After a much-needed win over the Dallas Stars featuring their first shutout since January 1, the Maple Leafs are hoping to start a roll with rookie Erik Källgren in net tonight against Frederik Andersen and the Carolina Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
As the trade deadline quickly approaches, Erik Källgren will receive another opportunity to prove he has what it takes to take over the net while Jack Campbell recovers from his rib injury. However, with only one more game (Saturday vs. Nashville) remaining before the trade deadline, it’s unlikely Källgren play will ultimately have much of an impact on the decisions Kyle Dubas and co. make in goal ahead of the deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. EST.
Even if Källgren plays well again tonight and earns another win on Saturday, we’re still dealing in a three-game sample in terms of his NHL track record. That’s not to discredit the fact that Källgren has handled the pressure extremely well so far — both on the ice and in the media — but it’s hard to imagine the Leafs backing out of a trade for a goaltender if they feel there is fair value out there for added veteran insurance. Whether there is a fit at a price that makes sense among the options in the goalie market is another question altogether.
It won’t be an easy task tonight for Källgren and the Leafs. As Sheldon Keefe mentioned today, the Hurricanes are the class of the league in many respects and are one of the few clubs that have avoided any prolonged stretches of poor play. In fact, the Avalanche and the Rangers are the only other teams in the league that have managed to lose three-in-a-row only once this season.
Before falling 4-2 to the Penguins on Sunday, the Hurricanes won four games in a row while giving up just four goals in total. They have only lost three consecutive games one time this season and maintain a firm grip on first place in the Metro Division, seven points ahead of the Rangers with a game in hand.
Still in the midst of a career year, Frederik Andersen will start for the Hurricanes tonight as he looks to earn his 31st win of the year. Much like his team as a whole, Andersen has been extremely consistent this season. He’s only lost two consecutive regulation games one time this season, and he has let in a goal-or-less in three of his last four starts. While Jack Campbell has fallen out of it, Andersen remains firmly in the Vezina conversation with a 30-8-2 record and a .929 save percentage.
In terms of the Leafs‘ lineup, it’s unlikely anything will change in terms of personnel; Travis Dermott remains a scratch on defense, and Sheldon Keefe indicated yesterday he was going to sit Wayne Simmonds for a second consecutive in order to keep Kyle Clifford in the lineup. Auston Matthews remains out as he serves the second and last game of his suspension for his cross-check on Rasmus Dahlin.
Based on yesterday’s practice lines, the Leafs will swap Nick Robertson (from L2 to L4) and Ondrej Kase (from L4 to L2) as Keefe tweaks his lines in anticipation of some difficult secondary matchups against a deep, balanced Hurricanes team that has a formidable middle six up front (Martinook – Trocheck – Necas, Nino Niederreiter – Jordan Staal – Jesper Fast).
The Leafs are 1-1 this season against the Hurricanes, with their overtime win on Feb. 7 coming despite trailing 3-2 in the third period. Mitch Marner capitalized on a misplay by Andersen in net to tie it late in regulation before also grabbing the game-winner at three-on-three.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on how John Tavares has looked in Auston Matthews’ spot:
I think he’s good player and a real class player. He’s played in that position lots and he’s a leader on our team. He recognizes that it’s a big moment and a big opportunity and all those things. It just starts with the fact that he’s a very good player in his own right.
Keefe on the divide in the standings and the number of elite teams in the league this season:
It seems like this year, in the East especially, there is a clear divide when you look at the standings. Things have started to level off here, certainly with us and what we’ve been going through here. Some teams — like the one we’re playing tonight — have maintained .700 or above hockey all season long, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
Keefe on the Hurricanes’ structure and their similarities to the Leafs:
I think there’s some similarities. Our team, with some of the skillsets we have, we’re doing different things with the puck sometimes. They’re a little more straightforward and things are going ahead really quickly. They get the pucks to their forwards and then their really skilled guys really make plays and things come together for them there.
In terms of the structure of how each team plays, there are definitely similarities there. In terms of puck pressure and structure, [Carolina] is the class of the league in a lot of regards.
Keefe on how the game against the Hurricanes back on February 7th helped propel the team forward:
Carolina gave us a really good example of what it takes to stay consistent through all three periods and I just thought we’d be able to take that and learn from it. We’ve been able to do that.
I think here of late, we’ve slipped a little bit in terms of that consistency. There’s a lot going on here — obviously, we’re trying to keep the puck out of our net more, and there’s been a lot of focus on goaltending, but we’re even trying to get our defending back on track again.
We were a team that really struggled out of the gate to start the season, and we saw us turn the corner in Carolina at the time. It didn’t feel like it maybe if you’re on the outside, but for myself as a coach, I saw really good signs in that moment that we were too good of a team to not have it come together.
Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour on how he feels about the Leafs sans Matthews:
They played pretty good without him the other night. When you have your top guys out, you can manage for a little while. You don’t want any of those guys out long term because then it creeps in, but [Matthews being out] doesn’t change what we’re doing.
Brind’Amour on whether it’s important for him to get Frederik Andersen in net against his old team:
It’s important to me and its important to him. Like you said, he’s played [the Leafs] before, but we didn’t have the atmosphere [of the crowd]. It’s kind of like its the first time tonight in a lot of ways. Not a lot of thought goes into it — it’s his time to go, anyway; it just happens to be against them.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #25 Ondrej Kase
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #64 David Kampf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#43 Kyle Clifford – #19 Jason Spezza – #89 Nick Robertson
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#78 TJ Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#35 Petr Mrazek
Extras: Travis Dermott, Wayne Simmonds
Suspended: Auston Matthews
Injured: Jack Campbell
LTIR: Jake Muzzin
Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines
#37 Andrei Svechnikov – #20 Sebastian Aho – #86 Teuvo Teravainen
#48 Jordan Martinook – #16 Vincent Trocheck – #88 Martin Necas
#21 Nino Niederreiter – #11 Jordan Staal – #71 Jesper Fast
#78 Steven Lorentz – #82 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #18 Derek Stepan
#74 Jacob Slavin – #25 Ethan Bear
#76 Brady Skjei – #22 Brett Pesce
#28 Ian Cole – #62 Jalen Chatfield
Starter: #31 Frederik Andersen
#32 Antti Raanta
Injured: Tony DeAngelo, Seth Jarvis, Brendan Smith