With a huge bounce-back win behind them and the series now a best-of-five contest, the Maple Leafs get set for a rare playoff back-to-back beginning with Game 3 tonight in Montreal (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
While it may have been a bit of a tentative start for the line and the team as a whole, Nick Foligno adjusted relatively well to his role at center on a brand-new line with Alex Galchenyuk and William Nylander. Nylander, in particular, has been a driving force for his line and is a big reason why Sheldon Keefe is confident heading into Game 3 with the same lineup as he did on Saturday.
Another reason Sheldon Keefe isn’t making any changes tonight is the performance of the Engvall-Kerfoot-Mikheyev line, a trio that only gave up two shot attempts in 7:50 of five-on-five ice time and finished with a 98% share of the Expected Goals in the 5-1 Game 2 win.
They have all the ingredients of an effective checking line in the modern-day NHL with an abundance of speed and transitional ability to complement their defensive play and responsibility with the puck. Similar to the Penguins’ bottom line consisting of Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Bleuger, and Brandon Tanev — they have the speed, skill, and work rate to play defense through staying on offense/not spending much time in their own zone. That said, one game is one game, and consistency in the aforementioned areas is everything for a line that isn’t going to be producing a ton offensively.
The biggest storyline to watch for Montreal tonight will be the addition of Cole Caufield into the lineup. There were some last-minute changes during Montreal’s practice this morning — it appeared that Tomas Tatar was slated as a scratch before Eric Staal was ruled out for tonight with an injury. With Jake Evans still unable to play, Caufield was the next man up and will join a line with Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia.
Ducharme didn’t like Tatar’s offensive performance in Game 2 and wanted more in that regard out of his lineup as a whole, so he’s decided to split up his team’s regular top line. Tatar and his centerman, Philip Danault, will be joined by Josh Anderson, while Brendan Gallagher joins Tyler Toffoli and Saturday’s goal-scorer Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the second line.
As they did in the regular season, Montreal has struggled to keep up with the Leafs possession-wise — their overall five-on-five shot attempts total has them trailing the Leafs by 22 (85-63) through two games. The Leafs also lead 51-35 in shots on goal. All that works out to a total tilted in Toronto’s favour when adjusting for danger — the Leafs have owned 61% of xGoals per naturalstattrick‘s model and 60% per evolving-hockey (score and venue adjusted).
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of Tavares’ injury and Toronto’s big response in Game 2 has been Jack Campbell’s performance in this series so far. While you could argue that Montreal has yet to truly test the Leafs‘ starter, Campbell has looked very sharp when his team has called on him. Combine Campbell’s stellar goaltending with an ability to convert their possession and scoring-chance advantage into goals as they did in Game 2, and the Leafs will have a winning formula in this now-best-of-five contest.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe how Cole Caufield’s playoff debut affects his team’s gameplan:
It doesn’t change anything for us.
Sheldon Keefe on how his new second line of Galchenyuk-Foligno-Nylander performed in Game 2:
I thought they did a good job. They had some good opportunities and some good pressure in the offensive zone. They were on the ice for the goal against the second period, but I thought, as the game got moving, those guys were good. Nick did a good job on the faceoff dot.
Keefe on his assessment of William Nylander’s play through two games:
He’s played extremely well — he’s been on the puck, he’s been looking to make plays and make a difference.
Obviously, he’s found ways to score in both games. I’ve liked a lot about his game. He’s been really engaged on both sides of the puck, and that’s been good to see. I think he’s got a whole other level to get to, as lots of our players do.
He’s made a mark in both games, and has shown very well. His confidence should be high right now.
Ducharme on what Tomas Tatar needs to do better tonight:
He’s good when he’s dynamic. He’s an offensive guy, so we want him to produce scoring chances [himself]. We feel, and I feel, that he could be bringing more on that side, and we had that discussion this morning. I’m looking forward to seeing the way he plays tonight.
Ducharme on splitting up the Tatar-Danault-Gallagher line:
It’s like everything else — you make plans, but you need to be ready to adjust and make those [changes] and react. You never have only one plan. You always think about what can be coming next.
Obviously, we were confident with that and, in those two games, it didn’t work out. Does it mean that they’ll never get back together again? No. That’s the way we’ll start tonight, and that’s the way we think we’ll [be the most confident].
Jon Merrill on Toronto’s offense:
I think it’s just the style of game that they play. They’re a good team and they come at you in waves. It’s not so much the individual player that we’re worried about. Our focus is on ourselves and what we need to do as a team.
Cole Caufield on what he brings to the Habs’ lineup:
I think I’m here to spark the team, bring some energy, and help us win. I’m going to do everything I can — play in the offensive zone, play 200 feet, do all the right things, and play with a high compete level. As long as we all do that and stick to the plan, I think we’ll have success tonight.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Alex Galchenyuk – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #20 Riley Nash – #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, Nick Foligno
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#90 Tomas Tatar – #24 Phillip Danault – #17 Josh Anderson
#73 Tyler Toffoli – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #11 Brendan Gallagher
#40 Joel Armia – #14 Nick Suzuki – #22 Cole Caufield
#62 Artturi Lehkonen – #41 Paul Byron – #94 Corey Perry
#44 Joel Edmundson – #26 Jeff Petry
#8 Ben Chiarot – #6 Shea Weber
#77 Brett Kulak – #28 Jon Merrill
#31 Carey Price (starter)
#34 Jake Allen
Extras/Taxi: Cayden Primeau, Micheal Frolik, Alexander Romanov, Erik Gustafsson, Xavier Ouellet
Injured/Out: Jonathan Drouin, Jake Evans, Eric Staal