After scoring nine times in back-to-back wins over the weekend and earning a franchise-record 50th win in the process, the Maple Leafs will go for their fourth-straight victory against a basement-dwelling Flyers team who have lost their last five games (7 p.m. EST, TSN4)
Despite only playing them a little over two weeks ago, the Leafs are facing a very different-looking Flyers team tonight than the one they beat 6-3 on April 2nd. Injuries are making things tough for Philly off the bat with Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis and Samuel Morin all out until next season, but the issues don’t stop there.
The extent of Rasmus Ristolainen’s injury still hasn’t been made public, but there is “no timetable for his return” as of yet. The team’s top goal scorer Cam Atkinson missed Sunday’s game and is questionable for tonight.
Lastly, starting goaltender Carter Hart is also injured and there is a possibility he could be out for the remainder of the season as well. Veteran goalie Martin Jones started the first of Philly’s weekend back-to-back and looks to be the starter tonight. He has struggled as the backup goalie most of the season, going 10-16-2 with a .898 Sv%.
For the Leafs, the good news is that, after earning a win with a solid performance on Monday, Jack Campbell will receive his second consecutive start tonight as he looks to finish off the regular season in a groove. Keefe indicated yesterday that Campbell is “as close to 100% as you can be this time of year” — that is big news for the Leafs‘ biggest question mark entering the post-season.
Although every indication is that it’s a very minor injury, Auston Matthews will sit again tonight out of an abundance of caution amidst a busy second-to-last week of the regular season.
In Matthews’ absence, Ilya Mikheyev made the surprise move to the top line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner on Sunday while Micheal Bunting moved down to an experimental line with David Kampf and Colin Blackwell.
Considering they took the day off yesterday and held a lightly-attended optional skate this morning, there is no indication of whether or not Keefe will continue with a similar look tonight.
There is plenty of reason to keep testing Mikheyev in a more offensive role, however. The speedy winger has paired his puck-hounding ability and speed with an increased confidence with the puck this season, particularly off of the rush, where he has been lethal.
Based purely on his shot impacts, Mikheyev has been the Leafs‘ second-most efficient player behind Matthews according to evolving-hockey.com. Combine that with the fact that he’s scored 17 times in 47 games, this is turning into a career-defining contract year for Ilya Mikheyev.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the team’s biggest moment of adversity this season:
I think it would have to be the start of our season. We went through that stretch — we had a game down in Pittsburgh and then went down to Carolina. Around that time was probably the biggest piece of adversity. We responded really well from that point.
We’ve talked about it a few times, but if you go back and listen to my comments after that Carolina game, I really felt it was there and it was just a matter of time until things started to fall into place and come together. Since then, we’ve had some adversity along the way; we’ve fought injuries, and we’ve had five goalies play for us this year. We’ve had these kinds of things happen along the way, but I don’t think any of them really compares to how we started the year and had to find our way through that.
Keefe on the mindset of the team down the stretch:
Focused and confident. The guys really believe in what we’re doing, they believe in each other. They believe in themselves. They’re focused on knowing that we need to play these regular season games. We need to put ourselves in the best place possible but know what we’re preparing for and that it’s going to be very difficult.
We’ve known that for quite some time. We’ve known it since before the season began: to get out of our division is going to be a real challenge. Once the games start getting played and you really see the teams in our division and the way they’re playing, you know it’s a challenge. We’ve been preparing for difficult times all season.
Keefe on holding an optional skate this morning and giving the team extra rest:
We’ve been looking at what’s coming and trying to prepare for that as best as possible. We’re just trying to monitor the energy levels of our team, so that’s important. Next week, it gets lighter for us, and we’ll ramp it up in practice a lot more. For this week, we’re just trying to manage the energy levels. They’re still important games, and they’re going to be difficult games for us to play.
We had our first optional skate of the season today coming off of a day off. That in itself can give us a good idea of where the team is at and how they’re feeling. You see a lot of guys that would normally take the option that don’t. You get a sense that they want to stay sharp and stay out there, but you’ve got some that really do feel strongly that they’re tired and could use the rest.
Keefe on keeping Nylander and Tavares separated and going with a more balanced look at forward:
The biggest thing for me: Obviously, we’ve had Nylander and Tavares separated for some time. We’ve liked some of the things that have happened and how that’s impacted our team. With that in mind, I wanted to get a look at Kerfoot playing back with Will.
Obviously, last season in the playoffs, it was a very productive group for us. It was Galchenyuk on the left side; now, it’s Engvall playing on that line. We want to see if something can spark there. You’ve got three lines that can really score and be really confident. That’s something I’ve wanted to look at for a while.
Flyers head coach Mike Yeo on rookie Noah Cates’ play on the top line:
For a young player, he plays the game with a lot of detail. Obviously, that’s something we’ve been trying to incorporate here is playing the game with more detail and purpose when you don’t have the puck. That helps you not just defend and keep the puck out of your net, but control the play and allows you to get the puck back.
He’s a very trustworthy player and someone who is easy to read for his linemates. He’s had a lot of success at five-on-five — he’s contributing because of the work ethic and because of doing the right things. He [deserves] a spot up there right now.
Yeo on what he took from his team’s 6-3 loss to the Leafs:
Number one, I think there were parts of the game where I think we competed and went head-to-head against them. [We made] a lot of the self-inflicted mistakes in the third. It was a game that was there for us, but unfortunately, I would say that we sort of beat ourselves in the third period.
Obviously, it’s a very, very skilled team [in Toronto]. We cant feed their transition game — they’re going to get some looks, and we’ve got to be prepared to check hard both with and without the puck tonight.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #47 Pierre Engvall
#58 Michael Bunting – #64 David Kampf – #11 Colin Blackwell
#26 Nick Abruzzese – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#78 T.J. Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#50 Erik Källgren
Extras: Kyle Clifford, Kristians Rubins
Injured: Jake Muzzin, Auston Matthews
LTIR: Ondrej Kase, Rasmus Sandin, Petr Mrazek
Philadelphia Flyers Projected Lines
#49 Noah Cates – #13 Kevin Hayes – #11 Travis Konecny
#25 James van Riemsdyk – #21 Scott Laughton – #46 Bobby Brink
#86 Joel Farabee – #48 Morgan Frost – #74 Owen Tippett
#23 Oskar Lindblom – #11 Nate Thompson – #17 Zach MacEwen
#9 Ivan Provorov – #6 Travis Sanheim
#54 Igor Zamula – #6 Kevin Connauton
#3 Keith Yandle – #47 Ronnie Attard
Starter: #35 Martin Jones
#32 Felix Sandstrom
Questionable: Cam Atkinson, Cam York
Injured: Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Samuel Morin, Nick Seeler, Carter Hart, Rasmus Ristolainen