The adversity is piling up early in the season for the Maple Leafs, who are looking for revenge after a 3-2 loss to the Senators on Thursday (7 p.m. EST, CBC & Sportsnet).
The Maple Leafs will be without the services of Justin Holl today due to an illness, which combined with the groin injury sustained by Petr Mrazek in Thursday’s loss, created the circumstances that led to the signing of U of T goaltender Alex Bishop to serve as Jack Campbell’s temporary backup on an Amateur Tryout Contract.
It also provides the opportunity for Timothy Liljegren will make his season debut on a pairing with Jake Muzzin — next to whom he received plenty of reps in camp and preseason — thereby keeping the other two pairings intact. The forward group remains unchanged from Wednesday and Thursday’s games, with Auston Matthews nearing but not yet ready for a return to the lineup.
Mission #1 for the Leafs tonight is a better start to the game after falling behind in both contests to date. Jason Spezza’s level of urgency about the slow starts seemed greater than Sheldon Keefe’s after the loss in Ottawa, as Keefe encouraged the media to review the tape for the number of quality chances the Leaf actually gave up.
Spezza: “It’s early in the year, so let’s not make something too big of a deal. But you want to find your identity as a team and we have had two slow starts, two games in a row. It’s going to be something we will talk about.” #Leafs
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) October 15, 2021
The Senators caught the Leafs on a back-to-back on Thursday, and perhaps not surprisingly, they appeared to have the energy advantage in their home opener. Ottawa looked much like the team we saw in the later stages of the 2020-21 season, though, flipping pucks in behind the Leafs, applying diligent pressure on the forecheck, and playing with plenty of pace among their young forward corps, which can be an opportunistic group offensively.
The Leafs have scored just one goal at even strength through two games, significantly under-producing relative to their expected goals count of 5.52 through two games. The positive is that they’ve gathered some much-needed early confidence on the man advantage with three goals on the power play, but they have to start finding ways to cash in at 5v5.
Coming off of the Leafs underperforming offensively relative to their expected goals count in the Habs series, whether this is a matter of simply patiently awaiting the inevitable shooting percentage regression, or if an adjustment in tactics is needed offensively, is an early storyline to keep an eye on. Of course, the best 5v5 goal scorer in the world is also missing from the Leafs’ lineup at the moment.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the opportunity for Timothy Liljegren tonight:
He has had a good camp. He has remained patient here through the first couple of games. I talked to him this morning and I know he is excited. He has played well. He will go right in and do a job for us. It’s not new to him in the sense that he has come up and played at times when we have needed him and he has done a good job. We expect more of the same tonight.
Keefe on the circumstances that led to Alex Bishop signing an ATO:
There are a lot of things that aren’t my department and I am not really aware of. The flat cap has created some situations here that are a lot more difficult to manage even than they were a year ago when we had the taxi squad, the third goalie, emergency, and all of that kind of stuff.
Holl’s situation with having cold symptoms and his PCR test not coming back yet has created another situation for us. A lot of teams have already gone through it last season, and I expect a lot more will this season with the rules going back to normal and not necessarily having the Covid exemptions.
Keefe on Bishop joining the team this morning:
Steve Briere spent a lot of time with him this morning. He is pretty excited. He looked good in the morning skate here today. He stopped a lot of pucks, so that was good. We are just focused on getting our team ready to play.
Keefe on his message to Nick Ritchie at the morning skate:
He has to focus on doing the things that he can do in terms of using his physicality, getting on the puck, and forechecking — those kinds of things. There were some things defensively that I didn’t like the other night. We spoke to him and the team about it this morning.
Really, it is just about the fact that he played really well in preseason and it gave us confidence. It hasn’t gone as well in the first couple of games, but we have confidence he will bounce back from that and find his way here. I had a really good talk with him this morning. He is confident and knows where he wants to get better.
Keefe on Alex Kerfoot’s slow start:
Kerf hasn’t played to the level he had when the season ended in the playoffs. I thought he and Willy, together on a line when John went down, were tremendous for us. They had great chemistry.
Specific to Alex, he played with lots of confidence. He wanted the puck. He was looking to make plays. He was flying through the neutral zone. We haven’t seen that here quite yet. It is just about him finding his groove, finding his confidence, and getting back to doing that. We want him to clear his head and get back to being the player we know he can be.
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 – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#8 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
Alex Bishop (ATO)
Injured/Out: Auston Matthews, Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek, Justin Holl
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