A very shorthanded Golden Knights club proved to be a timely matchup for a Maple Leafs team that needed to build some confidence on Tuesday night. Tonight, the Leafs begin the difficult task of closing out the week against two familiar and formidable Atlantic Division foes, starting tonight against the 5-3-1 Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
Now 10 games into the new season, it’s a good time to take stock of how the Maple Leafs new “Czech-ing” line — composed of Pierre Engvall, David Kampf, and Ondrej Kase — has fared thus far. As we know, for a long time the Maple Leafs have been attempting to find a line capable of consistently staying above water under tough defensive zone usage, affording their elite scoring talent on the top two lines as many offensive-zone starts and favourable matchups as possible.
Kampf and Kase currently sit fifth and sixth in the NHL, respectively, on the list of the lowest percentage of offensive-zone starts among forwards (>50 mins TOI). Only the New York Islanders long-tenured checking line of Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck has been used more exclusively in the defensive zone.
All in all, they’ve delivered in their role thus far. In 10 games, Engvall-Kampf-Kase has surrendered the 6th fewest xGA/60 and the second-fewest Shots-on-Goal/60 of all lines with a minimum of 50 minutes of ice time (of which there are 46). They’ve only been scored on once so far, as well. Tonight, the Leafs‘ top six will be best set up for success if the checking line can stay above water while taking on some of the defensive-zone starts against the Lightning top six lines centered by Point and Stamkos.
As a side note, if you remove any ice time minimums, the Leafs red-hot Kerfoot-Tavares-Marner line, who have played their last three games together, rank first in the NHL with the fewest xGA/60 of any line in the league.
As you’d expect, the Leafs are preparing to play with the same lineup tonight as they did against Vegas on Tuesday. The only hurdle will be Travis Dermott, who missed practice yesterday and is a game-time decision for tonight’s game. If he can’t play, it would be Justin Holl, a healthy scratch in two straight games, subbing in. However, based on how Sheldon Keefe experimented at practice yesterday, if Dermott sits out, the pairs may shake out differently than before Holl left the lineup:
Rielly – Liljegren
Muzzin – Brodie
Sandin – Holl
This gets Holl into a more sheltered role at 5v5 while he tries to rediscover his game, and frees him up to play plenty of minutes on the penalty kill.
In goal tonight, the matchup will be Jack Campbell vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy. Campbell earned his first shutout of the year against Vegas as he continues his run of stellar play dating back to last season. He is 4-2-1 on the year with a .921 save percentage — Vasilevskiy has had a similar start to his year with a 5-2-1 record and a .915 save percentage.
Game Day Quotes
Pierre Engvall on preparing for PK minutes against Tampa:
You’ve got to be aware of their [shooters]. It’s not just Stamkos. Point is there, too, as a really good shooter. We’ve got to make sure we bring it and take care of the puck.
Engvall on Matthews’ breakout game against Vegas:
Obviously, it felt really good. I think you can see the smile it put on his face when he scored, so that was huge for the team. He’s probably the best scorer in the league, too, so getting him going with goals is very important to us.
Sheldon Keefe on the Kristian Rubins callup and how he’s developed as a player:
In [his] case, it’s an insurance callup, but he’s a guy we’ve brought up for a reason. He’s played very well down there with the Marlies and had a great camp with us. We like him a lot, so it’s a good chance to get him here and spend the day.
The first thing that stands out, of course, is his size but how he moves well with that size. Offensively, he’s had good instincts and can move the puck. Like a lot of guys with his skill set, they jump in offensively and do all of those things, but, as he’s matured and evolved as a pro, I see him really recognizing how valuable it is to defend hard and be physical.
So many young players that come in and try to figure out who and what they are, they latch onto that — that’s what I see happening with Rubins. It’s adding different layers to his game physically and how he defends that are making him a legitimate NHL prospect.
Keefe on Timothy Liljegren’s extended opportunity in a regular role:
When we lost Bogosian, [we knew] it was going to create an opportunity for those guys to get extra minutes and extra opportunities.
He’s played back-to-back games now — he’ll play here again tonight. It’s his third game in a row, so his confidence is getting higher. With that, he’s gaining the trust of [Dean Chynoweth] back there.
Keefe on Dermott’s season so far:
I think he’s done well. We’ve talked a lot about Travis. He’s still a young defenseman the way I look at it, but he’s played a lot and had a lot of experience. If I’m not mistaken, he’s played twice as many games as Justin Holl in the league.
He’s got great experience in the league, so you’re always looking for him to take that next step. I think we’re still waiting for that [next step], but he’s played well for us. He’s been right in the mix with all the guys — he missed a game to get Liljegren in at one time there, but, obviously, we’ve believed in him enough to pair him with Rielly.
Keefe on how the team has improved over the last three games:
We’ve improved incrementally each game. I thought [in] the Chicago game, we found a way to win and we did some good things inside of that, but it was nowhere near where we needed to be.
In the Detroit game, I thought we played really well for long stretches, but we let them back in the game and made it a lot tighter than it needed to be. It was a really good game, essentially from start to finish, the other night [against Vegas]. I didn’t love a lot of our third period, but the game, in essence, was over, and that’s because of how we played. We took care of it the way I thought it should have been [taken care of] against Detroit.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#20 Nick Ritchie – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #23 Travis Dermott*
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 TJ Brodie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#35 Petr Mrazek
Extras: Justin Holl, Kristian Rubins
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
17 Alex Killorn – #21 Brayden Point – #71 Anthony Cirelli
#18 Ondrej Palat – #91 Steven Stamkos – #60 Alex Barre-Boulet
#14 Patrick Maroon – #79 Ross Colton – #10 Corey Perry
#7 Mathieu Joseph – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – #16 Taylor Raddysh
#77 Victor Hedman – #44 Jan Rutta
#27 Ryan Mcdonagh – #81 Erik Cernak
#98 Mikhail Sergachev – #52 Cal Foote
Starter: #88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
#1 Brian Elliot
Extras: Andrej Sustr, Gemel Smith, Gabriel Dumont
Injured: Zach Bogosian, Nikita Kucherov, Boris Katchouck