The Maple Leafs will look to complete an impressive sweep through California in the final stop of their road trip tonight in Anaheim (8 p.m. EST, TSN4).
The Leafs can tie a franchise record tonight if they can pull off their seventh straight road victory, but they face the winningest team in the state so far in 2021-22 in the 11-7-3 Anaheim Ducks.
Quick lineup and game notes:
- Travis Dermott will draw in for his first game since November 18 against the New York Rangers in the place of Timothy Liljegren. Four consecutive games on the sidelines is the longest any of Rasmus Sandin, Dermott, or Liljegren have sat out this season, while Justin Holl missed five games during his stint of healthy scratches. The Leafs haven’t followed a rigid schedule to their blue line rotation, but they’ve also prioritized not leaving any defenseman to sit cold on the sidelines for too long of a stretch, and it has worked out pretty well so far in terms of the even performance level of the sheltered bottom-pairing.
- Kyle Clifford will make his first appearance since returning to the Maple Leafs with Ondrej Kase missing his second consecutive game. Clifford – Jason Spezza – Pierre Engvall was a line Sheldon Keefe put together in the play-in series versus Columbus in 2020; they didn’t get on the scoresheet over the five-game series, but they managed a 65% control over the shot attempts, 67% of the shots on goal, and 77% of the expected Goals over 28 minutes at 5v5. No doubt, those are numbers Kyle Dubas was aware of when he made the decision to bring back Clifford in exchange for future considerations.
- Money on the board: Nick Ritchie will return to Anaheim, who drafted him 10th overall in 2014, as a member of the opposition for the first time since his 2020 trade to Boston. No better time to bust a 22-game scoring slump…
- Staying out of the box is critical against an Anaheim team that is converting on over 28% of its opportunities while shooting 19.6% as a team in power-play situations. The best power play in the league over an 82-game season has typically fallen in the 14-17% range in recent NHL history, so some regression is almost certainly in the Anaheim power play’s future; they’ve scored 19 power play goals to date, but based on the chances they’ve generated on the man advantage, they’re at 12.3 expected goals. By comparison, since catching fire at the end of October, the Leafs‘ goal total on the PP (15) is now exactly in line with their league-leading 15.36 xG. That said, the Ducks run two threatening power-play units (Getzlaf, Zegras, Milano, Rakell, and Drysdale on one unit; Silfverberg, Steel, Terry, Fowler, and Shattenkirk on the other) that you don’t want to provide with opportunities to hurt you.
- There are some possible early signs that regression is striking this Anaheim team in general — after a blazing hot start, they’ve lost three of their last four (prior to a 4-0 win over the lowly Ottawa Senators), managing just a 44% expected goals share over the four-game stretch.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on what Kyle Clifford can bring to the lineup:
I think he is a competitor and he skates well for a guy who is lower in your lineup. He is going to keep his feet moving, bring energy, and be physical. He is a good presence on the bench and in the dressing room just to keep guys even-keeled.
He is not the most loud or vocal guy, but he is very good at talking to players — the guy next to him, the guy in the dressing room, and those kinds of things. He is going to be a calming influence that way. We like that about him.
He is just a pro. All of the guys here are pros, but he is a pro’s pro, if you will. That is very evident from the time he has come back here to our group. He understands the situation he is in, but he is embracing that role and the opportunity to join our team.
The guys have welcomed him here, and in the limited time we have seen him in our practices, he has brought what I expect: energy, competitiveness, work ethic. It is a good chance for us to get him into the lineup at the end of a long trip.
Keefe on the rotation on defense:
We make decision on who comes in and out that is not just based on what happened in the previous game or how the guy is playing. Some of it is related to managing our young players. Some of it is that you don’t want guys sitting too long unnecessarily. It is an opportunity for Derms to come in. The team has been playing well and getting good results. We are expecting him to jump in and be a part of that.
Keefe on Jason Spezza’s 1,200th game and what the team can learn from him:
The thing that stands out is just the love and passion for the game. The NHL is a great place and we are all fortunate to be involved in it, but it is a grind. At times, it is tough and can wear on you. To see a guy at his age with the success that he has had who is not playing for the money or anything that like… He is playing for the game itself and in pursuit of a championship.
He comes to the rink every day, loves being here, loves the preparation, loves the grind, and is a living example of how hard it is to win. A guy with all of that talent and all of that passion and work ethic has been unable to get to win the Cup. There is lots to learn there.
When Spezz speaks up, I think he speaks from experience that is hard to come by in the league. He has been through a lot. He has continued to be motivated by that pursuit. I think that is really what our guys can take away from him.
I think he has also spoken about how he was a younger guy in Ottawa on some really good teams. He thought they were going to win or be good forever, but it is hard. You have to take advantage of every opportunity and every day that you have.
With the experience he has had as a younger player and the staying power as a veteran, there is lots to absorb there every day. I am confident and certainly hope that our guys are appreciative of witnessing it every day.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#20 Nick Ritchie – #64 David Kampf – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#43 Kyle Clifford – #19 Jason Spezza – #47 Pierre Engvall
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#60 Joseph Woll
Extras: Timothy Liljegren, Kirill Semyonov
Injured: Ondrej Kase, Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek
Anaheim Ducks Projected Lines
#14 Adam Henrique – #15 Ryan Getzlaf – #19 Troy Terry
#12 Sonny Milano – #46 Trevor Zegras – #67 Rickard Rakell
#34 Sam Steel – #21 Isac Lundestrom – #33 Jakob Silfverberg
#20 Nicolas Deslauriers – #38 Derek Grant – #39 Sam Carrick
#47 Hampus Lindholm – #34 Jamie Drysdale
#4 Cam Fowler – #42 Josh Manson
#86 Simon Benoit – #22 Kevin Shattenkirk
Starter: #36 John Gibson
#41 Anthony Stolarz
Injured/Out: Max Jones