The Maple Leafs are looking to avenge last Friday’s home loss to the Penguins — and earn Matt Murray his first victory in the Toronto crease against his former team — tonight in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
Despite a big push in the second period while down 2-1 to tie the game, the Leafs weren’t able to generate much in the way of offense in the third period of Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Penguins, recording just four shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. Toronto rebounded the following night by scoring three unanswered to come back from 2-0 down to the Canucks, while the Penguins traveled to Montreal and gave up the lead three separate times in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Canadiens.
Tonight, the Leafs look for revenge in a money-on-the-board game for goaltender Matt Murray, whose return to the crease following a hip injury at the very start of the season lines up with his first-ever return to Pittsburgh for the former Penguins netminder. Murray ended up missing around four weeks of game action on a four-to-six-week recovery timeline for his injured hip.
The Leafs will be hoping Murray’s familiarity with the surroundings and past success in the city will help reverse the ugly losing trend in the organization’s recent trips to Pittsburgh: Since 2019-20, the Leafs have lost by scorelines of 6-1, 5-2, and 7-1 in their visits to the PPG Paints Arena.
Several lineup changes have taken place for the Leafs since the Penguins’ 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday night. Defenseman TJ Brodie is out for a minimum of two weeks due to an oblique injury, and Jordie Benn has entered the lineup — with much success in his season debut — in Brodie’s place.
As Sheldon Keefe searches far and wide for the right mix on his third forward line, he will insert Pontus Holmberg in between Pierre Engvall and Calle Järnkrok on an all-Swede unit, hoping Holmberg’s natural center presence and Engvall’s return to the wing sparks some chemistry. That means Nick Robertson will take a seat tonight. The inability to control matchups on the road against a team with the two-headed monster of Sidney Crosby – Evgeni Malkin down the middle is likely influencing the decision-making to some degree here.
The top six was also shaken up in the win over Vancouver — Auston Matthews paired with William Nylander, Mitch Marner with John Tavares — and will remain in place to start the game tonight.
On the Penguins’ side of things, the final lineup won’t be known until game time, but Casey DeSmith — who picked up the win against the Leafs on Friday — is expected to start in goal, and former Leaf Kasperi Kapanen may be in on the team’s fourth line after sitting out the game in Toronto as a healthy scratch depending on the game-time decision on (former Leaf prospect) Filip Hällander’s illness.
Game Day Quotes
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan on Matt Murray’s abilities as a goaltender and contributions to the Penguins’ Cup wins in 2016 and 2017:
I think Matt’s play and the body of work that he built here in Pittsburgh speak for itself as far as the impact that he had on helping us win back-to-back Stanley Cups. He was a significant part of it.
I think he is a really good goaltender and has shown an ability to play in a high-stakes environment like that at a young age. It speaks volumes about his character and the competitive athlete that he is.
As far as how he stacks up with respect to the other players on our team, I think he is one player, as part of those Stanley Cup teams, that played a significant role in helping us win championships. He deserves a lot of credit for that.
Sullivan on his team’s ability to limit the Leafs to four shots on goal in the third period of Friday’s game:
I think we did a better job with our structure in the neutral zone and trying to slow their offense down. One of their strengths is their transition game. They have one of the best quick-strike offenses in the league. They are a team that likes to stretch the ice when they have the opportunity.
I thought our guys made good decisions as far as some of the subtleties of the game such as line changes, where we didn’t leave ourselves vulnerable to get caught in a transition odd-man rush. We were making good decisions late in shifts. Our changes were clean, not sloppy. That is a really important aspect of being hard to play against and not giving teams any easy offense or easy looks.
The structure we had through the neutral zone in the third period helped us in that capacity. That is one aspect of our game, but I don’t think it is the only one. When our team is playing its best, we are playing the game on our toes, controlling territory, and putting pressure on our opponents. If it isn’t with our possession game, it is with our pursuit game.
But we have to have the ability to defend when we don’t have the puck, make sure we have some structure, and that everybody understands the details associated with that. In the third period the other night in Toronto, we were pretty locked in there.
Sheldon Keefe on Matt Murray starting off his Leafs career on rocky footing with the injury:
Matt is a professional. He is as even-keeled and confident as they come. I don’t think it has affected him at all. I think he has accepted the situation for what it is and has gotten to work to recover as quickly as he can and be prepared for whenever the time comes to get back in the net, which is tonight. He looks very prepared.
Keefe on the impact of Jordie Benn’s presence in the room:
It’s just his personality. He is a guy who is a true professional. He is himself. He is confident. He keeps things loose and light, and yet he plays extremely hard and leaves it all out there. You can never have enough of those guys.
Michael Bunting on “resetting” his game now that he’s back on a line with Auston Matthews:
Maybe I was just gripping my stick too tight and maybe getting away from my game — not going to those dirty areas or going to the front of the net. I’ve got to go back to what brought me success last year and what brings me success as a player.
That is something I am going to focus on: going to those areas, going to the net, and getting the pucks to Matty and Will. Let them do their thing, and get open as much as I can. I am looking forward to doing that tonight.
Bunting on “walking the line” and the number of penalties he’s taken this season:
I kind of have to know that is my game, and I attract a lot during the game. I have to make sure I am playing on the line. I can’t be crossing it, taking bad penalties, and putting the team in a bad position. I am going to work on that.
Auston Matthews on what the team learned from its loss to Pittsburgh on Friday:
Throughout the game, I thought we had really good parts, but I thought we had some lapses. They are a really experienced team and know how to play in tight games and situations like that. I thought we got away from our game a little bit. They have the maturity to keep rolling along and keep playing. It’s about consistency within the 60 minutes and making sure we are taking care of the puck on both sides.
Matthews on playing with William Nylander instead of Mitch Marner:
[Nylander and I] have a lot of experience playing together. The chemistry we have developed in the past doesn’t go away too quickly. He is a really special player and a lot of fun to play with. We just try to work off of each other and create as much as we can out there.
We just try to play and move into spaces so we can utilize each other — just kind of making plays and reading off of each other. We are supporting all over the ice in the offensive zone and defensive zone. I don’t think my game changes much.
Justin Holl on new defense partner Mark Giordano:
He is super smart. It is crazy how long he has been playing and how good he has been for so long. He continues to be really good. He makes it easy for his partner.
Sullivan on Evgeni Malkin’s recent form (eight points in his last six games, including a goal and assist against the Leafs):
I see an inspired player. I think Geno is playing really good hockey for us. In his last two games, he’s played extremely well. He is on the puck. Most shifts, when he is on the ice, his line has been very good for us.
There are always aspects of Geno’s game where we are trying to help him reduce a little bit of the risk associated with his game, but overall, I see a guy who is inspired to play and wants to help this team win.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #62 Denis Malgin
#44 Morgan Rielly – #18 Jordie Benn
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #30 Matt Murray
#50 Erik Källgren
Extras: Nick Robertson, Kyle Clifford, Mac Hollowell
Injured: TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, Ilya Samsonov
Pittsburgh Penguins Projected Lines
#58 Jake Guentzel – #87 Sidney Crosby – #17 Bryan Rust
#16 Jason Zucker – #71 Evgeni Malkin – #67 Rickard Rakell
#23 Brock McGinn – #77 Jeff Carter – #43 Danton Heinen
#42 Kasperi Kapanen / #36 Filip Hällander – #25 Ryan Poehling – #15 Josh Archibald
#28 Marcus Petersson – #58 Kris Letang
#8 Brian Dumoulin – #26 Jeff Petry
#73 Pierre-Oliver Joseph / #2 Chad Ruhwedel – #44 Jan Rutta
Starter: #1 Casey DeSmith
#35 Tristan Jarry
Injured: Teddy Blueger, Filip Hallander