Both sporting identical 7-2-1 records in their last 10 games, the Maple Leafs and the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes will clash in Toronto tonight (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
This is a battle of two top-end 5v5 teams with elite special teams who both enter the game in good form.
After starting 2022 off with a bit of a dip in play, the Leafs have enjoyed a scoring outburst against weaker competition of late. That said, their underlying numbers have held up since the holiday break. They sit third in the league in xGF% in 2022 while scoring at the second-highest rate in the league over that time. They’ve also given up a lot of goals on the backs of inconsistent games against the Red Wings, Rangers, and Blues, but the underlying numbers are in a very promising spot.
The Hurricanes have been firing on all cylinders since the break, going 9-2-1 in 2022. Their overall shot-based numbers at five-on-five in that timeframe are slightly below the Leafs — they’re ninth in xGF for the season — but their special teams and their goaltending have been nearly flawless as of late.
Of course, Carolina’s goaltending excellence this year has mainly been due to the contributions of one man — long-time Leafs starter Frederik Andersen. Freddy’s numbers this season are incredibly good — he’s only lost six games on the year, has only lost consecutive games once, and has won 13 of his last 14 starts leading to an overall record of 24-6-1 and a save percentage of .929.
Scrolling down the list of the Hurricanes’ most recent games is hilarious, as nearly every significant loss of late has occurred when neither Andersen nor veteran Antti Raanta is available. While there is one black mark on Andersen’s record this season — he gave up four goals and was pulled on 32 shots in 45 minutes against the Devils on the 22nd — he has only given up four-or-more goals twice in 31 games. Raanta hasn’t given up more than three all season long.
Tonight, it will be the aforementioned Andersen who takes on former Hurricanes starter Petr Mrazek. The 29-year-old Mrazek hasn’t had a chance to piece together a real run of games this season between his lengthy injuries and Jack Campbell’s career year, but he’s now won three consecutive starts while only giving up six goals.
The Hurricanes have recalled ex-Leaf Josh Leivo in advance of tonight’s game with no word on if he’ll play or who he may replace. Outside of Mrazek starting, there will be no lineup changes for Toronto.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on his takeaways from the first Leafs-Hurricanes meeting on October 25th:
Just how the game felt. There’s not a lot of time [when] you play against them. They close on you quickly — the pace is really high both ways.
We talked after that game as a team — and normally I don’t talk to the team very often after losses. I felt our team played at a really high level in that game in terms of our pace, our competitiveness. That’s why I came out of that game feeling really positive about where we were going as a team and that it felt like we were going to turn our game around.
It took a little bit of time after that — we went to Chicago after that still a little incomplete, but from there, I thought we really hit our stride. That’s what I remember about it. Coming out of another break here to prepare for a game like that and what’s going to be required is a very good test for our team.
Keefe on Mitch Marner’s goal streak and the development of his shot:
Not overthinking the shot is such a big thing for goal scorers. I think for the guys that score with great regularity, they just have a knack for the net, and it’s on the stick, off the stick.
Their accuracy is great, but it’s not always accurate because they’re looking for the perfect shot; they just have a pretty good sense of when the puck arrives, what angle it’s at, where the goaltender is going to be, where the holes are going to be — they get it there as quickly as they can. That’s a big piece of goal scoring, and of late, that’s been a big thing for Mitch. He’s just letting it go.
Keefe on why he thinks the team still needs to get more comfortable in front of Petr Mrazek:
I don’t think it’s necessarily systematic or tactile or anything like that. You’ve got a different goalie that’s back there — the way he communicates with the team is a little bit different. Even just subtle things between faceoffs — it’s just a different guy. As a result, you’ve got a different guy sitting on the bench, so it’s just a whole different experience that way.
I think it’s just more so that, whoever is in goal for us, our guys just go out and play, and we don’t think about that. That’s really been the message here — just focus on your game and our team. We think if we do a good enough job defensively, we make life easier on the goaltender. That’s really our job.
Mitch Marner on his recent goal-scoring surge:
Obviously, it feels really good. It’s something that I’ve talked about wanting to do a lot more of, and now, obviously, it’s been happening a lot more.
For me, it’s just about staying in this rhythm of more shots around the net and getting to the net. I’m trying to be an outlet and get the puck in my hands around the slot area. I think the difference is I’m not just focusing on clean shots; I’m not afraid to just whack one and kind of surprise someone.
Marner on whether his short layoff helped him reset and improve his scoring mindset:
I mean, I’ve got a lot of great people in my corner that I talk to. They always just try to clear my mind and [remind] me that sometimes I am trying too hard or thinking too much out there. At the same time, they realize that I just want to be out there and having fun using my skill. That’s something that helped out a lot throughout that little time I was off.
When I did get back, I wanted to turn my mindset into more of a shooter and get pucks towards the net. I’ve been saying for a while — I know I can score goals. It’s just about believing in it.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#5 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #35 Petr Mrazek
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras: Kyle Clifford
Injured: Jake Muzzin (concussion)
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines
#37 Andrei Svechnikov – #20 Sebastian Aho – #71 Jesper Fast
#48 Jordan Martinook – #16 Vincent Trocheck – #24 Seth Jarvis
#21 Nino Niederreiter – #11 Jordan Staal – #78 Steven Lorentz
#7 Brendan Smith – #18 Derek Stepan – #88 Martin Necas
#74 Jacob Slavin – #71 Tony DeAngelo
#76 Brady Skjei – #22 Brett Pesce
#28 Ian Cole – #25 Ethan Bear
Starter: #31 Frederik Andersen
#32 Antti Raanta
Injured: Teuvo Teravainen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Covid)