After securing seven out of eight points in their last four games, the Maple Leafs are starting to roll heading into a Monday night matchup against the Islanders, who have lost two straight (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Given the events of last season, it was refreshing to see the Leafs take care of business against the Sabres on Saturday night with a 5-2 win in which the Leafs were in control for the majority of the game. The top six produced, the ZAR-Kämpf-Malgin line continued to give the team good minutes, the third line chipped in with a goal, and Matt Murray shut the door. All seems to be well in Leaf land right now.
On the other side, the Islanders have gotten off to a decent start to the season. Over the last 10 games, they’ve gone 6-4-0, although they’ve lost two straight after winning four of five.
Unsurprisingly, the Islanders have gotten high-end goaltending from the elite tandem of Ilya Sorokin (.925) and Semyon Varlamov (.920) to start the year. It’s been necessary, too, as the Islanders have allowed the second-most expected goals (3.15) and high-danger chances (14.22) per 60 minutes at 5v5 this season, better than only the Ducks in both categories.
That should bode well for a Leafs team looking to continue its momentum from Saturday night offensively. Toronto is tied for 23rd in the league averaging just 2.89 goals per game. They are in part buoyed by a power play clicking at a 25% rate, but the Leafs are 27th in 5v5 goals per 60 (2.2) so far this season. That said, the Leafs have scored five goals in two of their past three, so perhaps the start of the positive offensive regression is upon us.
If you ask Sheldon Keefe, he has had no issues with the team’s play at 5v5 of late. The Leafs have been rock solid defensively, and Keefe seems to trust the offense will figure itself out if his team remains committed to playing patiently within their structure.
We talked about waiting for our opportunities to come. We felt they would come, whether that was at five-on-five or on special teams. Our power play came through.
Our guys remained committed through it. Obviously, we took too many penalties tonight. We gave them too many opportunities. Defensively, I thought we were exceptional tonight. Between how we defended and then how Matt Murray played in goal, I thought we were a tough team to beat tonight.
When the Leafs and Islanders met last season, Toronto won all three contests by multiple goals, with the Islanders scoring just three goals total over the season series.
The lineup will return to the same setup from the start of the game against Buffalo except for Erik Källgren starting in net as the Leafs will give Matt Murray a night off following his first three starts (played every other night starting last Tuesday) coming off of his injury.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge against the Islanders:
A lot of similarities in terms of what you expect when you play an Islanders type of team. When you look at their forward group, it is pretty much the same as it has been. There was a coaching change there, but there is still a lot of familiarity and consistency with how they have played.
Very strong goaltending. They play real hard and physical. They are a different type of team than we played last week. There will be some adjustments to the game and style of play that are going to be required to win.
Goaltending gives them a chance every night. It is a team that really believes in who they are and what they do.
Keefe on the decision to start Erik Källgren tonight:
Nothing to do with Källgren as much as it is to do with Murray. Today would’ve been four games in six days from him. That is a lot to ask for any goalie, let alone a guy coming off of injured reserve whose season is essentially just beginning. That is really all that it is.
At the same time, Källgren has done a good job for us. The team has played well when he has been in there. No hesitance that way.
Murray was able to get some work in today after a full day off yesterday. He will go in New Jersey.
Keefe on whether the opportunity to play with Auston Matthews changes William Nylander’s engagement defensively:
For William, the challenge is always to stay engaged defensively no matter who he is playing with, but when I use Auston in some difficult matchups and head-to-head matchups, the attention to detail has to be that much greater for everybody. That is the challenge for William.
Offensively, no matter who he is playing with, he plays the same. He has the same ability to produce and make plays. On some particular nights, it is even more important that the defensive details are there.
Keefe on the decision to return to Matthews-Nylander / Tavares-Marner tonight:
I felt that we were losing the matchup [vs. Tage Thompson on Saturday] and it wasn’t one I wanted to get away from in terms of Auston vs. Thompson. We just the switch could help us, and I felt that it did. For that game, I thought it was something we could use and could help us. At the same time, it could help William and John in the matchup they were going to get.
Today is a different challenge and opportunity for us against this Islanders team, so our focus is on that. We’ll reset things a little bit and get back to it.
Keefe on whether Nick Robertson sitting out for so long is a detriment to his development:
First of all, I am not going to answer this question every single day. It is getting redundant. What I would say is that there are a lot of benefits to being in the NHL for a young player.
Islanders head coach Lane Lambert on the challenge against the Leafs:
They are a quick team with a high-end power play. We have to stay out of the box. We’ll focus on our game and our game plan.
This is a big game for us and the last game of this six-game road trip. We need to have a successful result.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #62 Denis Malgin
#47 Pierre Engvall – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#44 Morgan Rielly – #18 Jordie Benn
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #50 Erik Källgren
#30 Matt Murray
Extras: Nick Robertson
Injured: TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, Ilya Samsonov
New York Islanders Projected Lines
#11 Zach Parise – #13 Mathew Barzal – #26 Oliver Wahlstrom
#27 Anders Lee – #29 Brock Nelson – #18 Anthony Beauvillier
#12 Josh Bailey – #44 Jean-Gabriel Pageau – #21 Kyle Palmieri
#17 Matt Martin – #53 Casey Cizikas – #15 Cal Clutterbuck
#3 Adam Pelech – #6 Ryan Pulock
#28 Alexander Romanov – #8 Noah Dobson
#25 Sebastian Aho – #24 Scott Mayfield
Starter: #30 Ilya Sorokin
#40 Semyon Varlamov