The Maple Leafs are looking to take another step towards locking down home-ice advantage in round one of the NHL playoffs when they visit the Ottawa Senators for the first of three games against opponents that are all but eliminated from playoff qualification (7:00 p.m., Sportsnet).
With this upcoming Ottawa-NYI-Philadelphia stretch preceding a road trip that will see the Leafs play four games in six days — including matchups against the Lightning, Panthers, and Capitals — taking full advantage of the weaker opposition before hitting the road is going to be important if the Leafs want to ensure Games 1, 2, 5, and 7 are played at Scotiabank Arena in round one.
It may sound somewhat trivial — and it’s probably not worth prioritizing over rest for some of the team’s most relied-on players where possible in the final stretch — but it’s worth noting the Leafs are 27-8-2 at Scotiabank Arena this season and the organization has not won a Game 7 on the road since Nikolai Borschevsky’s OT winner in Detroit in 1993 (a span that includes losses to Boston x3, the Flyers, the Devils, and the Blackhawks).
For the Senators, this figures to be a game they’ll get up for knowing the rivalry and the fact that there will be an invasion of Leafs fans taking over the rink at the Canadian Tire Centre tonight; this is going to be the closest thing this season to a Spring-time playoff atmosphere for them.
Ottawa is going to be without their minute-eating stud on the blue line, with Thomas Chabot possibly out for the rest of the season due to a broken hand, which leaves their blue line looking thin and vulnerable against a deep Leafs attack. That said, the Senators have pieced together a 5-3-0 month of April so far, including a 3-2 win over Boston on Thursday. Projected starter Anton Forsberg has given them a fighting chance in most of his starts and has sustained his really solid play through the second half of the season with a .923 save percentage and a winning record (13-11-2) in 2022.
At the other end of the rink, Erik Källgren will be looking to bounce back after taking a loss against Buffalo that was by no means his fault but did see four goals go past him on 27 shots. The organization is prioritizing rest for Campbell ahead of the playoffs and may turn to Källgren again in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
The other confirmed lineup change for the Maple Leafs is Justin Holl re-entering the lineup next to TJ Brodie, a pairing on which Holl has played his best hockey this season (a common theme for Brodie’s partners all year). Jake Muzzin will sit out for this weekend’s games due to a nagging injury unrelated to his concussions.
Game Day Quotes
Senators head coach DJ Smith on the threat of the Leafs’ power play:
They can torch anybody any given night. The players that are out there can make plays and shoot pucks. They can go from different sides. They have a lot of different options.
That power play has been together for a long time with the core guys. They read off of what you are going to give them, and they make adjustments quickly. For us, we have to take two or fewer penalties.
Smith on how close the Senators’ big four of Drake Batherson, Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, and Josh Norris are to the stratosphere of Leafs’ big four in Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander:
It took Matthews, Mitch, and Willy a while to get to where they are now. They are a lot older than these guys are. In order to get there, you have to be the league’s best. Matthews is the league’s top goal-scorer. Mitch has the most points of anybody since a certain day, or whatever that is.
You don’t want to compare anyone to anyone else. There are our four, but let’s not forget Chabot and some other guys coming. I think they are as talented and as skilled as anyone.
Now, how hard are we going to work? What are we going to do to push us over the next hump? Certainly, the ingredients are there. They love playing hockey and love being together. They are all best friends. It is a good recipe at this point.
Keefe on preparing for the Senators:
They’re going to work. They’re going to compete. They have high-end young skill. It is not a lot different in terms of the skill that Buffalo is bringing — very similar in that sense. A lot of high-end draft picks. A very dangerous power play.
It is a Saturday night here in Ottawa. I am sure it is going to be an energetic building. It will be a good game for our team and their team.
I think the biggest thing we have learned here is to talk less about or opponent, where they are in the standings, and what might be happening. Let’s more focus on our game.
Keefe on the team’s power play dipping slightly in the last three games:
We have been thinking about and talking about our power play of late. We haven’t liked it for the last little bit, but we went back, dug into it, and I spent some time with Spencer [Carbery].
How quickly we forget that before coming back and playing these last three games on home ice, we went on an eight-game stretch where we were at 42%. We are not going to overreact with a tough little slide here. We just have to make sure we get back to it.
Keefe on the balanced attack William Nylander’s presence creates on the third line:
Having a threat like Willy on the third line makes it a little bit more challenging for teams that generally rely on their top four to play against your best players and get minutes for their bottom pair against guys lower in the lineup. It makes it a little bit more challenging. As a result, we get some favourable matchups for Will.
The other part of it is that when we split it up, the Tavares and Nylander line wasn’t going very well. It changed the dynamic a little bit. We have liked the results since. We have liked how the players have responded and we have liked how the team has responded shift over shift.
First Round Matchup Odds
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #15 Alex Kerfoot
#88 William Nylander – #64 David Kampf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#43 Kyle Clifford – #11 Colin Blackwell – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#78 T.J. Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#36 Jack Campbell
Extras: Nick Abruzzese, Wayne Simmonds, Kristians Rubins
Injured: Jake Muzzin
LTIR: Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin, Petr Mrazek
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #9 Josh Norris – #28 Connor Brown
#10 Alex Formenton – #18 Tim Stutzle – #19 Drake Batherson
#71 Chris Tierney – #36 Colin White – #17 Adam Gaudette
#45 Parker Kelly – ##27 Dylan Gambrell – #16 Auston Watson
#26 Erik Brannstrom – #2 Artem Zub
#15 Michael Del Zotto – #23 Travis Hamonic
#5 Nick Holden – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
Starter: #31 Anton Forsberg
#32 Filip Gustavsson
Injured: Thomas Chabot, Matt Muray, Shane Pinto, Mathieu Joseph, Tyler Ennis, Jake Sanderson