After an emotionally charged 48 hours, the Maple Leafs face their toughest test of the season: evening up the series without their captain in Game 2 (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Now without John Tavares for the first time this season, the Leafs need to adapt quickly heading into Game 2.
Sheldon Keefe has decided to keep Zach Hyman on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, an unsurprising move considering their territorial control over the play and scoring chances against the Philip Danault line in Game 1 (over 65% CF, 67% SCF) despite failing to ultimately break through offensively.
In search of more scoring depth, Keefe has decided to scratch Riley Nash in favour of a more offensive look among the middle-six forwards, while Nick Foligno will move to the center-ice position alongside William Nylander and Alex Galchenyuk.
Foligno has played center in Columbus this season and generally tends to assume the responsibilities of one regardless of his position, but it’ll be a big test of how quickly he’ll be able to adapt and make an impact on his new team in the playoffs without John Tavares centering his line. He’ll likely be asked to play a much bigger role at five-on-five after only playing 8:45 at evens on Thursday, when a lot of special teams time factored in and the team chased the game for a fair chunk of the 60 minutes.
It could be fairly argued Nylander is as good or better of an option to replace Tavares as the 2C, but he hasn’t played center as recently (which is a contingency the coaching staff maybe could have planned for in the regular season). In any event, Nylander has to drive the line offensively regardless of position — and his ice time should also increase as his Game 1 performance arguably deserved more than the 10:43 he played at evens.
Filling out the line, Galchenyuk needs to bring the kind of spark he brought when he first arrived in Toronto in terms of a forechecking presence who can also make plays and finish off a chance if an opportunity presents itself — hopefully, in a playoff game against his former team, he can spring out of the gates tonight like he has been shot out of a cannon.
In the bottom six, the ‘”vets” line will remain together while Alex Kerfoot will center Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev on line three. Overall, the hope here is that the Matthews line can keep dictating play in its matchup (and hopefully cash in offensively), while a bit more speed, skill, and offensive ability will make the Leafs more of a four-line threat than they were in Game 1.
On the blue line, Sheldon Keefe is showing continued faith in Rasmus Sandin despite a few costly moments in Game 1, mentioning specifically that he liked Sandin’s contributions on the first few power plays of the game.
On Montreal’s side of things, Jake Evans is now considered day-to-day and won’t play tonight. Dominique Ducharme has multiple options to replace Evans, but he has decided to go with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was a surprise scratch during Game 1 but will slot in on a checking unit with Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron (who he has centered before).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on playing without Tavares and how his team needs to adjust for Game 2:
There are no shortage of examples of teams that have to deal with playing without significant pieces on their team. Obviously, the regular season is a lot different, but we’ve faced a number of different situations as well.
We’ve played games without Auston — in fact, when Auston was out, it was John who had really stepped up his game to fill that gap and take up a lot of the minutes that Auston would take. All of our players need to step up and be better here. Whether you played the last game or you’re coming into the lineup, everyone here has to be a little bit better.
Keefe on whether he will be quick to make more changes if things go south tonight:
I don’t feel like we’ve got a ton of options, particularly at the centre ice position, so we’ve got to monitor that. I like the look of the lines here today — regardless of what the lines are tonight, the individuals have got to step up. If we do that, the lines will come together just fine.
Keefe on Alex Galchenyuk and the lineup changes for Game 2:
Credit to Alex — he’s come in here and worked extremely hard. That’s the biggest thing that stood out right from the very first shift he played with us was how hard he worked and how much he moves his feet — a lot of good things happen when you do that.
He’s got a good skill set and he’s worked at it just to get comfortable again and make some adjustments. Really, it’s been the work ethic that he brings — that’s been the biggest thing and it’s been really consistent since he’s played with us.
He didn’t come out of the lineup because of anything he had done or hadn’t done, we liked the Game 1 lineup that we had and the look of that. With John’s absence, it changes the dynamic of our team and the look of our team. We knew that both Galchenuk and Engvall were going to be factors for us, and here they are tonight with an opportunity.
Dominique Ducharme on what Kotkeniemi can bring to his lineup:
The line played together before and had some really strong games. I’ve really liked [Kotkaniemi]’s last week — I think we talked about him taking a step back and working on his game and getting ready for the playoffs. We’re confident in that line.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #71 Nick Foligno – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#97 Joe Thornton – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #22 Zach Bogosian
#36 Jack Campbell (starter)
#31 Frederik Andersen
Extras/Taxi: David Rittich, Adam Brooks, Riley Nash, Denis Malgin, Ben Hutton, Travis Dermott, Martin Marincin
Injured: John Tavares
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#90 Tomas Tatar – #24 Phillip Danault – #11 Brendan Gallagher
#73 Tyler Toffoli – #14 Nick Suzuki – #40 Joel Armia
#94 Corey Perry – #21 Eric Staal – #17 Josh Anderson
#41 Paul Byron – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #62 Artturi Lehkonen
#44 Joel Edmundson – #26 Jeff Petry
#77 Brett Kulak – #8 Ben Chiarot
#28 Jon Merrill – #6 Shea Weber
#31 Carey Price (starter)
#34 Jake Allen
Extras/Taxi: Cayden Primeau, Cole Caufield, Micheal Frolik, Alexander Romanov, Erik Gustafsson, Xavier Ouellet
Injured/Out: Jonathan Drouin, Jake Evans