Two 4-2-0 teams will square off in Vegas tonight as the Maple Leafs attempt to string together their third win in a row (10 p.m. EST, TSN4).
For the first time in their five-year history, the Golden Knights missed the playoffs in 2021-22 in a season racked by injuries (505 man games lost to injury, the most in the league behind only Montreal). Vegas is healthier to start the new campaign and appears to be getting back on track in the early going of 2022-23 under new head coach Bruce Cassidy. They’ve won four of six, with their two losses coming in hard-fought one-goal games against Western Conference contenders Colorado and Calgary.
They knew in the offseason that they would be without Robin Lehner and Nolan Patrick for the entirety of 2022-23 due to hip surgery and a concussion respectively, but otherwise, they’ve got their full complement of forwards and defensemen and a goaltending tandem in Logan Thompson and Adin Hill that has given them .929 goaltending so far.
Within Vegas’ top nine, the duo of Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone has outscored the opposition 5-1 and the duo of William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault has outscored the opposition 3-1 so far at 5v5, but they were looking for more out of the line featuring Jack Eichel and Phil Kessel, which has been outscored 3-2 in the early going. As a result, Cassidy has more heavily stacked his top six entering tonight’s game, with Eichel moved up to the top line in between Stone and Stephenson.
Bruce Cassidy is sticking with the lines from the end of the Avs game:
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) October 24, 2022
Their top defense pair of Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo has allowed just two goals in over 95 minutes of even-strength ice time through five games, and the same goes for their second pairing of Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore (five goals for, two against) in over 90 minutes of even-strength TOI.
It’s a deep team when healthy, but so are the Maple Leafs, who enter tonight with four wins despite just one goal from Auston Matthews and scoring three goals per game as a team, which is 23rd in the NHL in a high-scoring October across the league. Dropped points to Montreal and Arizona are black marks on their 4-2-0 record, but they’re top 10 in goals against and have an undefeated Ilya Samsonov in net sporting a .938 save percentage through four starts.
If yesterday’s practice lines are any indication, the Maple Leafs will leave their lineup from Saturday night’s 4-1 win in Winnipeg intact except for swapping Pierre Engvall back in for Zach Aston-Reese as Sheldon Keefe looks for a response from the big Swede following a quiet and pointless first five games to the season.
Game Day Quotes
Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy on the challenge presented by the Maple Leafs:
They’ll be dynamic like Colorado. If we don’t manage pucks between the blue lines, I have seen them enough over the years to know they can be very dangerous if you are not taking care of the puck.
I suspect their defensemen will be joining the rush a lot. They are very good at that and always have been, especially Rielly.
They are good on the power play. They find different looks. They are not predictable. That is one of the biggest changes they have made in the last few years: they move more. It is tougher to see what is coming.
Our discipline has been pretty good with exception of a period in Calgary. That has to remain the same.
The goalie has been good and is getting an opportunity to play every night. Any time you get that type of goaltending, it makes your team confident.
They are getting some balanced scoring. It is not just Matthews and Marner. Other guys have done most of it. They have found ways to win. They play fast, and they want to get the puck moving.
We need to check well between the blues, which is something we didn’t do against Colorado early but we did later. It kept us in the game and kept us around. We need to do it from the first minute onward.
Cassidy on the impressiveness of Phil Kessel tying the 989-game ironman record tonight:
People forget that he had cancer at a young age, right? He has dealt with some stuff. Obviously, he is taking care of his body. You don’t play this long without doing that. He just does it in his own way. You have to give him credit for that.
Cassidy on coaching Kessel:
I enjoy Phil. We were sitting and talking this morning. He is a real hockey guy, but he can also talk about a lot of other things. The guys in his room really enjoy his company.
As for coaching him, it is still new, to be honest with you. But he is very interactive. When you talk, it is back and forth. “What do you need me to do,” etc. He is low maintenance when it comes to a lot of the details. He really is. “Just tell me what you need, and I’ll give you the best I can.”
We are not trying to change the way Phil plays, to be honest with you. We are trying to get him to adapt. The things he can do well away from the puck — we are never going to ask Phil to lead us in checks, but he has backchecked well. When he returns to the d-zone, he goes to the right spot. Tracking back, he has broken up some plays. It is all we can ask.
The offensive side of things hasn’t happened for his line yet, but I think that will come eventually. We have moved some people around. He has no complaints about that, either. He understands Mark Stone is a good player and plays right wing. He just wants to help us win.
Phil Kessel on tying the ironman streak:
It’s a cool thing. Obviously, it means I have played a lot of games, right? But it’s neat, yeah.
Kessel on whether there will be any extra emotions tonight:
Sheldon Keefe on Kessel tying the ironman streak tonight:
Incredible respect. This is a very tough league and tough sport to play in both in the physical demands, the travel demands, and all of those sorts of things. Players deal with a lot of wear and tear on their body. There is physical wear and tear, but there is also the mental part of it, too.
To be able to be consistently reliable and available for your team is a very difficult thing to do. It is a skill in and of itself. Obviously, Kessel has been the model for that in this era of players and in the history of the game. It is quite impressive.
Wayne Simmonds on his memories of playing against Kessel:
Playing against him when I was with Philly, I remember chatting him up a little bit. He always makes you laugh. You don’t want to smile, but he always makes you laugh. You can’t really help it with that voice of his.
I am remembering lining up against him a couple of times. Last year, I know he had his daughter just before he came into Toronto, and I was talking to him because I had my daughter not too long before him. We named them the same, so that is pretty cool.
Simmonds on the team’s overall level of physicality this season:
Everybody is grinding from Matty and Mitchy all the way down to the fourth line. I think those guys do a great job of it as well as Johnny. It sets the example for everyone else. When your big guys are doing it, how could you not do it as a fourth liner, right? They are leading the way. Everyone is just following.
Simmonds on the challenge presented by the Golden Knights:
This team is really good in transition. We have to make sure we are taking care of pucks through the neutral zone and staying over top of our men or these guys can get you.
Keefe on the benefits of having Simmonds and Kyle Clifford on the roster:
It’s more who they are than anything they do, if that makes sense. They aren’t in there making speeches or anything like that. It is just their presence. They have been through a lot in their careers, but they have been through a lot with our team and our organization as well.
There is a history there. They have connections with our players. Having them around, there is a natural morale boost to the group.
What they bring on the ice is different and unique to our group, too. You have all of those things at play. The rest of our guys competing for those spots are new here. They are going to continue to get comfortable. Over time, they are going to get the same sort of connections.
Simmer and Cliff, with their personalities and experiences, have been around the league and our team for a long time. They have a leg up in that sense.
Keefe on whether the third line has more to give offensively:
Once Engvall finds his game and gets going, I think it is really going to help that line. You’d like to see that, and I think they have the ability to do that. The players on the line have the ability to score, but it wouldn’t be fair to expect them every single game to be a line counted on for offense.
They are complementary offensive players, but they do a lot for our team defensively in terms of matchups and penalty killing. They are on spot duty on the second unit on the power play. All of those things are really important.
They make that connection from our top six to the bottom six. They are very important guys for us. You always want more offense from your depth people, but they have scored. The one goal that Järnkrok was a really important goal for us at the time. There was Kampf’s goal the other night. Those are important goals.
It is not that I go into every game thinking we need to get a goal from these guys or anything like that. Their mindset needs to be winning shifts, being responsible for our team, and when the opportunity presents itself, make a play and finish on it. They are not going to be guys who are going to produce outside of what they have done throughout their careers. We have to be reasonable with that.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#43 Kyle Clifford – #64 David Kampf – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #98 Victor Mete
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#50 Erik Källgren
Injured: Jake Muzzin, Matt Murray, Timothy Liljegren, Jordie Benn
Extras: Zach Aston-Reese, Denis Malgin, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel
Vegas Golden Knights Projected Lines
#20 Chandler Stephenson – #9 Jack Eichel – #61 Mark Stone
#19 Reilly Smith – #71 William Karlsson – #81 Jonathan Marchessault
#22 Mike Amadio – #21 Brett Howden – #8 Phil Kessel
#28 Will Carrier – #10 Nicolas Roy – #55 Keegan Kolesar
#23 Alec Martinez – #7 Alex Pietrangelo
#3 Brayden McNabb – #27 Shea Theodore
#14 Nicolas Hague – #2 Zach Whitecloud
Starter: #36 Logan Thompson
#33 Adin Hill
Injured: Robin Lehner, Nolan Patrick, Laurent Brossoit