of 5v5 competition against the Jets this season. That kind of 5v5 control, married with better special teams and goaltending, is the winning formula the Leafs are looking to execute in this two-game set.
After getting pulled for the first time in his Leaf career in his last start — which happened to be against Winnipeg — Jack Campbell will need to prove he can rebound and successfully navigate the ebbs and flows regular starters in the league inevitably face. Campbell, 11-2-1 with a .919 save percentage, will start tonight opposite reigning Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck is 21-12-3 on the season with an identical .919 SV%.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on inserting Foligno next to Matthews and Marner:
I knew I was going to start him on one of those two lines with [Matthews or Tavares], but I didn’t want to commit to it one way or another. I just wanted to wait and see where those lines were at.
It wasn’t — or isn’t, really — a sense of [Foligno] and what he can bring because I think he can help any line with us. I think that [Tavares] and [Nylander] are really rolling right now. No matter who we’ve had with them on the left side, those guys have been playing really well, and they’ve had good chemistry with Galchenyuk previously.
The Matthews and Marner line could use a little boost here — it’s normally the time where you’d put Hyman with those guys. Obviously, Zach’s not available so I think it’s a good fit and it’s a great way to introduce Nick to our team, to play with two guys like that.
Nick Foligno on what he brings to the Toronto Maple Leafs:
I mean, just what I bring is that physical presence. Nothing flashy — I’m obviously able to play on the offensive side of it, but I just want to be a steady presence out there. I think it’ll play itself out as we go along here.
Listen, I haven’t played in ten days, I’m not expecting to jump in and start dangling and doing all those things, but I do want to contribute on the other side where you’re hard to play against. I think the rest comes from [that] with me when I have that mindset.
That’s what I’m looking to do, just play a hard style of game that I normally play, chip in where I can, don’t expect too much of myself — all the while knowing that I have full confidence in being able to help this team. I’m sure they’re going to bring me along — there’s a great locker room in their, great group of guys.
Foligno on playing on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner tonight:
Might as well jump right in, right? I’m looking forward to it. [They’re] great players, and I’m just looking to be out there with the team. I’m not really too concerned about where I play right now or who I’m with. I’m fortunate to play with any guy in that room.
That’s how I play the game — wherever I’m asked to be, I’ll do my best. I’m looking forward to starting off with those guys and having some fun. Hopefully, we can get a big win tonight.
Sheldon Keefe on when Ben Hutton might enter the lineup:
We’ll see how it goes. Sandin is more of a priority right now, to get him up and going. We want to get Dermott back involved, too, so I think the first thing for Hutton is just to get comfortable and back going again. I would think we’ll get him in at some time — that’s what I’ve told him. He’s going to have to be patient with it.
Paul Maurice on how a superstar starting goalie changes a coach’s job:
The difference is you don’t think about it as much coming to the rink in the morning. When you get to know a guy like we’ve gotten to know [Hellebuyck] over the last few years and you’ve seen him build and you start to understand him as a person, I don’t spend much time thinking about it.
If it gets to a stretch where I start to need to think about it, you do more — you start looking at the schedule and how to manage it. How can we get him back on track?
The advantage for me is time cost as the head coach. I don’t have to spend much time worrying about it. Now, even with a player like [Hellebuyck], over the course of the season, there’s going to be a stretch where you’re concerned about workload and minutes and all those other things. The benefit is, at the start of the year, barring any injury, I can look at the schedule and map out a plan from the start.
Maurice on working in new additions and playing teams after the trade deadline:
We’re trying to anticipate what their lines are going to look like, what the games going to look like, how much different [Toronto is going to play]. We’ve got a new defenceman going in [as well]. [There’s] a little adjustment around the trade deadline — you always feel as if you’ve got some runway at the other end to [make adjustments]. If you’re adding pieces, you’re probably in pretty good shape there, so you’ve got lots of runway.
Now, we’ve got to kind of get to know people and re-learn about teams — and you won’t know, you’re not going to see the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you’re fortunate enough to get into the playoff round with them when Hyman comes back, Andersen comes back — then you get a look at the team.
You won’t [look at] the results of these games as you foretelling on what it would look like if we meet a month from now.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#71 Nick Foligno – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#97 Joe Thornton – #77 Adam Brooks – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#33 David Rittich
Extras/Taxi: Joey Duszak, Martin Marincin, Veini Vehvilainen, Timothy Liljegren, Pierre Engvall, Stefan Noesen
Injured: Frederik Andersen, Riley Nash, Zach Hyman, Zach Bogosian
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#25 Paul Stastny – #13 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#81 Kyle Connor – #55 Mark Schiefele – #26 Blake Wheeler
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #82 Mason Appleton
#85 Mathieu Perreault – #11 Nate Thompson – #23 Trevor Lewis
#44 Josh Morrisey – #3 Tucker Poolman
#24 Derek Forbort – #4 Neal Pionk
#8 Jordie Benn – #2 Dylan Demelo
#37 Connor Hellebuyck (starter)
#30 Laurent Brossoit
Injured: Nathan Beaulieu, Bryan Little