With their roster mostly finalized following a busy NHL trade deadline, the Maple Leafs are back in action tonight against the 23-25-5 Devils as newcomers Colin Blackwell and Mark Giordano make their Leafs debuts (7 p.m EST, Sportsnet)
After acquiring Giordano and Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken the night before trade deadline day, the Maple Leafs are getting a big boost in depth after losing a couple of players to injury following their loss against Nashville.
While he looks to be recovering surprisingly quickly once again, Ondrej Kase will sit after receiving a nasty hit to the head during Saturday’s game. In a more out-of-the-blue situation following an evaluation on his knee, Rasmus Sandin has been placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss a few weeks.
Sandin’s situation makes the Mark Giordano acquisition all the more important, as he helps make up for some of the puck movement ability and overall quality that Rasmus Sandin has brought this season, despite possessing a much different skillset at this point in his career. It’s expected that Giordano will take Sandin’s spot on the second powerplay unit while he slots in with Timothy Liljegren at five-on-five in order to keep all three pairs an even lefty/righty split.
With 17 points in 39 games this season and solid underlying performance, Colin Blackwell is far from an afterthought in the trade with Seattle. He’s a player who has produced above-average defensive results through his high compete level, solid puck carrying ability, and forechecking prowess. His role in the lineup will likely fluctuate a bit over the next few weeks, but he’ll start his Leafs career on a line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds.
In an impressive display of consistency, the Devils lost three consecutive games 6-3 against the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers on their trip through Western Canada. 21-year-old Nico Daws started in goal for the first two games of the trip, a back-to-back in Vancouver and Calgary, and was pulled about halfway through each game after giving up four goals.
After that debacle, the more experience Jon Gillies took the reigns and let in five goals in another 6-3 loss to the Oilers. The Devils went back to the rookie Nico Daws last night in their 7-4 win over the Rangers and, surprisingly, will go with him again tonight. Daws is 7-6-0 this season with a .901 Sv%.
Despite the issues in net for the Devils, it’s far from a secure situation in net for the Maple Leafs either as Petr Mrazek is set to make his return after rookie Erik Källgren’s three straight starts. Given it’s the next-gen game tonight — the Leafs will debut their reversible ‘drew house‘ designed jerseys — there may be some small distractions keeping the attention away from Mrazek’s performance. However, it won’t take long for things to get ugly again. Despite their underwhelming record, the Devils are sporting names such as Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Tomas Tatar, Jesper Bratt, and Dougie Hamilton and can light the lamp when they’re at their best.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on his thinking behind going back to Mrazek tonight:
In talking to him, he’s in a good place relative to what he’s been in lately and he’s handled it well. He had a really good practice day yesterday — a good opportunity to clear his head and get going. We’ve had a good gap in time since we’ve played our last game and obviously a long gap since Petr’s played. For all those reasons, it’s a good time to get him back in tonight.
Källgren has done a really good job for us, as I said. He’s stabilized our goaltending for us at a time when we really needed it. He came in and did a great job for us and increased our confidence in him as a result. Without a doubt, Petr is a guy that has great experience in the league and also has great experience in finding his game, bouncing back and going on a great run.
Keefe on his message to the team after the trade deadline passed:
That was really our message to the group when we met before practice — this is our group. We’ve got twenty games remaining and we know whose here. Obviously, there’s guys with the Marlies that are still going to factor into what’s going on, but basically, everyone who was in the room yesterday is our group. Let’s get to work — we know what we need to do, where we need to go, and what we’re trying to accomplish.
Keefe on the Giordano and Blackwell additions:
I think we’ve got really good depth and versatility at all positions, so we like that a lot. Obviously, Giordano’s addition really gives us a lot more options on defence, especially when we get healthy and get [Muzzin] back.
Blackwell’s addition is another versatile player who gives us lots of options and can play lots of positions. He can move up and down the lineup, he’s a guy who checks really hard and competes really hard, plays with lots of energy yet has a scoring touch as well.
We have different options with our forward group right the way through.
Morgan Rielly on the trade for Mark Giordano:
I was excited. I know him a little bit just from being around Toronto in the offseason — he’s a guy who’s been a great defenseman for a long time. He obviously had some great years in Calgary and has a great career playing over a thousand games at this point.
To add a guy like that, you’re automatically excited. He makes your team better as soon as you put his name on the roster — the experience he brings will be valuable. It’s just a good sign for our team going forward.
He’s able to play up and down — he’s going to play on the powerplay, he’s going to play on the penalty kill most likely. He’ll play lots of minutes, he’ll come in and play a big role. He brings that because of how hard he works and his skillset.
The expectation for our D-core moving forward now is to be a strength and to be real solid and be an area that our teammates and coaches can rely on.
Rielly on how he thinks the team feels in this moment:
Well, I think the mood around the room is good. The guys are positive about the moves that we made bringing those two guys that will make our team better. The guys that are here are happy to still be here.
We’re pumped about what we have here for the next month and a half — we’ve got twenty games left. It’s a good challenge — we’ve got lots of games [against] our division and we’re in a good spot in the standings so it’s a good time to be here. There’s lots of hard work, but it’s all positive.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #65 Ilya Mikheyev
#11 Colin Blackwell – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#78 TJ Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
Starter: #34 Petr Mrazek
#50 Erik Källgren
Injured: Jack Campbell, Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin
LTIR: Jake Muzzin
New Jersey Devils Projected Lines
#17 Yegor Sharangovich – #86 Jack Hughes – #18 Dawson Mercer
#90 Tomas Tatar – #14 Nico Hischier – #63 Jesper Bratt
#11 Andreas Johnsson – #70 Jesper Boqvist – #16 Jimmy Vesey
#55 Mason Geertsen – #20 Micheal Macleod – #14 Nathan Bastian
#71 Jonas Siegenthaler – #7 Dougie Hamilton
#33 Ryan Graves – #28 Damon Severson
#24 Ty Smith – #P.K Subban
Starter: #50 Nico Daws
#32 Jon Gillies
Injured: Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Janne Kuokkanen, Mackenzie Blackwood, Jonathan Bernier