After leaving Boston with a great win marred by injuries, the Maple Leafs lineup will be juggled tonight as they enter what could be a chippy revenge game against the Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. EST, TSN 3&4).
The Leafs‘ last game against the Jets, a 6-3 loss back on December 5th, saw Jack Campbell back up in the second half of a back-to-back, with rookie Joseph Woll left in net for all six goals against. The Leafs were down 5-1 before scoring two in the last six minutes of the second period. However, the Jets scored the only goal in the final frame as the refs lost control of the game and it became extremely heated down the stretch — there were nine roughing and cross-checking minors dished out in the third, two fighting majors, a game misconduct for Wayne Simmonds, and in the aftermath of the contest, a six-game suspension (later reduced to four) for Jason Spezza (for a retaliatory knee-to-the-head on Neal Pionk) and a two-game suspension for Pionk (for kneeing Rasmus Sandin).
Fittingly, Simmonds will draw back into the lineup tonight as Sheldon Keefe prepares for a physical Winnipeg team that may look to make this game as combative as possible. Kyle Clifford will remain in the lineup to maintain the physical factor on the fourth line, making Colin Blackwell a healthy scratch for the first time as a Leaf. Blackwell has been a valuable addition thus far and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a part of the top 12 in the playoff lineup — in fact, Keefe confirmed he’ll be back in the lineup against Philadelphia on Saturday after his “best game as a Leaf” on Tuesday versus Boston.
The all-veteran look on the bottom line will also delay the NHL debut of Nick Abruzzese, who looked like he was going to play against Boston but ended up scratched for Clifford. It appears that Keefe had Abruzzese in the lineup in practice just to get him some reps as he ramps up to NHL pace; the Harvard product likely needs a few more practices with the team before he’s ready for his debut.
There will be more significant changes on the backend. Keefe confirmed that Ilya Lyubushkin has a head injury but shouldn’t miss too much time, while Justin Holl will play tonight after leaving Saturday’s game as a precaution. With the right-handed Lyubushkin out, the Leafs will reunite T.J Brodie with Morgan Rielly on a pair that has played over 750 minutes together this season.
Despite their success together, Timothy Liljegren and Mark Giordano will be split up on the remaining two pairs, with Giordano joining Justin Holl. With Carl Dahlstrom filling in, the coaching staff has opted to put together two reliable veteran pairings as opposed to potentially spreading the pairs too thin.
Kyle Connor and Nate Schmidt testing positive for Covid is a brutal development for the Jets. Schmidt was averaging 20:16 of ice time a game with 27 assists in 66 games, while Connor was enjoying a career year with a team-leading 41 goals (top five in the NHL) and 41 assists in 67 games. Both are huge losses at this point in the season with Winnipeg in a do-or-die situation when it comes to a playoff spot — hockeyviz.com has them at a mere 22.6% chance of making the post-season.
In net for Toronto, Petr Mrazek is out long-term with another groin injury as it becomes Erik Källgren’s net once again until Jack Campbell returns. Campbell has been cleared to play, however, and will likely be available this weekend. Kallgren is looking for his fourth win this season, sporting a 3-2-1 record and a .911 save percentage in his six career games (four starts).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe’s update on Jack Campbell:
Simply a day off for Jack today. He’s been working really hard to come back here — he actually cleared medically at this point, and it’s a matter of him feeling good and ready to play in a game. It’s been a while since we’ve had a full practice as a team. As we forecast ahead here, we don’t have another day off until Wednesday, so today was a good day for him to take off. He’ll be with us at practice tomorrow.
Keefe on the NHL’s 5k fine for Taylor Hall after his sucker punch on Ilya Lyubushkin:
It’s not my job to make those decisions. The league handles those decisions. Obviously, I’m disappointed we lost a player in a game that put us in a real tough spot as a result — he’s [also] not available tonight and has been playing very well for us.
For him to not be available because of a play like that is tough to take. We’ll move on from here. We’re happy to hear that it doesn’t look like it’s going to hold him out too long.
Keefe on the decision to go with the three veterans on the fourth line tonight:
We weren’t happy with how that game went for us, but we’re really just focused on getting a win tonight. It’s two important points for us and we need them, so we’re prepared to win. Whatever [the opposition] brings — not just for tonight but for the rest of the season and through playoffs — we need to be ready to compete and play within whatever the game is going to provide and be comfortable with that. Some of that goes into the decisions.
I think it’s going to be a physical game — we’re hoping so. All of our games have been more physical of late, and I think part of that it’s just our team has been very purposeful in being more physical and being more engaged in that sense. Obviously, [Simmonds] missed last game, and we don’t want to have him sitting for too long.
Blackwell probably played his best game [as a Leaf] against the Bruins, so he’ll go right back in on Saturday. We wanted to give these three veterans an opportunity to come in a very hard and competitive game against a team that those three guys played against last time.
Keefe on Carl Dahlstrom entering the lineup:
We really liked the game he played for us earlier [in the year] and he’s done a great job [with the Marlies]. I know he’s had some injuries as of late that he’s battled through. The feedback we’ve gotten from the Marlies has been great with him.
When I’ve turned my TV on and watched, he’s looked good. When he’s been around here, he’s done a good job and Dean [Chynoweth] is comfortable with him. In that sense, it’s nice to have a guy like him down there.
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 – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#48 Carl Dahlstrom – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Extras: Nick Abruzzese, Colin Blackwell
Injured: Jack Campbell, Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin, Ilya Lyubushkin
LTIR: Jake Muzzin, Petr Mrazek
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#25 Paul Stastny – #55 Mark Scheifele – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#13 Zach Sanford – #80 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #26 Blake Wheeler
#71 Evgeny Svechnikov – #17 Adam Lowry – #22 Mason Appleton
#12 Jansen Harkins – #21 Dominic Toninato – #77 Adam Brooks
#44 Josh Morrissey – #2 Dylan DeMelo
#64 Logan Stanley – #5 Brenden Dillon
#14 Ville Heinola – #4 Neal Pionk
Probable Starter: #1 Eric Comrie
#37 Connor Hellebuyck
Injured/Out: Kyle Connor, Nate Schmidt, Cole Perfetti