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The Maple Leafs are in dire need of a response performance to quiet the noise in the market as they return to home ice looking to snap a four-game losing slide against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).

Back at the Scotiabank Arena after a dismal 1-2-2 road trip, there is no excuse for the Leafs not to win this game and win it convincingly. The Flyers, playing tired in the second half of a back-to-back, are missing half of their top-six forwards due to injury. They have one of the youngest rosters in the league. Carter Hart is the hottest goalie in the NHL — undefeated in regulation and sporting a .943 save percentage — and is keeping his team in every game he starts, but the Leafs will avoid that matchup tonight and instead face off against rookie Felix Sandstrom, who hasn’t won an NHL game yet through seven starts.

The Flyers are scoring fewer goals than even the Leafs during their slow start and control play worse than any team in the league outside of Arizona at just 38% share of the shot attempts and 38% share of the expected goals. As is tradition for a John Tortorella team, though, they are defending hard, blocking a ton of shots (nearly 20 per 60 minutes, second in the NHL), and committing to a lunchpail identity under their new bench boss.

The path to losing this game tonight for the Leafs is if they come out really tight, don’t score early, the home crowd starts to become restless, and they grow impatient about trying to find their breakthrough. The Leafs need to knuckle down and play a mature game befitting the “elite” label Sheldon Keefe ascribed to them prior to the season. It’s time to quiet the noise in this market and begin to turn the page on the underwhelming first 10 games.

If the Leafs don’t allow themselves to get outworked and return to basics by executing the fundamentals better than they have during this four-game losing slide — on zone exits, overall puck management, and simplifying offensively — the rest should take care of itself.

The team’s lineup tonight will include the NHL debut of Pontus Holmberg, who will center countrymen Pierre Engvall and Calle Jarnkork on an all-Swede line, as Nick Robertson makes way after (somewhat unfairly) playing just 6-8 minutes in his last two games.

Sheldon Keefe is still searching for cohesive bottom-six lines and is choosing to break up one of the few combinations that’s provided a positive impact and shown consistent chemistry together in Engvall-Kampf. This new line with the three Swedes has the makings of one that could play a simple, tight-checking, hard-forechecking, cycling kind of game, but we’ll see how they mesh and if Holmberg appears as ready for prime time as he did in the preseason. Inserting Holmberg and pushing Jarnkork to the wall may give the line a more natural center presence; Holmberg was a break-even faceoff player (29 for 56) in the preseason compared to Jarnkork’s 43% efficiency on the dot so far.

The top six will return to the familiar with Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner / Alex Kerfoot – John Tavares – William Nylander. The calls to break up the top line among the fan base are deafening already; it goes without saying that no one could use a bounce-back game more than Marner after his two giveaways for goals against, a subsequent (brief) benching, and the temper flareup in Anaheim dominated the discourse in the market for the past few days.

“I have contemplated a lot of things as we have gone through this. I have tried a number of different things. Ultimately, I feel like last season [Marner and Matthews] developed even greater chemistry than they have ever had. I am not at the point yet where I feel like the answer for us to get going is to separate the guys who had some of the best chemistry last season and carried us to great heights in the regular season.

Those guys are committed to working through it together. I am still at the point of giving them the opportunity to work with them on that. We have had a number of discussions as group. On the road trip, despite the puck not necessarily going in the net, there were some really positive signs for that group.

We want to continue to see that play out, but obviously, nothing is off the table for us for what the options might be if we don’t start to see progress.”

– Sheldon Keefe on keeping the top line together through the slump

On defense, Keefe and Dean Chynoweth continue to search for answers on a unit that has struggled to initiate breakouts cleanly and efficiently, which is in turn putting themselves in bad spots defensively — Victor Mete joins Morgan Rielly, Ramus Sandin returns to Mark Giordano’s right, and Justin Holl stays with TJ Brodie as they try to settle down Holl’s game.


Game Day Quotes

John Tortorella on the heat Sheldon Keefe is facing in the Toronto market:

You guys don’t know what he’s done for that team… You guys chuck darts at him because you want some results. I guess it’s the coach who always gets the darts chucked at him, but I know in watching him and coaching against him, I think he’s a terrific coach. I hope he jams it to you all, quite honestly. Not tonight, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.

Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Flyers:

Torts’ teams play the same way all the time consistently. That is a big part of it. Their goaltending has been outstanding and given them a chance in every game. What you see in that is that the team develops confidence no matter what is happening. You might say that they lean on their goaltending a ton, but they out-chanced Carolina just last week as well as Tampa not too long ago.

They are a team that through work ethic, competitiveness, structure, and sound goaltending have built a high level of confidence. That is something you have to contend with and break through.

Tortorella on the challenge for his team in the back-to-back:

A few guys got a lot of ice time [last night]. I am certainly concerned about that in a back-to-back against another very good, fast hockey team. I am probably going to put in a few guys. I think [Zamula] will probably play. I think [Laczynski] will probably play to get some fresh legs in there.

As we talk about in back-to-backs, we just need to be simple. We need to be straight ahead. We need to find ourselves early in the game by gaining the blue line and allowing ourselves to forecheck.

I do believe, in back-to-backs, your second wind kicks in quicker and you play freer once you get through that part. It is about the start for us. [The Leafs] are going to come. They are licking their chops right now for their start. We just have to get through that start.

Tortorella on his team’s 1-0 OT loss to the Rangers last night and the commitment his team is showing so far this season:

I am not going to criticize the hockey game. I thought they played hard. This is going to be a little bit of what we are as we try to get this on the right track and maybe get some guys back eventually along the way.

We have some guys that it’s a little rich for them. I look at it as a great opportunity for them to play and gain some experience. When we get healthy, we become a better team because they’ve been through some of these experiences.

You are not going to get me to criticize the hockey team. I think we are growing. As long as I see effort and care and belief in what we are trying to do, I am leaving the building in a decent mood.

Tortorella on the amazing start to the season by goaltender Carter Hart:

It is a terrific start for Carter. Each start that he has and each time that plays he gives us an opportunity, I am hoping that it allows us — the players in front of him — to feel that they’ve got to give something back to him. Without tying ourselves up in knots, try to do some of the things we want to do to have the puck more.

Keefe on the team’s performance through 10 games and where it needs to improve the most:

The points we have been able to accumulate to this point probably are even more than I would expect based on how we have played, frankly. That speaks to the ability and talent that we have as a group.

My focus, solely, is just to get our team to play better. An area we can improve on the most is how connected we are and how we execute as a group coming out of our zone, getting through the neutral zone, and getting on the attack from there.

Keefe on the defense pairings for tonight:

Rielly and Brodie we like a lot, but we have just found, with the way some of the other pairs are going, we needed to stabilize ourselves a little bit defensively there. It’s not ideal for us to have Brodie, who is most comfortable on his off-side as a left D, not on the right side. It creates some challenges for us, but we just feel he can really help Justin Holl. It has been a good pairing for us — not only the other night in Anaheim, which is why we went with it, but also last season.

We are trying to find the right mix after that. Gio has been pretty solid for us there no matter who his partner has been. We are just kind of putting together what is working around that. In the game, you will see lots of mixing and matching, guys moving about, and trying to put guys in the best position to succeed.

Mitch Marner on his mistakes against Anaheim and the frustration he showed on the bench:

I take huge accountability and want to be the best player I can be every single night. I wasn’t happy with how I played. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best I can be every night. When I am not that, I put a lot on my shoulders and I need to be better.

My two costly mistakes cost us that game. The first one is early, but on the second one, I tried to make a play, and I need to make sure I am certain at that point. I take a lot of responsibility on myself and [take] ownership.

It is nice to be back home now. It’s a fresh slate now to get going.

Marner on Keefe’s decision to bench him for a shift in Anaheim:

I take a lot of accountability for myself. He does with everyone in this locker room. It doesn’t matter who you are. You have to show that every player is accountable regardless. I have no problem with that at all. I got the opportunity to go back out there and finish a couple of shifts. I almost finished that game in overtime, which I wish I had back. You have to take accountability and put it on yourself.

Marner on the team’s biggest area for improvement:

It’s been a little bit of a struggle for us to get out of our zone and go through the three zones with speed. That is something we really focused on through video. We have to make sure we are cleaner in the d-zone and cleaner getting out.

When we are doing that well, it is very hard to contain us, especially if we are moving through the neutral zone with speed. When we are on, that looks pretty flawless. It just hasn’t been there yet. We have to stay patient with it and try to lock it in [tonight].


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Forwards
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#47 Pierre Engvall – #29 Pontus Holmberg  – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #62 Denis Malgin

Defensemen
#78 TJ Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#44 Morgan Rielly – #98 Victor Mete
#55 Mark Giordano – #38 Rasmus Sandin

Goaltenders
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#50 Erik Källgren

Extras: Nick Robertson, Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, Filip Král
Injured
: Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin, Matt Murray, Timothy Liljegren, Jordie Benn


Philadelphia Flyers Projected Lines*

Forwards
#86 Joel Farabee – #13 Kevin Hayes – #11 Travis Konecny
#49 Noah Cates – #21 Scott Laughton – #74 Owen Tippett
#20 Kieffer Bellows – #58 Tanner Laczynski – #17 Zach MacEwen
#44 Nicolas Deslauriers – #23 Lukas Sedlak – #57 Wade Allison

Defensemen
#9 Ivan Provorov – #77 Tony DeAngelo
#6 Travis Sanheim – #70 Rasmus Ristolainen
#24 Nick Seeler – #54 Egor Zamula

Goaltenders
Starter: #32 Felix Sandstrom
#79 Carter Hart

Extras: Morgan Frost, Justin Braun
Injured/Out: Ryan Ellis, Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk, Cam Atkinson, Patrick Brown, Bobby Brink