After earning a 2-1 victory over Montreal in their home opener following a shaky start and some key early saves by Jack Campbell, the Maple Leafs will turn to newcomer Petr Mrazek in net as they complete their season-opening back-to-back in Ottawa (7 p.m. EST, TSN 4&5).
Despite the line combos being a work in progress as the Leafs await the return of Auston Matthews and later Ilya Mikheyev from another unfortunate hand injury (broken thumb), the Maple Leafs‘ reshuffled top-nine forwards all had positive games against Montreal last night.
The Tavares, Kerfoot, and Kampf lines all outshot and out-chanced their opposition as the Leafs finished with 59.3% of the xGoals share* (score adjusted). Additionally, the five-on-five ice time distribution was almost an even split among the top nine — there was balance to their attack and the minutes at the top end weren’t out of control in the first game of a back-to-back.
The team’s bottom line, centered by free-agent singing Mike Amadio and flanked by veterans Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza, didn’t register a shot attempt in their seven-ish minutes at even strength. Personally, I wouldn’t rush to judgment based on one game, especially considering Montreal’s quality depth at forward.
Another energetic showing from the likes of Pierre Engvall and newcomers Ondrej Kase, David Kampf, and Michael Bunting would go a long way tonight against a Sens team that will be hyped for their home opener and, as you may remember, beat the Leafs 5-3 in their first game of 2021. The hard-working Senators of last season were not been an easy out for the Leafs in 2021, taking four wins out of nine meetings last season — one came after the Leafs opened up a four-goal lead — and they’ll have the fresher legs tonight.
Brady Tkachuk, after signing his seven-year, 57.5 million dollar extension this morning, will NOT play for Ottawa tonight. That means 19-year-old Tim Stutzle gets the left-wing spot on the Senators’ most talented line. As the sophomore and 2020 3rd-overall pick looks to have a breakout year, he’ll join 22-year-old Josh Norris, who is looking to follow up a breakout year of his own.
After playing just three games in the pandemic-interrupted 2019-20 season, Norris was given a top-six role off the hop last season and ran away with it, becoming one of four Sens forwards to score at least 17 goals and finish with over 30 points in last year’s 56-game season — the others being Brady Tkachuk, Connor Brown, and Drake Batherson.
As mentioned, Petr Mrazek will get the start for Toronto tonight after signing a three-year, $3.8 million AAV deal in the off-season. Mrazek will look to follow up on Campbell’s fantastic performance last night with a debut statement game of his own. This certainly has the makings of an upper-echelon goaltending duo in the NHL if all goes to plan.
For the Sens, it will be 28-year-old Anton Forsberg who gets the start. The Sens will have an inexperienced tandem of Forsberg and 23-year-old Filip Gustavsson to start the year as Matt Murray is out with a non-Covid illness. Forsberg, picked off waivers from Winnipeg last season, started eight times for the Sens last season, going 3-4-1 with a .909 Sv%.
*stats from evolvinghockey.com
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#20 Nick Ritchie – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#58 Michael Bunting – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#24 Wayne Simmonds – #18 Michael Amadio – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#8 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott
Starter: #35 Petr Mrazek
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras: Timothy Liljegren
Injured: Auston Matthews, Ilya Mikheyev
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#18 Tim Stutzle – #9 Josh Norris – #19 Drake Batherson
#21 Nick Paul – #12 Shane Pinto – #28 Connor Brown
#10 Alex Formenton – #71 Chris Tierney – #63 Tyler Ennis
#13 Zach Sanford – #20 Logan Shaw – #45 Parker Kelly
#72 Thomas Chabot – #2 Artem Zub
#98 Vicor Mete – 22 Nikita Zaitsev
#5 Nick Holden – #3 Josh Brown
Starter: #31 Anton Forsberg
#32 Filip Gustavsson
Injured/Out: Colin White, Matt Murray, Brady Tkachuk, Michael Del Zotto