After winning back-to-back games over the Capitals and Senators, the Maple Leafs are looking to make it three in a row against a lowly Coyotes team that has allowed 12 goals in their first two games (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
While the two wins may not have been the prettiest in the world — and the team appears to have another level to get to offensively — the Leafs have been able to hold steady defensively and in net while scoring three goals in each game so far. Toronto headed into the first intermission down by a goal before breaking through while generally controlling the run of play.
Heading into Monday night, though, Toronto is no doubt looking to improve its fortunes in the first period. Fortunately for them, they are matched up against a Coyotes team that has been out-scored 5-0 and outshot 28-8 in the first period so far.
In their season opener against Pittsburgh, Arizona was shelled for three goals in the opening 5:10 of the game while getting outshot 16-4. Against Boston on Saturday, they gave up a pair of first-period goals and were tripled up in shots 12-4. In first periods this season, Arizona has controlled just 32% of the scoring chances, 33% of the expected goals, and 18% of the high-danger chances at five on five.
One bright spot for Arizona has been the power play, where they have gone 3-for-8 on the man advantage and are playing with confidence, executing some pretty nifty passing plays such as this Clayton Keller goal:
Clayton Keller, we’ve missed you. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/LWBIV8Xkn5
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) October 16, 2022
Toronto has had a strong start to the season killing penalties, but that is one matchup to watch in an otherwise one-sided head-to-head on paper.
Speaking of confidence, the Leafs are hoping that the Matthews-Marner duo can find another gear. Not that they’ve played poorly, but as Alec Brownscombe put it in Saturday’s Game in 10, they’ve sometimes looked for the perfect play instead of making the right one. We know how good those two are, and we hold them to an extremely high standard for a reason. We’ve seen glimmers through three games, but it feels about time for those two to have a game where they truly dominate.
Last year, a little more than they’d like, the Leafs fell victim to the trap game by playing down to inferior teams that are motivated to get up for this matchup, including the Coyotes, who beat the Leafs twice last season — once in OT and once in regulation (tonight’s starter Karel Vejmelka stopped 45 of 46 shots in the Coyotes’ 2-1 win at Scotiabank Arena). Leaving points on the table versus the Buffalos, Montreals, and Arizonas ultimately contributed significantly to the difference between playing Tampa Bay in the first round instead of Washington.
This season, the sights for the Leafs‘ regular-season objective should be set no lower than a division crown. The dropped points against Montreal were not the start the Leafs were looking for in this regard, but after a win over Ottawa on Saturday, a professional effort in which they take care of business tonight would be a good next step toward changing the narrative this season.
Despite recalling three extra players after Matt Murray was placed on LTIR, the Leafs will not give Nick Robertson, Victor Mete, or Wayne Simmonds their season debuts tonight. Instead, Sheldon Keefe says he is watching to see how certain players (we can only assume Denis Malgin is chief among them) will respond to the presence of direct competition on the roster.
The one change from Saturday’s lineup is Keefe giving Ilya Samsonov a breather in net and handing goaltender Erik Källgren his first start of the NHL season. They’re definitely going to need to call on Kallgren multiple times before Murray returns; in order to set him up for success, a game against Arizona seems like a good opportunity to get him some reps in the NHL net rather than leaving him to sit idle for an extended period to start the season. It’s noteworthy that Källgren did not see much game action in camp/exhibition and wasn’t able to finish his only start for the Marlies so far due to a collision that forced him from the game.
Game Day Quotes
Auston Matthews on whether he is making a point to play more physically this season:
I think so. Towards the end of last season, with playoffs, you always ramp up the physicality. For myself, I am just trying to make it more consistent to be physical throughout the year and kind of lead the way in that department because then there is no excuse for anybody else not to do the same, finish checks, and make that a big part of our game.
Sheldon Keefe on Matthews’ increased physicality this season:
It is a fine line for him. It is a long season and he has a lot of contact that comes his way because he has the puck, is dangerous, and all of those things. But he is a big guy who can skate well and gets on top of the puck. He has opportunities to assert himself that way. I think it is just part of his growth as a player and part of his responsibility as a leader.
Whether it is him and how physical he has been, or the addition of Aston-Reese and Aube-Kubel with what they bring with their physicality, you can see an uptick with our group there.
Keefe on the benefits of the team’s improved physicality:
I think it is about the puck pressure. We want to be a team that is on the puck, and part of that is being physical. You are skating through your check versus laying off a stride or two early, which generally relieves the pressure. We want pressure on the puck. That finish — it is not so much about the actual check to me as much as skating one or two extra strides. Because of that, you are quicker on the puck.
That is a big part of it. When you can finish the check, it is great. I don’t get caught up in the numbers side of it. It is a difficult thing to track. There isn’t a whole lot of consistency there, frankly, around the league or night-to-night even. In general, we want to make sure our pressure on the puck is consistent.
Sheldon Keefe on the decision to start Erik Kallgren:
Tonight would’ve been his third game in five nights. He is going to be busy. It’s a combination of Samsonov’s workload being managed and Kallgren needing to be in the net. We are certainly going to need him, especially on the road trip that is upcoming. That would be a long time not playing. All signs pointed towards him getting the start tonight.
Keefe on the decision not to insert any of the recent callups into the lineup tonight:
It was a discussion for sure. With the accountability and the competition within the group, I think it just makes sense for us to give the group that we have been going with an opportunity now knowing that those guys that are here are chomping at the bit to get in the lineup. We want to see how our group responds to that.
Keefe on Denis Malgin’s first three games:
I think he has done a nice job. He scored us a good goal in the first game. The most important thing we want to see on that line is that when the puck comes to him, he can keep it moving. There is no break in the chain. I think he has done a good job of that. He distributes the puck to those guys well.
I don’t think we were expecting him to be the guy that was carrying the line. He shouldn’t be the best player on the line. Those are two really good players he is playing with that he has to complement.
I have been happy with what I have seen from that, but with Nick being here now, Malgin would be one of the guys — as well as the rest of the guys lower in the lineup — for whom there are guys coming for their opportunity. Simmonds would be in that boat, as would some of the guys down with the Marlies.
We have increased flexibility now. With that, there is opportunity for greater accountability within the group.
Keefe on whether the increased trust in his bottom six means slightly reducing the targeted ice time for his top six:
It has changed for sure with the group that we have and how we have the lineup spread out now. We do have targets. For the most part, I have stayed within those, but the game happens, right? You have targets and you want to manage the group.
You want to have everybody involved. Because of the depth, I think we have a greater opportunity to use four lines and share a lot more of the responsibilities, but the game is going to happen. In some games, there are going to be a lot of power plays. In some games, there are going to be a lot of penalty kills. In some games, you are going to be chasing the game or leading. All of that is going to impact everybody’s ice time.
For the most part, I want to give everybody a chance to contribute and execute their role. I want to see if a reduction of minutes and responsibility can help offensively or if it is counter-productive because they fall out of rhythm a little bit more and are sitting on the bench longer. Maybe they don’t start every single shift after a TV timeout, for example, which is something they have generally done.
Little things like that I am going to have to manage because for our offensive people especially, you need to have rhythm. You want to be on the ice consistently. I have to really manage that while also managing the fact that I think we are a deep team that has really clearly identified roles and players that can execute them. We want to make sure we give value to that and give that opportunity to grow.
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: #50 Erik Källgren
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Injured: Matt Murray, Timothy Liljegren
Extras: Nick Robertson, Wayne Simmonds, Victor Mete
Arizona Coyotes Projected Lines
#67 Lawson Crouse – #72 Travis Boyd – #9 Clayton Keller
#12 Nick Ritchie – #29 Barrett Hayton – #11 Dylan Guenther
#63 Matias Maccelli – #22 Jack McBain – #44 Zack Kassian
#38 Liam O’Brien – #17 Nick Bjugstad – #36 Christian Fischer
#90 Janis Moser – #51 Troy Stecher
#14 Shayne Gostisbehere – #3 Josh Brown
#61 Dysin Mayo – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #70 Karel Vejmelka
#39 Connor Ingram