After some short-handed heroics pushed them over the top against the Devils, the Maple Leafs look to build some momentum as they take on the Montreal Canadiens.
Beating New Jersey in the next-generation game on Wednesday proved to be an especially beneficial victory for the Leafs. Thanks to the Lightning dropping three straight, Toronto has risen to second in the Atlantic division. They are tied with the rival Bruins, however the Leafs have a game in hand which affords them an opportunity to jump ahead and try to solidify their spot in the standings.
To do so they will have to vanquish a foe that bested them in their previous matchup, the Canadiens. It was just over a month ago that the Habs convincingly ran over the Leafs by a score of 5-2. That victory over Toronto came right in the middle of a five-game win streak by Montreal, their longest streak of the season. A lot of their recent success can be attributed to the work of their new coach, Martin St. Louis, who has had his team playing its best hockey of the season. And no player on the Canadiens roster has benefited from this coaching change more than Cole Caufield.
Caufield has been terrorizing the league over the past month and a half, as he has racked up 12 goals and 11 assists over an 18-game stretch. He has scored 74 per cent of his points on the season in this stretch, and he now sits second on the Habs in scoring, trailing only Nick Suzuki.
However, the Leafs have a shiny new toy to use that wasn’t present for the previous matchup against Montreal; Mark Giordano. The newly-minted Leaf made his debut with the team on Wednesday, in which he played 18:35, mixing in opportunities on both special teams units while playing on the third pair with Timothy Liljegren. Giordano played a steady game, with his most notable moment being a penalty that got reversed by the officials after originally sending Giordano to the box.
Unlike on Wednesday however, Giordano will not be playing in front of Petr Mrazek, as rookie Erik Kallgren will get the start on the front half of this back-to-back. Kallgren had consecutive impressive starts against the Stars and Hurricanes last week before the Predators got the better of him last Saturday. The five goals he allowed were by no means all his fault (despite what Predators fans were chanting during the game), but it was no doubt a step backward compared to the previous two starts. Kallgren will no doubt be looking to put that effort behind him as he tries to bounce back in Montreal.
Because the Leafs have had just a single game so far this week, Auston Matthews has sat and watched as both Leon Draisaitl and Chris Kreider have narrowed the race for the rocket. Both players have scored multiple goals this week, and sit at 44 apiece, just two behind Matthews. The Leafs’ phenom will no doubt be looking to shield those two off as he pursues a second-straight Rocket Richard trophy.
Toronto will maintain the same lineup from Wednesday’s win, however there is a notable change on the powerplay. The top unit remains untouched, but Ilya Mikheyev has been swapped out for Timothy Liljegren on the second unit. The full unit now consists of Michae Bunting, Jason Spezza, Colin Blackwell, Mark Giordano, and the aforementioned Liljegren.
Montreal may have gotten the better of Toronto in the previous matchup, drawing the season series to a 1-1 deadlock, however the Leafs will surely remain heavily favoured over the last place Canadiens. With points being of vital importance at this point in the season, mixed with some sour feelings that still linger after last year’s playoff loss, the Leafs shouldn’t have to look for motivation on Saturday night.
Sheldon Keefe on looking for redemption after losing their last game in Montreal:
“I think we’ve come a long way in terms of getting our game back in order since that night, so yeah guys want to go in and redeem themselves from that for sure but at the same time continue to grow and continue to establish our game. And you know it’s an important game for us. We need to continue to get points here.”
Keefe on Marner’s shot during his hot streak:
“I would say the biggest thing is really just his willingness to shoot it, that’s probably the biggest difference and it’s gone in for him a lot more, which of course encourages him to shoot even more. So that’s it, you know you look at a lot of his goals have been a lot of one-touches, whether it’s one-timer like he does the other night, or one-touches in around the net, being in alone on the goalie those kinds of things. Pucks have gone in for him, he’s had a little bit more luck on the powerplay this season. So I don’t know if he’s doing a whole lot different necessarily I think it’s just going in for him more. I think he’s certainly working before and after practices, our skill sessions that we have, this (past) offseason, it’s been top of mind, but I think it’s been top of mind for him for as long as he’s been in the league. I think he’s just continued to work at it. The dominance his line has had with Auston (Matthews) and (Bunting) there has helped there. So all those things are just contributing to a more confident shooter.”
Keefe on the thought process behind putting Liljegren on the second powerplay unit:
“We’ve been talking about this for a while, not necessarily specific to (Liljegren) just more so with the second unit. Given that we’re obviously first unit heavy, they take the bulk of the minutes, a minute twenty, a minute thirty sometimes, so the second unit is not getting a lot, and when you get out there with 30-40 seconds, plus you have to factor in a little bit of chaos in the last 10-15 seconds to get your second defenceman back on, make sure you’re in good posture defensively when their player comes out of the box, you’re kind of selling the PP a little bit short there. So we’re losing 15 seconds, and the second power-play, when they get out there, is really in a rush, and it puts a lot of heat on them, a lot of pressure on them. So the thinking with putting two defencemen out there allows them just to settle down, utilize the time that they have, and really just settle into five-on-five play again from there. So that’s really the mindset behind it, and we wanted to get (Liljegren) some reps today in that spot, I suspect we’ll move it around and mix it around at times you’ll see us go with four forwards there. It’ll all be kind of dependent on what’s going on in the clock, but we do think it’s important to get some reps with two defencemen out there throughout the rest of the season.”
Auston Matthews on having a better performance in Montreal compared to last time:
“We didn’t come out with much purpose in that game and they had a lot of fun. So, we’ve got another crack at them here. Obviously, we’d like to see a different result. But that’s on us to be ready to go and prepare to play and making sure that we’re doing the other things right.”
Matthews on if the powerplay needs to adjust:
“Maybe a little bit, but I also think just simplifying things too and not hoping for the perfect play. Sometimes the pretty plays come off shots and just getting the puck back and continuing to attack and then things open up. So, I think we just kind of gotten away from the mentality of just of maybe not just simplifying things, but more of a shot mentality. All of us are quick. All of us can win puck battles and gain the puck back and keep it in the zone. I think when you kind of have that sustained pressure it helps create those plays and opens up more space for us.”
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: #50 Erik Källgren
#34 Petr Mrazek
Injured: Jack Campbell, Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin
LTIR: Jake Muzzin
Montreal Canadiens projected lineup
Cole Caufield #22 – Nick Suzuki #14 – Josh Anderson #17
Mike Hoffman #68 – Rem Pitlick #16 – Laurent Dauphin #45
Tyler Pitlick #24 – Christian Dvorak #28 – Joel Armia #40
Michael Pezzetta #55 – Jake Evans #71 – Paul Byron #41
Alexander Romanov #27 – David Savard #58
Joel Edmundson #44 – Chris Wideman #20
William Lagesson – Corey Schueneman #64
Jake Allen #34
Samuel Montembeault #35
Injured: Jeff Petry #26