The Maple Leafs will look to ride the momentum of an impressive 5-2 win over the Atlantic Division leader into tonight’s game against the Atlantic Division’s fastest riser in the Boston Bruins (7:00 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario).
Toronto and Boston enter this game with identical records at 41-19-5 through 65 games, but the Bruins have accomplished their 87 points through less prolific scoring and more stingy goal prevention (in large part thanks to much better goaltending) and are riding in on a 27-9-3 record in 2022 (best in the Eastern Conference, second in the league narrowly behind Colorado).
The Leafs haven’t been as dominant in 2022 at 21-11-3, but they are scoring the lights out at 3.97 goals per game (second in the NHL behind only Florida) and aren’t giving up a ton more than Boston defensively by the metrics — while the Bruins lead many of the major defensive categories in 2022, the Leafs remain in the top 10 in most of them but are lagging badly in the even-strength goaltending department.
That has taken a turn for the better in the last week with the winning starts from Petr Mrazek against New Jersey and Florida, which has earned him the start in a tough building tonight against the Leafs‘ biggest rival of the past 10 years. With Jack Campbell now fully participating in practice and his status updated to day-to-day, this is a big start for Mrazek in his pursuit to restore trust from the team and coaching staff — two consecutive solid games against high-end teams wouldn’t completely erase the rest of his season to date, but it goes a long way to resetting the table knowing Mrazek is a veteran goaltender who has battled his way out of extended funks in the past.
The Leafs‘ lineup will remain unchanged from their win over Florida aside from a 12th-forward swap of Kyle Clifford for Wayne Simmonds, in addition to shifting Colin Blackwell into the center position from the left wing. Recently-signed prospect Nick Abruzzese, who skated with the Leafs today, is also in the roster mix now as the coaching staff looks for answers on their fourth line, which has been outscored 9-5 at 5v5 and owns a 40% expected goal share with both Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza together in the year 2022.
Game Day Quotes
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy on the threat posed by the Leafs’ PK units:
For us, we had done a pretty good job until about a week ago. We had trouble in Montreal that snowballed into Tampa. Some teams are more aggressive than others. Toronto certainly fits that bill.
You are trying to score, so sometimes there will be convergence on the net with four forwards, and you will get outnumbered the other way. To me, it is puck management that hurt us both of those games. That is in your own control.
It is on the players to make good decisions when they enter the zone or are coming up the ice. It is not always going to be perfect and you will need that high-end stop, but at the end of the day, that is where the breakdowns happen. We have to be mindful of it tonight.
A guy like Marner will hunt in the neutral zone for any entries, and he is going the other way in a hurry. They have some speed in Mikheyev and Engvall — those two guys can really go.
At the end of the day, our focus is on scoring goals. If we can get pucks to the net and not be high risk, that is where they can be vulnerable at times, too: in front of their net. We have seen that with certain teams that attacked them that way. That will be more our mindset.
Sheldon Keefe on how high of a priority it is to get the second line going:
Right now, it is high on the list for sure. It has been, at times throughout the season, very good for us. We are confident that we can get it to that point. At the same time, as we mix things up here, maybe something else comes to light that we like.
We have gone, at different times in the last while, with John and Will on different lines. We wanted to get a look at that and sort of shift it back. Here we are again. It is another look at that. We will see what comes of it.
Either we find some good chemistry here that really works… If we can get three lines really going, that’s all the better. Four would be best. That is really what our goal is. When we look at it, we played Florida the other night, and it is Boston tonight. Those are the hallmarks of the top teams: four lines that can really go.
I know we can get there. We have been there lots throughout the season. We have to find the right mix to both get to that point collectively as lines but also with individual players thriving.
Keefe on the identity he is looking for from his fourth line:
I think we have a different mix of players. A player like Nick has come in here, and Blackwell is new and fresh to the group. In terms of the identity itself, it depends on who is in, who is out, and what that looks like.
What we are looking for from the fourth line is for it to be a line that can win shifts for us, generate momentum, spend time in the other team’s end, and give us energy, physicality, and presence. That is really what you are looking for: to build momentum for the team when it is not going, get some energy, or keep the momentum going if it is going.
That is something we have been experimenting with. We are going to try Blackwell in the middle tonight and Spezz on the wing to see how that goes. Blackwell has played center a lot throughout his life — not a whole lot in the NHL necessarily, but he is comfortable taking faceoffs and is quite good on the draw. We do have Spezza’s presence there still to take faceoffs. We want to see how that changes the dynamic.
Keefe on the challenge against a Bruins team that has balance in its lines and isn’t always leaning on a Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak line combination this season:
As I have followed them throughout the season, it seems like things have really kind of solidified themselves. They’ve slotted in different spots, whether it is Smith on the third line and Foligno on the fourth line, or Haula being up there on the second. Things have really solidified for them. They have found a rhythm, from what I can see, with four lines that are really going for them.
Obviously, the Bergeron line has been outstanding. I am sure they have a lot of confidence they can go to that at any time, but the Pastrnak line has been really good here of late as well. It gives them lots of weapons and depth that way. All four lines compete and play hard with defensive structure.
It is as good of a defensive team as there is in the league, and they don’t give you a whole lot. It makes you really have to work to get to their net. No matter who you are on the ice against, that is a big thing for us. At the same time, because they are not going to give you much, you have to make sure you are not giving up much, either.
It is a tough game for our guys tonight. We are ready for it. Coming off of the two games we played, even though we didn’t get the result in Montreal, I liked a lot of the things that we did there. We carried that over against a very dynamic offensive team in Florida. We will get put to the test again tonight on that.
Cassidy on his team’s defensive structure:
I think we have baked in structure for years now. It is part of the culture of the team and the fabric of the team. I don’t think it goes away overnight. Guys can have a bad night, miss an assignment, mismanage a puck, or get outmuscled, but in general, I don’t think it is anything that is going to snowball for us.
We have seen consistent goaltending as well from both guys. All of those things factor into it. Our forwards buy into the reloads and returning to d-zone. We do quite a bit of work on that with video. I think that is something you can look at and teach. In practice, we do drills that specifically lean towards that.
You put all of those factors in, and that is why I always felt our team would never stray too far from that over time. There are always hiccups in a season with different areas of your game, but in general, we have harped on that for a long time. It is what has made us successful. I think our guys buy into it and believe in it.
Cassidy on the balance of prioritizing defensive structure vs. offensive opportunity:
There is a tradeoff, right? There are some guys in this league that will get above pucks and try to get going the other way in a hurry. You are going to sacrifice some offense because of the standard we have set and the accountability. We have always got to balance that.
For everybody, you know you can stay in every game if things aren’t going your way. If you’re ringing pucks off the post, running into a hot goaltender, or any number of things that can happen, you can still be in a game.
We have gotten comfortable in those 2-1 games, especially as the year has gone on. It almost seems like the more comfortable we are in them, the more our offense comes around for us because we don’t get away from it, and maybe other teams do get impatient.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #15 Alex Kerfoot
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #88 William Nylander
#43 Kyle Clifford – #11 Colin Blackwell – #19 Jason Spezza
#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
Extras: Nick Abruzzese, Wayne Simmonds, Carl Dahlstrom
Injured: Jack Campbell, Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin
LTIR: Jake Muzzin
Boston Bruins Projected Lines
#63 Brad Marchand – #37 Patrice Bergeron – #74 Jake DeBrusk
#71 Taylor Hall – #56 Erik Haula – #88 David Pastrnak
#11 Trent Frederic – #13 Charlie Coyle – #12 Craig Smith
#17 Nick Foligno – #92 Tomas Nosek – #20 Curtis Lazar
#27 Hampus Lindholm – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#48 Matt Grzelcyk – #25 Brandon Carlo
#28 Derek Forbort – #75 Connor Clifton
Starter: #1 Jeremy Swayman
#35 Linus Ullmark
Injured: Jakub Zboril