The Maple Leafs are looking for a response coming off of a 5-1 stinker against the Buffalo Sabres when they host Bruce Boudreau and the Vancouver Canucks tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
There are a lot of reasons to get up for this one if you’re the Leafs:
- It’s Wayne Simmonds’ 1,000th game
- They’re looking to avenge a 3-2 loss to Thatcher Demko (who made 51 saves) and the Canucks a few weeks ago
- They’re coming off of their worst home game of the season, a 5-1 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday night
- It’s the first HNIC at home with a full building in nearly three months
- Jack Campbell is back between the pipes looking to get his season back on track
That means there are no excuses for the Leafs not to match the urgency of a Canucks team that has put itself into the fringes of the playoff picture in the West thanks to Boudreau’s 19-8-4 run since taking over the bench, which has them four points back of the final wildcard spot (most teams in the mix have at least one game in hand on them). Vancouver is approaching a trade deadline that could see the team lose key pieces off of their roster if the rumour mill is to be believed, making this next eight-game stretch make-or-break as to just how hard new GM Patrick Allvin will sell before the 21st of the month.
In terms of lineup changes, Timothy Liljegren will step in for Rasmus Sandin, who will miss out due to illness, on a pairing with Morgan Rielly. Liljegren sat out Wednesday’s game as a healthy scratch in what Sheldon Keefe described as an opportunity to regroup after a tough few games in the added responsibility of top-four minutes. Sandin also had himself a rough showing on Wednesday next to Rielly in what is a pretty clear sign the Leafs need an additional experienced option for top-four responsibilities, preferably on the right side, with Jake Muzzin’s status up in the air.
Happy with his first and third lines of late, Sheldon Keefe will also switch Nick Robertson and Alex Kerfoot on the left wing as he looks to spark his second and fourth units offensively. Jason Spezza has fallen all the way down to 322nd in the NHL in points per 60 at 5v5 this season (minimum 400 minutes played) after finishing third in the NHL in the category last year; Tavares is looking for his first goal in 14 games and is tied for 95th in the NHL in even-strength goals (11) this season. Tavares ranked sixth in the league in even-strength goals over his previous three seasons in Toronto combined.
In net, Jack Campbell returns to the crease for the first time since conceding five goals on 25 shots and getting pulled last Saturday in Detroit. He’s below a .870 save percentage over his last 11 starts despite the team’s 5-3-1 record over that stretch.
Game Day Quotes
Michael Bunting on the need for the team to put a 5-1 loss to Buffalo behind them and respond tonight:
It is Hockey Night in Canada, Saturday night, and Wayne’s 1,000th game. These are games you wake up for and are excited for. There is no excuse tonight. I am sure we will be bringing it.
Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau on returning to Toronto for HNIC:
It’s a pretty cool place. It’s home. It is always good to come here. You get all the tweets from your friends telling you how you are going to lose tonight. It is always interesting.
Boudreau on his team’s playoff race:
There is very little room for error. Every loss is like you lose three games instead of one. Every night that you don’t play, somebody that you want to catch is winning. It makes it difficult, but it is important that we still believe that we can catch them. There are eight teams within seven points. There is always a goal to achieve.
Hopefully, you do it one step at a time. Tonight would be a huge game because no one expects us to win tonight. That would be the game that makes up for the Devils game, type of thing.
Boudreau on the challenge against the Leafs:
They come at you in waves. They had over 50 shots [in our last matchup]. The way they can move the puck and the talent they have up front… You better be prepared to defend. Hopefully, you can play the game in their zone so they don’t have possession of the puck as much as they normally do.
You hope your goalie is outstanding. They are going to get some Grade-A chances. The skill is just too good.
Sheldon Keefe on his takeaways from the team’s 3-2 loss to the Canucks a few weeks ago:
We made some mistakes in the game that allowed them to score, but we did enough good things in that game to give ourselves a chance to win. We did everything but score. The power play was good.
I think we are well past that game now. We are just focused on being really good tonight in all regards.
Keefe on what he is looking for from Nick Robertson on the Tavares line:
A good game for him: When the puck comes to him, he makes a good play with it and puts the puck in good spots, whether that is in the hands of his teammates, putting it on the net, or putting it in a place where the guys can get it back and stay on offense. And holding up his end of the bargain competitively and defensively.
The intention of bringing him here is that there was an opportunity with Kase’s situation and Muzzin’s situation. We wanted to get him here and around our group to see where he is at. We have liked some of the things that he has done. We want to see what it looks like higher in the lineup with different players and different matchups. It is just a matter of continuing to evaluate for a young guy like him coming off of a bad injury.
We’ll get a sense of where he is at and how this might look. At the same time, I have been looking for more from our fourth line, frankly. Having Kerfoot down there gives it some real opportunity for some stability with those guys. We want to see how that looks.
Keefe on getting Jack Campbell back between the pipes:
I think he has had enough time here from the last game to clear his head. With the way this league works and with the way the games come at you, you do forget about games pretty quickly. I know I certainly have.
It is an opportunity for him to come out here in front of our fans. The last time Jack played in front of our fans, he was outstanding. The fans appreciated that and acknowledged that. They’re a big part of that.
I am sure they are going to welcome him back in the building nicely tonight. It is an opportunity for him to get back rolling.
Keefe on whether John Tavares’ 14-game goal slump is weighing on him:
I think we have had that sense through this, but I think he is over that now. He has a pretty good perspective here when I have talked to him — focusing on doing the little things well, making sure his line is good defensively, trying to make plays when the puck is on his stick, not overthinking it and trying to force offense or shots.
His [assists] against Washington were times where it’s the right play at those times. There was the competitiveness to get the puck back, and then he made a highly-skilled play. He shows the ability to do that. Just focusing on that is the right thing.
We have looked at the scoring chances he has had through this stretch. The number of looks and shots he has had is not way off of where he has been throughout his career. The puck just hasn’t gone in in quite a while.
Stay with it. It is going to go in. There are a lot more things that happen in a game that impact winning, and we need John to lead the way there. Offense hasn’t really been a downfall for our group mainly because of the play of the Matthews line. Let’s just make sure the other areas of our game are good. That doesn’t just go for John but for everybody in our group.
Keefe on Wayne Simmonds’ 1,000th game:
For a guy who struggled to make it to 100, it is tough to put it into perspective other than to know part of his journey — he played out in the CJHL in Ottawa at the time for the Brockville Braves. He went to the OHL late undrafted.
To now be playing 1,000 games — and being playing his 1,000th game here, in Toronto, in front of his family — is an incredible accomplishment for him that he should be absolutely proud of. We are fortunate that we get to celebrate with him.
Keefe on the lessons from the 5-1 loss to Buffalo:
I talk about the things that are recurring themes. With the one-off stuff, you throw those out. A couple of the goals we gave up were recurring themes and things we have been talking about continuing to get better at.
A lot of the times, when I say it’s a recurring theme, it is because it has happened other times and the puck happened to not go in our net. That is the beauty of the game. You have to be consistent and do it right every single time because you don’t know when that mistake is going to cost you. You are trying to minimize mistakes.
That is really what we focused on. I think we showed more clips where the puck didn’t actually go into our net — things that, if we don’t clean up, are going to hurt our chances of protecting our net.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #64 David Kampf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#78 TJ Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#35 Petr Mrazek
Extra: Kyle Clifford
Injured/Out: Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin
LTIR: Jake Muzzin
Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines
#70 Tanner Pearson – #9 JT Miller – #6 Brock Boeser
#21 Nils Hoglander – #40 Elias Pettersson – #8 Conor Garland
#92 Vasily Podkolzin – #53 Bo Horvat – #39 Alex Chiasson
#15 Matthew Highmore – #91 Juho Lammiko – #64 Tyler Motte
#23 Oliver Ekman-Larsson – #57 Tyler Myers
#43 Quinn Hughes – #2 Luke Schenn
#77 Brad Hunt – #27 Travis Hamonic
Starter: #35 Thatcher Demko
#41 Jaroslav Halak
Injured: Jason Dickinson, Kyle Burroughs, Tucker Poolman