TJ Brodie will return to the lineup as the Maple Leafs look to avenge their Oct. 29 loss to the LA Kings tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
While the 14-10-4 Kings have taken a step back so far this season with their .571 points percentage, a lot of it comes down to their inability to get enough saves.
The Kings’ discrepancy between expected goals against and goals against is easily the biggest in the NHL: their 3.5 goals against (all situations) per 60 ranks 10th-worst in the league, and their 2.77 expected goals against per 60 ranks seventh-best in the league. LA’s ability to score at a top-10 rate — with an especially good power play over the last month — has kept them competitive despite a miserable start in net.
With a league-worst .880 save percentage over all situations, drastic times have called for drastic measures for Kings GM Rob Blake, who last week waived and sent down his $5 million goaltender Cal Petersen for what the organization is calling a “reset” in the AHL.
36-year-old Jonathan Quick has started 18 of the Kings’ 28 games but has thus far continued his later-career pattern of following up a decent season with an awful one. Journeyman Pheonix Copley has been recalled in Petersen’s place and stopped 31 of 33 shots in his Kings debut, a 5-2 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.
The Leafs‘ story in net could not be more starkly different so far this season. While injuries have been an impediment, they have two goaltenders humming along above a .920 save percentage in Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. The latter will play tonight in just his second start in the last month due to a knee injury. Samsonov returned last Thursday against San Jose without any visible signs of rust, stopping 23 of 24 in a 3-1 win.
The other major lineup news for the Leafs is the return of TJ Brodie to the lineup after nearly a month on the sidelines due to an oblique injury. The coaching staff is going to ease Brodie in on a defense pairing with Conor Timmins, but assuming he finds his game legs and timing quickly enough, he’ll likely take shifts with other partners in key defensive situations as well as on the penalty kill.
Remarkably, despite the additional absences of Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, the Leafs didn’t lose a game in regulation during Brodie’s 10 games on the injured reserve (7-0-3) and allowed just two goals a night, which is third-best in the NHL over that stretch. As the bodies start to return on the blue line, hopefully, the commitment the overall team has shown defensively — as well as the superb netminding — does not waver. It’s been an impressively resilient stretch from a Leafs team that has found ways to win or collect points every single night for the last 12 games, a points streak largely built on a sturdy foundation of team defense and goaltending.
One area the Leafs will need to improve on tonight over their recent games is their discipline. They have taken 13 penalties in the last two games; they managed to survive seven penalties against Dallas, but all the shorthanded time cost them a point against Tampa. The Kings’ power play leads the league since the start of November (31%) and has nearly scored on every other power play for an extended stretch now: 14 goals on their last 31 opportunities is the best in the NHL by a large margin.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the lessons learned from the loss to LA earlier this season:
What we learned, certainly, is that they are a very strong defensive team. They are very structured. They make it hard to get to their net that way. They have a lot of depth in terms of both forward and defense.
In terms of production from the fourth line, with the way they have it configured today, they have 11 goals at five-on-five. That is as good a production as I’ve seen from any team in the league.
Their power play, in the last 10 games, has been by far the best in the NHL. That has given them confidence and a real boost offensively.
There is a lot to handle there for sure, but we feel our game is in a good place, too, and we are ready to take on any opponent. Certainly, this team comes with challenges for sure.
Keefe on Conor Timmins’ opportunity to play on a pairing with TJ Brodie:
Any time you get to pair up with a veteran player, it can only help. I think you will see Brodie move around and play with probably everybody at different times tonight, but it goes without saying that having a veteran to play with, you can just trust — especially in Brodie’s case — the type of player that he is. That he is there to support you throughout the game gives you the peace of mind to just go out and play.
Keefe on the Leafs’ resilience and ability to thrive even without Brodie and Morgan Rielly:
[Holl and Giordano] together have taken on so much, and that has allowed Sandin and Liljegren to find their game. Now, [Sandin-Liljegren] have really come on. All of that has come together for us, but the support that all of our defensemen have received from our forwards have really helped everybody else be better. That includes our goaltenders.
Everybody is kind of covering for each other. When forwards slip, the D have been making big plays. When D and forwards are slipping, goalies are making saves and giving us life and confidence. All of that coming together is the reason we have found success.
Keefe on his excitement about both his goalies being healthy and performing well:
When we were coming into the season, I was really excited about these two guys. We knew what their history was. We knew what we had to do to give them a chance at success and how we had to play a role to really help those guys thrive and play to their potential, but I was extremely excited.
When I looked at the combination of ability and experience in the league… Both of them, at different times, have carried the load for their team. Both have played in the playoffs. Obviously, Matt Murray has won the big game multiple times and won Stanley Cups.
The combination of all of that had me really excited. Those guys have delivered on it.
Keefe on whether there was any consideration given to starting Matt Murray again tonight:
There wasn’t. It was already pre-scheduled. We had already communicated.
Often, we don’t get too far ahead, but with this one, it is just simply based on the travel. There was not much recovery time. We traveled yesterday on our day off. It is a tough turnaround all the way from Dallas to here.
The fact that [Murray’s] workload was as high as it was just confirmed we had to stay with that.
Keefe on whether he is surprised by former Leaf Trevor Moore’s offensive growth in LA:
I wouldn’t say surprised. At the time [of the trade], he was really coming on in Toronto as well. I think it was the appropriate move for us and helped us at that time, but you never like to see a guy like that go.
You’ve seen him come in and grow through our program. He was a really important piece of our Calder Cup team, and you saw his growth through that.
It took him some time to get to that point. It took him some time in the NHL. But he has such a good skill set and is hard worker. He has gone home to California and done quite well. I am quite happy for him.
TJ Brodie on getting up to speed after a month on the sidelines:
It is just the mental side of it trying to get back into the game. It is hard to replicate the mindset in practice. It’s just about trying to be alert out there and make the right reads.
Mark Giordano on Brodie’s return to the lineup:
A guy like Brods you don’t replace. It’s good to have him back. He is going to take a lot of minutes out there. It is going to be big for our team.
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 – #62 Denis Malgin
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#78 TJ Brodie – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#30 Matt Murray
Extras: Wayne Simmonds, Mac Hollowell
Injured: Calle Järnkrok, Jordie Benn, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin
Los Angeles Kings Projected Lines
#22 Kevin Fiala – #11 Anze Kopitar – #34 Arthur Kaliyev
#12 Trevor Moore – #24 Phillip Danault – #33 Viktor Arvidsson
#19 Alex Iafallo – #13 Gabriel Vilardi – #9 Adrian Kempe
#28 Jaret Anderson-Dolan – #46 Blake Lizotte – #91 Carl Grundstrom
#44 Mikey Anderson – #8 Drew Doughty
#50 Sean Durzi – #3 Matt Roy
#2 Alexander Edler – #26 Sean Walker
Starter: #32 Jonathan Quick (unconfirmed)
#29 Pheonix Copley
Injured/Out: Brendan Lemieux