The Maple Leafs and Lightning kick off their 2022-23 season series with the Leafs’ five-game winning streak and Mitch Marner’s franchise-record-tying 18-game points streak on the line tonight in Tampa (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
The pregame media availabilities from the two head coaches and respective player groups had a clear theme: The Lightning were (unsurprisingly) happy to reflect on last year’s playoff victory ahead of tonight’s matchup, and the Leafs were looking to move on, with Sheldon Keefe and Wayne Simmonds calling it just another regular-season game.
The two teams were evenly-matched not just in the seven-game playoff series (4-3 in favour of the Lightning) but also throughout the regular-season series (2-2-0) last year, finishing the 2021-22 campaign with six wins for the Lightning to five for the Leafs.
With both clubs dealing with injuries to start the season, the Leafs are off to a better start at 15-5-1 to the Lightning’s 14-8-1, but Tampa holds two games in hand and will benefit from the return and season debut of centerman Anthony Cirelli tonight. The teams again stack up pretty closely by the numbers, with the Lightning scoring a little more prolifically this season and the Leafs locking it down better defensively.
|Stat (NHL rank)||Lightning||Maple Leafs|
|Goals For/60 (rank)||3.44 (6th)||3.02 (17th)|
|Goals Against/60||3.05 (17th)||2.46 (3rd)|
|xGF/60||3.41 (9th)||3.29 (12th)|
|xGA/60||3.06 (14th)||2.86 (9th)|
|PP%||28.7% (4th)||24.1% (12th)|
|PK%||77.8% (20th)||79.2% (14th)|
With Calle Järnkork the latest to join the injured list for the Leafs, Sheldon Keefe will shuffle his forward lines by bumping Nick Robertson up onto a line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner and David Kämpf onto a line with Pierre Engvall and Alex Kerfoot. Wayne Simmonds will play on the fourth line with Pontus Holmberg and Zach Aston-Reese.
The matchup against this opponent on the road — the Lightning present a balanced top-nine with Cirelli back in the fold — appears to be motivating Keefe to rejig his bottom six by forming a line in Kerfoot – Kampf – Engvall that he’ll trust in defensive situations against tough competition.
The coaching staff has made it tough on Robertson to gain traction at times this season with their lineup decisions, but this is a significant opportunity for the 21-year-old next to two players in excellent offensive form.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on whether there are any emotions felt entering Tampa’s building after last year’s playoff series:
None. It is just another regular-season game. It is a new season. It is a new team. It is just another regular-season game. I don’t think that sort of stuff goes from one season to the next.
It is a very good team we are playing. Every time you play them, it is a competitive and physical game. The playoffs haven’t been on my mind.
Wayne Simmonds on whether there are lingering emotions around this matchup after last year’s playoff loss:
We’re in the regular season right now. We know we can’t do anything about what happened in the playoffs. All we can do is put our best foot forward in the regular season to put ourselves in the best position.
This is a team that is standing in our way, right? Obviously, we know what happened. It is going to fuel us a little bit, but it’s another game.
Mark Giordano’s reflections on the playoff series loss to Tampa last season:
Losing 2-1 in seven games is extremely close. Both teams are right there and evenly matched. Give them credit. They are a team that has won and a team that knows how to win. They just had that little tiny edge on us in playoffs last year. That was the difference.
Simmonds on Mitch Marner’s 18-game points streak:
He’s been phenomenal. He is driving this team right now not only offensively but in every other part of his game, too.
If you think about the way he backchecks through the neutral zone, he picks guys’ pockets and turns it the other way into offense.
He is just playing so well in every aspect of the game right now. It is definitely nice to have him and nice to watch.
Keefe on the boost Anthony Cirelli’s return provides to the Lightning:
It just slots everybody in differently for them. It gives them another reliable centerman. It changes things quite a bit. I am sure they are really happy to have him back.
Keefe on the decision to insert Wayne Simmonds into the lineup:
It is more the opponent and what is happening with our team. We lost Järnkork coming in here. Somebody is going to come into the lineup. It is a veteran team here in Tampa. There is some size and physicality and there could be some mismatches there. We get another guy with some size, presence, and experience in. To me, it was a bit of a no-brainer in this one, especially with Järnkrok’s injury.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper on what stands out to him about last year’s series vs. the Leafs:
I do remember the feeling after Game 7 — that relief or exuberance. There were so many emotions standing on the ice after we won. I do remember not feeling so good when Brayden Point went down. That wasn’t great. I remember not feeling so great after the 5-0 shellacking in Game 1. I do remember feeling great about Nick Paul’s performance in Game 7.
There are a lot of things I remember about that series. At the end of the series, I just remember it was two good hockey teams that went at it. If you played seven more games, it probably would’ve gone seven more. It was that close.
I am just glad we came out on top.
Cooper on Anthony Cirelli’s return and what he expects from him in his first game back:
We’re really happy. We had three long playoff years, and I think it took its toll on Tony. We are extremely happy to have him back. His body needed the rest. Hopefully, we get three more postseasons like the ones he delivered for us in the last couple of years.
The one thing about Tony: his energy, tenaciousness, and all of those things that aren’t necessarily your hand skill are what he brings to the table. When work ethic is your number one asset, regardless of whether you have played in a while, it is something you carry with you. It is a good trait to have.
For me, it will be the secondary stuff: where is his timing at, where to be on the ice, and all of those other things like time and space with defensemen. Those are the kinds of things that are going to take a little bit of time. I don’t care how good you are, it takes a little time to nestle back in, but his work ethic is so strong, I anticipate he will be okay.
Cooper on the Leafs’ defensive play:
I wouldn’t say their numbers were porous in years past. I think that has always been a strength. I think there is probably a little bit of urgency with the team with the injuries on the backend.
That, from experience… I can remember last year when we played the Kings and we could only dress four defensemen. Our defensive game kicked right in. A little bit of urgency.
That might be the case with the Leafs, but I would say the Leafs are a really well-structured team. It seems like this year, regardless of who they play in there — whether it is the goalie or defensemen — they are defending well. You are not seeing any 9-8 games. I am sure the coach is happy about that. Maybe not all of the players, but a defensive mindset is a great foundation to have if you are going to make a run in the playoffs.
Victor Hedman on Mitch Marner’s 18-game points streak:
We get Tony back, so hopefully, he’ll take care of that. That is an unbelievable run he is on, obviously.
We have played against him a lot. When you are feeling good about your game, things come to you as well. We are going to have to make it hard on him, make him play in his own end as much as we can, and try to eliminate the grade-A chances.
He is an unbelievable player who is going to find the open space. You just have to try to limit them to a few a game.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #64 David Kämpf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#98 Victor Mete – #81 Mac Hollowell
Starter: #30 Matt Murray
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Extras: Conor Timmins, Denis Malgin
Injured: Calle Järnkrok, Jordie Benn, Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
#38 Brandon Hagel – #21 Brayden Point – #86 Nikita Kucherov
#91 Steven Stamkos – #20 Nick Paul – #17 Alex Killorn
#90 Vladislav Namestnikov – #71 Anthony Cirelli – #79 Ross Colton
#14 Patrick Maroon – #41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – #10 Corey Perry
#77 Victor Hedman – #98 Mikhail Sergachev
#28 Ian Cole – #81 Erik Cernak
#24 Zach Bogosian – #48 Nick Perbix
Starter: #88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
#1 Brian Elliot
Injured: Cal Foote