After a disappointing effort on opening night in Montreal, Sheldon Keefe will return with the same lineup as the Maple Leafs look to rebound in their home opener against the Washington Capitals (7:30 p.m. EST, TSN4). 

Last night, the Leafs had more difficulty than expected against a Canadiens team that was able to exploit the Toronto defense in transition. The game was close thanks to a couple of rush goals from the Nylander-Tavares-Malgin line and a first-period Michael Bunting tally, but it was a pair of Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin turnovers in the final 30 seconds that ultimately sunk the game for Toronto. After the game, Sheldon Keefe did not mince words about expecting a lot more from his team heading into the home opener tonight.

Washington — currently without Tom Wilson, Nick Backstrom, and Carl Hagelin due to injury — is also coming off a tough loss Wednesday night in which they fell 5-2 at the hands of the Boston Bruins. The Capitals fell victim to a slow start as Boston struck twice in the opening frame and again early in the second period to take a 3-0 lead. The Capitals were able to claw their way back into the game thanks to goals from Anthony Mantha and Conor Sheary before the Bruins sealed it with an insurance goal and an empty netter in the third period.

The recent history in this matchup is promising for the Leafs, who were able to score plenty of goals against the Capitals last season. In the first meeting on February 28, Toronto won 5-3 thanks to a late game-winner from Rasmus Sandin. In the second meeting, the Leafs won 7-3 in the game that saw Auston Matthews reach the 100-point milestone. In the final matchup, the Leafs won 4-3 in the shootout after tying the game late to force extra time. Between last season’s results and the pandemic-impacted 2020-21 schedule, the Capitals have not beaten the Leafs since October 29, 2019, shortly before Mike Babcock was dismissed as head coach. 

The matchup in net will feature a money-on-the-board game for Ilya Samsonov, who will face off against the former team that opted not to qualify him this past offseason, against Charlie Lindgren, who has just 28 career NHL games to his name at the age of 28 spanning his stops in Montreal and St. Louis. Samsonov is hoping for better team defense in front of him than the support Matt Murray received in Montreal, but as far as the goaltending battle is concerned, Murray did leave the door open last night if Samsonov were to make a statement in his Leafs regular-season debut tonight.

The rest of the Leafs‘ lineup will remain unchanged according to Sheldon Keefe, who appears to be taking the approach of, “We like the makeup of the lines, and the poor effort last night did not give us a good read on anything.” That apparently includes the Muzzin-Holl pairing that unfortunately carried over its 2021-22 form into game one of 2022-23 last night.

Given the frustrated attitude of the Toronto market at the moment, it’s probably not the worst thing that the Leafs are right back at it less than 24 hours later after an ugly season-opening loss rather than sitting on it for a few days. The Leafs were pretty reliable at manufacturing good responses after off nights last regular season. Tonight, they’ll face an early test in that regard right out of the gates of the 2022-23 schedule.

With both teams looking to rinse the bitter taste from their mouths after disappointing opening nights, the stage is set for an entertaining clash between the Leafs and Caps as Scotiabank Arena hosts its first game of the season. Two of the best goal-scoring talents of our lifetimes taking center stage always makes for plenty of intrigue, and the Leafs should have lots to get up for in front of their home fans. 

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the message to the team after last night’s loss:

There was lots said.

Keefe on whether there will be any changes in the lines or pairings:

No changes. Just in our mindset and in our execution.

Keefe on the need for the team to avoid playing down to its opponent:

It is really important. That is a big part of why the disappointment was there last night. The expectations for our team are higher in that regard. We want to show growth in that area. We weren’t able to do it last night.

At the same time, let’s give Montreal respect and props for how they played. They played fast. Their best players made plays when we gave them opportunities. Their goaltender was solid. They did the things that they had to do to win.

We didn’t stress them nearly enough. We weren’t able to assert ourselves in the game the way we would like to and the way we have the ability to. That is what we need to do no matter who we are playing or how you would interpret what the opponent is capable of.

We need to be able to assert ourselves. We are that calibre of a team. We didn’t do it last night.

Keefe on whether the team played fast enough last night:

At times, we played fast for sure. Listen, a lot of the issues with our game last night are not effort related. It is an execution thing. They come from a good place. It is all well-intentioned. It is all guys trying to make something happen. Our play selection and management of the puck were not to the level that would allow you a chance to win.

That is really what it comes down to for me yesterday. It wasn’t so much a playing fast type of thing. There were certainly a few instances of that, and we talked about it this morning, but it was more just forcing the issue at times when it was not the appropriate play.

We just have to be better in that regard. We have a mature and experienced team here now. We have been through a lot, so the expectations are high in that regard, whether it is game one of 82 or not. That is where I am expecting us to be better.

Mark Giordano on the need for a bounce-back effort:

In our mind, we didn’t play anywhere near what is the recipe for success to win games. We are excited about today. Getting to play in a back-to-back is the best-case scenario for us just to get back at it and try to get a win tonight.

We can do a way better job of managing situations and managing the puck. We went over it watching the tape. It is pretty obvious on the shifts when we are successful and when we are not. It is a lot of different things, but most importantly, it is managing time, score, and the puck.

Giordano on the team’s tendency to play down to its opponent:

I think we have to just back to our game early in games and establish that. It doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the rink. Every team in the league has players capable of beating anyone. The depth on teams in the league is incredible now. We have to establish our game.

When you get into trouble is when you are turning pucks over and not managing time and score. We can do a better job at that. We just have to have a way better mindset when it comes to certain situations where we know you are not going to be able to make plays. At certain times in games when there are going to be momentum swings, you have to manage it way better than we did last night.

I think we have a really good team, and it speaks to it that we were still in a position to get that game to overtime yesterday when we didn’t feel we were anywhere close to as good as we could be.

Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette on his team’s disappointing effort in the season opener:

There was some disconnect. At times, we were disjointed for the first half of the game. We wanted a puck to be there, but it wasn’t. We weren’t on the mark with the pass or we weren’t on the mark with positioning, or we got outnumbered in the battle — whatever it might be.

We just weren’t clicking. We weren’t in sync. We had been pretty good all through training camp, and I just didn’t like the first half of the game — the first period, especially.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #62 Denis Malgin
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kampf – #96 Nicolas Aubé-Kubel

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #38 Rasmus Sandin

Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#30 Matt Murray

Injured: Timothy Liljegren

Washington Capitals Projected Lines

#8 Alex Ovechkin – #92 Evgeny Kuznetsov – #28 Connor Brown
#59 Aliaksei Protas – #17 Dylan Strome – #39 Anthony Mantha
#90 Marcus Johansson – #20 Lars Eller – #77 T.J Oshie
#73 Conor Sheary – #26 Nic Dowd – #21 Garnet Hathaway

#42 Martin Fehervary – #74 John Carlson
#9 Dmitry Orlov – #3 Nick Jensen
#56 Erik Gustafsson – #57 Trevor Van Riemsdyk

Starter: #79 Charlie Lindgren
#35 Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Carl Hagelin, Tom Wilson, Nick Backstrom