Fresh off back-to-back losses on the road, the Maple Leafs are back home in Toronto looking to get back on the winning track as they welcome the 31-14-3 Minnesota Wild to the SBA (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
In what will no doubt be a highly-scrutinized decision, Sheldon Keefe has decided to give Petr Mrazek the start tonight after he was scored on five times on 24 shots in the 5-2 loss to Montreal on Monday. As inconsistent as the whole team has been over the last few games, the soft goals on Mrazek turned a bad performance into an embarrassing one for the Leafs at the Bell Centre. Following the loss on Tuesday, Mrazek is now 6-4-0 on the season with a .890 save percentage.
Jack Campbell hasn’t exactly been rolling himself, so the Leafs need at least one of their goalies to stabilize their game in the crease ASAP, and it is probably at the point now where they’re going to be rotating goalies a fair bit until one does so. A game that the Leafs had going their way in Columbus was partially undone by a stoppable shot on the 2-2 goal early in the third period that Sheldon Keefe fairly called out in the post-game.
In the Minnesota net, acting as more of a 1B in their tandem this season has been 25-year-old Kaapo Kahkonen, who will get his 18th start of the year in what has been a fantastic sophomore season for him. While he performed well enough to earn a Calder Trophy vote last season, he’s found another level this season — he’s ranked just inside the top 20 in GSAx according to EvolvingHockey along with a 12-3-2 record and a .921 save percentage.
After missing Tuesday’s game against the Senators, Mats Zuccarello will be a game-time decision tonight for the Wild, but head coach Dean Evason “plans on [him] being back.” While the 34-year-old has been a productive performer since signing his five-year, 30-million dollar contract with the Wild in 2019, he’s in the midst of a season that, scoring-wise, bests even his prime years with the Rangers. Zuccarello is just behind his dynamic linemate Kirill Kaprizov with 35 assists on the season, adding 17 goals for an all-situations points/60 rate of 4.0 — the best mark of his career by far.
Zuccarello has paired on a line with the 24-year-old Kaprizov for most of the season. Alongside Ryan Hartman, who is also breaking out offensively in this role, they’ve managed a very high goal share in their minutes together despite mediocre underlying numbers. Ranking inside the top 20 in minutes played as a line, the trio owns the fifth-highest goals per 60 rating in the league despite a CF% of 53% and an xG% of just under 50%. It’s safe to expect a good amount of offence both ways in their minutes.
If Zuccarello is unable to go tonight, it would likely be Marcus Foligno who takes his spot on the wing with Hartman. Jordan Greenway’s injury would mean the rookie Mason Shaw would draw in on the bottom line.
On the Leafs‘ end, there will be one change to the lineup from their loss to the Blue Jackets. With their play falling off pretty dramatically over the last month, the Tavares and Nylander line will be joined by Ondrej Kase, while Alex Kerfoot will slide onto the matchup line with David Kampf and Ilya Mikheyev. A little overdue, most fans would agree.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the loss of Jake Muzzin to LTIR:
It provides a ton of opportunity for others. It is a ton of responsibility for others as well. There will end up being a lot of focus on the defense, in particular, but to me, any time you lose a team member of your team, the whole team needs to step up.
We have talked about it a lot this season: our forwards need to support our defense. That will have to continue to be the case.
We will try out different things. Bringing Lyubushkin, the timing is good for us to have another defenseman in. He is getting more comfortable around here. The depth has increased on defense, and the timing is good.
Keefe on Rasmus Sandin’s role in making up for Muzzin’s minutes:
He has done a good job of it at different times. I think it is going to have to be by committee, though. You are still going to get great contributions from Dermott and Liljegren. If you look at tonight’s lineup, Justin Holl is not going to play, but he is an important guy for us as well.
When Holl gets back in, he is going to prove to be the guy that he has been for us. When we have played a lot of our best hockey this season, Hollsy has done a good job for us.
It is going to be by committee. I don’t know if you can put much more responsibility on Brodie and Rielly. Obviously, those guys take on a little bit more and take on some of Muzz’s PK responsibilities and things like that.
Certainly, we have been really happy with Rasmus and how he has played. This three-game stretch that Dermott has put together has been as good hockey as he has put together, so the timing is good there, too.
Keefe on the decision to move Kase onto the Tavares line:
It is a combination of getting different chemistry on the line and just changing things up a little bit there. I have been wanting to give Kase a look there for a little while now. He hasn’t spent very much time with John. We wanted to see how that looks. The timing is right for that.
We thought about doing it the other night. We wanted to keep the line together for one more game. We did see some positive things from the group, but I just thought the timing was right to get a good look at Kase up there and change the chemistry of the group a little bit.
Keefe on the dynamic Kase could bring to the line:
I am interested to see it. Nylander will spend a lot more time on his off-wing. We will see what that looks like from him offensively. He likes playing on that side of the rink a lot. I think part of what Kase brings there is that it just changes the dynamic with Willy a little bit.
We will just see how his skill set and work ethic fit in. Kerf has done an unbelievable job on that line. He has been one of our most consistent players all seaosn. I am expecting him to bring that same consistency, structure, and the things that he brings on the line with Kampf and Mikheyev.
I am intrigued to see what Kase can bring there. He has done a good job when he has played up with Matthews. We want to see what this looks like.
Wild head coach Dean Evason on Marcus Foligno subbing in for Zuccarello on the top line last game:
Not having Zuccarello’s skillset and his hands out there, you have to find different ways. Obviously, they have chemistry, but you’re not going to play with ]the same players] all the time, so we thought that he adjusted a little bit, but he probably can adjust a little more.
If [Zuccarello] is not in there, maybe you simplify a little more. Zuccarello can make some passes that other people can’t make, and he has a vision that others don’t have. Sometimes when things are different, you’ve got to simplify a little more.
Evanson on the Fiala-Gaudreau-Boldy line’s performance in their last game:
They’re going to get chances, right? They have an offensive ability, that line does — but you can’t cheat the game and we cheated a little bit on our defensive zone. Not just that line; it’s our entire group. We’ve had an adjustment here this morning and an adjustment in practice in terms of a drill we did to simplify our game and get back our identity.
Evanson on the team’s defense-first focus:
That’s what we want to be and that’s our identity. Obviously, individuals have to play the right way first — all these guys have the ability to score goals. They can score, but they need to do the right things before we can show those skills.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares –#25 Ondrej Kase
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #64 David Kampf – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#47 Pierre Engvall – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#23 Travis Dermott – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #35 Petr Mrazek
#36 Jack Campbell
Extra: Justin Holl
IR: Jake Muzzin
Minnesota Wild Projected Lines
#97 Kirill Kaprizov – #38 Ryan Hartman – #36 Mats Zuccarello*
#22 Kevin Fiala – #89 Frederick Gaudreau – #12 Matthew Boldy
#17 Marcus Foligno – #12 Joel Eriksson Ek – #21 Brandon Duhaime
#52 Connor Dewar – #7 Nico Sturm – #27 Nick Bjugstad
#47 Alex Goligoski – #46 Jared Spurgeon
#25 Jonas Brodin – #28 Dimitry Kulikov
#4 Jon Merrill – #59 Calen Addison
Starter: #34 Kappo Kahkonen
#33 Cam Talbot
Injured: Mathew Dumba