The Ryan O’Reilly era begins on Hockey Night in Canada as the Maple Leafs look to end a recent trend of upset losses to their oldest rival (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Reflecting on the Mike Babcock era is a divisive subject among the fan base and not at all our goal here, but what he definitely got right was accurately predicting the culture shift to come in Toronto whereby coveted Southern Ontario-born players would want to come home and chase Stanley Cups in a Leaf sweater.
There is no more fitting of an occasion for Clinton, Ontario’s Ryan O’Reilly to make his Leafs debut than on HNIC against the Habs on home ice, where he’ll no doubt be greeted with a raucous reception tonight. The post-deadline-addition playoff anticipation hasn’t been this high in this market since the Brian Leetch trade back in 2004. The buzz will be palpable in the building.
Both O’Reilly and Noel Acciari were “adamant” about jumping straight into the lineup per Sheldon Keefe, and so we’ll get our first taste tonight of how they can transform the two bottom-six lines of the team, assuming O’Reilly lines up at 3C to start (we won’t know the official line combinations until closer to puck drop).
Acciari could slot in on the RW to start with the Leafs already having Matthews-Tavares-O’Reilly-Kampf down the middle, but he is also fully capable of lining up at center. We’ll probably see all manner of combinations here in the final 25 games. The possibilities are endless.
In net, Ilya Samsonov is sick but will be a possibility for tomorrow’s game in Chicago. That means Joe Woll will start for the second time this season.
Head to Head: Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Canadiens in five out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the additions of Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari:
What is most exciting for me on the coaching side of it, which is why it was difficult to sleep: You have so many options now with such an abundance of depth at center. We can do lots of different things. There are people we can move and can play center or wing, including the guys we have acquired.
It gives me lots of options. I expect, between now and the end of the regular season, we will try a number of different things. We will try to get, A) a feel for what our best mix is, and B) potential adjustments and looks we can throw out depending on what the game or opponent calls for.
Keefe on where Ryan O’Reilly can slot into the lineup and if he might fit on John Tavares’ wing:
I mean, he is a great player. He would fit very well with anyone in our team and in any spot in our lineup.
Mark Giordano on his memories of playing against O’Reilly:
He has such a good stick. He knocks down pucks. He is frustrating to play against when he forechecks against you, gets his stick on the puck, and knocks it out of the air and stuff like that. He is a really detailed guy. He plays the right away.
Giordano on the vote of confidence in the players from the GM:
We are a team that believes in ourselves and believes we can go all the way. Making additions like this is management’s way of saying they feel the same way.
Giordano on the addition of Noel Acciari:
He is a hard guy to play against as well. Really, really finishes every check. He is on the body a lot. He is one guy for sure that when he is out there, you know he is out there. He always has a good stick. Extremely hard to play against.
We are excited to have him as well. They are going to be two huge adds for our team.
Giordano on the addition of another Southern Ontario player to the team:
I think it is great for the organization. Speaking for myself and I am sure some of the other guys, too, you take a lot of pride growing up. A lot of us were Leafs fans. You know what the game of hockey means to the city and the province.
It is exciting. We feel like we can do some damage.
John Tavares on the message from management with the additions of O’Reilly and Acciari:
When Kyle and the management group make a move like that, it sends a strong message of belief in the team and what we want to accomplish. We are really excited about it. It should be a real boost.
They are two really solid players in what they bring and what they have accomplished. Just overall, in terms of an energy perspective, any time you make those types of additions, it sends a strong message and gets the group energized and excited.
Tavares on the elements O’Reilly will bring:
Maybe a comparison isn’t the best way, but he just has a very similar style to Bergeron just with the awareness, the hockey sense, and the two-way ability. He is so strong on faceoffs. He is just an unbelievable competitor. Very strong on the puck. Leadership qualities.
He has a lot of versatility to his game. I remember seeing those things in junior hockey when we were playing against each other. He is an overall complete player. He is extremely competitive and showed that when he won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe. It is really impressive.
Those qualities will fit in really well with us and set a really good standard for guys to feed off of and learn from.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines*
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#91 John Tavares – #90 Ryan O’Reilly – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kämpf – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #52 Noel Acciari – #15 Alex Kerfoot
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #3 Justin Holl
Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#50 Erik Källgren
Extras: Conor Timmins, Wayne Simmonds, Jordie Benn
Injured/Out: Matt Murray, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#49 Rafel Harvey-Pinard – #14 Nick Suzuki – #17 Josh Anderson
#63 Evgenii Dadonov – #60 Alex Belzile – #68 Mike Hoffman
#27 Jonathan Drouin – #28 Christian Dvorak – #40 Joel Armia
#55 Michael Pezzetta – #32 Rem Pitlick – #56 Jesse Ylonen
#8 Michael Matheson – #52 Justin Barron
#54 Jordan Harris – #58 David Savard
#6 Chris Wideman – #26 Johnathan Kovacevic
Starter: #34 Jake Allen
#55 Samuel Montembeault
Injured/Out: Carey Price, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, Sean Monahan, Kaiden Guhle, Jake Evans, Juraj Slafkovsky, Arber Xhekaj, Kirby Dach, Cole Caufield