Coming off a clean road win in Philadelphia, the Maple Leafs return home briefly for the Hall-of-Fame game against the Calgary Flames tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4/Sportsnet West).
The Flames are in the second half of a back-to-back coming off of a 4-2 loss to Montreal in which Calgary felt wronged by the officials in the third period. The Leafs will likely avoid goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who has four shutouts to his name just 11 starts into the year and is humming along at a .935 save percentage. We won’t know who is starting officially until closer to game time, but Markstrom has started eight games in a row and Darryl Sutter turned to David Vladar in their previous back-to-back this season.
A season after missing the playoffs in the North Division with a 26-27-3 record, the 7-3-3 Flames were sporting the highest five-on-five save percentage in the league prior to the loss in Montreal, they’re top 10 in goals per game, second in shots per game, top five in Expected Goals For percentage, second in goals against per game, top five in shots against per game, and in the top half of the league on both sides of special teams.
In addition to subpar goaltending last season, the Flames’ top players were simply not controlling the quality chances and manufacturing the offensive production expected of them, but the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and Andrew Mangiapane are off to highly productive starts to 2021-22. Mangiapane’s 32% shooting percentage and Linholm’s 18% shooting percentage aren’t sustainable, and we’ll see if they have enough quality depth scoring in their ranks to sustain their results offensively after finishing 20th in the NHL in goals per game under the defensive-minded Darryl Sutter last season.
After a six-goal explosion against the Rangers, the Flames have lost two in a row to San Jose and Montreal with just three goals scored in those games. “When we were scoring, three and a half goals a game, it is not a sustainable number,” said Sutter after last night’s loss in Montreal. “The league doesn’t work like that… We are not a team that is going to score a lot. We are going to have to do a lot of grinding and banging away.”
The Leafs are not expected to change their personnel from the winning formula against Philadelphia — a 3-0 shutout win with Justin Holl back in the lineup — aside from John Tavares’ likely return, which bumps Kirill Semyonov back into the press box and the forward lines back to their previous form.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on his trust in the David Kampf line:
I do trust them for sure. I really like the way the line has come together there. I was confident in the chemistry with Kampf and Kase given they are best friends coming in here before ever playing a day for the Leafs. I thought that the pairing could do well that way and help both of them get comfortable playing here.
Whether it was Engvall or Kerfoot with them, I just like that I can trust that group to play in defensive-zone situations, take a ton of defensive faceoffs, not take a whole lot offensive faceoffs… It’s a challenging role mentally, but those guys have handled it very well.
Of course, the penalty killing has been great.
Keefe on what is working on the power play:
It is in sync. It has really been in sync here. Guys are reading off of each other well. It has evolved and you have a bit of a plan when you come into the season. It takes a little time to get that going, but in Auston’s situation, it created some situation for us in that sense.
The guys seemed to be reading off of each other the way we want them to. They are using their skill and creativity and they’re trusting the plan that has been put in place, but also, there is freedom inside of that. Those guys are in sync there.
It is one thing to have freedom and be roaming around, but to not be in sync, it doesn’t look very good. Things fall apart and nobody knows what is happening. They seem to be on the same page here of late.
It was nice to see that when Nick Ritchie went in there with John out, it remained the same. I think our power play has looked really good here for a number of games now. The results have followed.
Keefe on the threat Marner poses down low on the power play:
He sees the ice really well from that space. It makes the penalty killers have to turn, face the net, and not have a great sense of what is behind them. Whether it is Mitch or Will as the righties down there, or John as the lefty, we think it provides some good opportunities.
We prioritized the higher ice earlier in the season, but we have known we have to develop those lower options to really kind of complete it. We have sort of taken it a step at a time. That has been a big piece of how things have come together here, but that is being in sync.
That is a big part of it. You have to release at the appropriate times and in the right spots. The timing of the passes has to be right. There are a lot of things that go into that. The guys are feeling it right now, and they are picking their spots well.
Keefe on Justin Holl’s game after his return to the lineup:
Not quite where we want it to be, but it is going to take some time. To think he was just going to come right back in and go right back to the guy we have come to expect is probably not realistic. It is going to take some time to get there.
There is the fact that he hasn’t played for a while. There are the confidence pieces. There are all of those things that take a little time. I said it the other night: He made some plays in the third period that really helped us on the breakout. That is the Justin Holl I am used to seeing. That is a big part of it.
I thought defensively, he was good. I didn’t have any issues there. Some of the puck touches — not just him with a lot of our defense — were an area we wanted to clean up. We looked at that this morning, met about it, and talked about it through the Philadelphia game. I thought, through the third period, we did a much better job of that.
That is the area I am focused on today. It is another chance for him to go tonight and keep building.
Darryl Sutter on whether he believes his team has lost two straight games to teams it should’ve beaten:
Not really. We are a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year. We are trying to stay in the race. That is the key. There is not enough difference in the league. I will tell you that right now. Every night is a tough game.
We are not a team that is going to score a lot. We are going to have to do a lot of grinding and banging away. We did more of that [in Montreal] than we did in previous games.
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 – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#60 Joseph Woll
*Game time decision
Extras: Travis Dermott, Kirill Semyonov, Joey Anderson
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek
Calgary Flames Projected Lines
#13 Johnny Gaudreau – #28 Elias Lindholm – #19 Matthew Tkachuk
#20 Blake Coleman – #23 Sean Monahan – #88 Andrew Mangiapane
#29 Dillon Dube – #11 Mikael Backlund– #22 Trevor Lewis
#17 Milan Lucic – #15 Brad Richardson – #18 Tyler Pitlick
#55 Noah Hanifin – #4 Rasmus Andersson
#58 Oliver Kylington – #8 Chris Tanev
#16 Nikita Zadorov – #44 Erik Gudbranson
Starter: #80 Daniel Vladar
#25 Jacob Markstrom