The Maple Leafs will make their second-ever visit to the Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle as they seek payback for a 5-1 loss to the Kraken back on January 5th (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
The first game of this season series was a clunker of a contest from the Leafs‘ perspective, one that got away from them despite a strong first period in which they should have built a multi-goal lead.
The fast and aggressive Kraken forecheck, and their ability to come at their opponent in waves with their depth, caused the Leafs some issues in the middle frame. The Leafs also were caught out for a few easy rush goals on the counterattack as they chased the game and pushed for offense. Matt Murray struggled in the net, and Sheldon Keefe kept him in the crease despite conceding five goals in a 16-minute span.
Seattle was entering the game on a heater at the time of their win in Toronto, but that is certainly not the case this time around. They’ve lost two in a row and are 4-5-1 in their last 10, which has dropped them into a wildcard position. A popular pick as a regression candidate after a sky-high PDO in the first half, the Kraken have struggled to outscore their problems in net as often as they were earlier on in the campaign. They’re scoring just 2.78 goals per game in February (22nd) and allowing 3.56 per game (24th).
Seattle’s unsustainable scoring pace from earlier in the year has been predictably cooling off. Jared McCann, who scored 22 goals on 78 shots over his first 39 games (a ridiculous 28% shooting percentage), has four goals in his last 16. Calder candidate Matty Beniers has scored just three goals in his last 16 after racking up 16 in his first 40 games.
Daniel Sprong scored 15 goals in his first 37 games despite playing just 11 minutes a night; he’s now scoreless in his last 10 and has been healthy scratched in favour of AHL call-up Jesper Froden. The injury to Andre Burakovsky, who had 11 points in his last 13 games, has also hurt the Kraken’s cause up front.
Throughout the offensive downturn, Seattle’s goaltending has remained about as spotty as it’s been through the franchise’s existence to date. Martin Jones is 2-5-0 with a .869 save percentage in his last seven, although Phillip Grubauer has been carrying more of the load lately and is giving them around league-average goaltending at .910 over his last eight starts.
The Leafs enter this contest in good health and better form coming off of three wins in four games since the Ryan O’Reilly acquisition, although they will shake up their top two lines coming off of Auston Matthews’ first three-game pointless streak since the start of the 2021-22 season (when he first returned from wrist surgery). Matthews and Marner will reunite, creating our first look at O’Reilly with William Nylander on his right wing.
On the blue line, Rasmus Sandin is expected to return from his shoulder injury and will pair off with Justin Holl, which keeps the Mark Giordano – Timothy Liljegren pairing together and reunites Morgan Rielly with TJ Brodie.
Head to Head: Kraken vs. Leafs
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Kraken in three out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge against the Kraken:
Lots of speed, skill, and scoring. They are the number one team in the NHL in terms of five-on-five goals; they might’ve slipped into second here now, but they have been right at the top of the league all season long.
If you make mistakes and let them in behind you, they can make you pay for it. They play hard with good structure. They make it hard to get to their net. It is going to be a tough game.
In terms of our plan, it’s not unlike our game against Buffalo in terms of how we defend, and then we will look to generate offense from there.
Keefe on what he is looking for out of the Tavares – O’Reilly – Nylander line:
I have confidence it is going to work because they’re good players. I am not looking for anything in particular. Obviously, Willy — with the type of season he is having — is going to make anything work.
To that end, I just want to see the guys get some time in getting comfortable with one another. It is going to take a little bit of time for the different skill sets to come together, but John and Will have played lots of hockey together and had lots of success. O’Reilly will fit in just fine there, too.
Keefe on why Matthews and Marner haven’t been as productive together as they were last season:
We have talked about it and looked at some different things with them. Auston has had some chances. It just hasn’t gone in for him this year. There is that piece of it. It magnifies everything there.
The moment it doesn’t go in, you start to press or simplify things a little bit. Maybe you simplify a little bit too much. You get away from some of the things that make you really go.
We are looking for that line to really start to click in terms of how they move the puck and generate chances and momentum for our team. The timing is right to give them another go.
Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol on Mark Giordano’s impact in Seattle:
His time here was short, but his impact was great. You can ask any of the players that were in the dressing room with him last year what he meant to our group in terms of setting a foundation and setting a standard of compete and professionalism. He is always going to have his stamp on our group and our organization.
Hakstol on the challenge against the Leafs’ elite centermen and their strength on faceoffs:
They have different options, right? We saw it the other night against Boston. On our defensive-zone draws, on clean losses, you put yourself in a position to have to face set plays and to face different things that way.
The big thing is individually competing in that dot. Collectively, you have to be on your toes and ready, anticipating the drop of the puck. You have to be ready to play the puck once that initial drop happens. You have to know your roles and basic responsibilities. You have to play the game within that.
I’ll say this: There is a lot of focus on the other team’s centermen against Boston, but we scored a faceoff goal, and we probably had more direct opportunities off of our offensive-zone faceoffs than they did even though, numerically, they certainly had the better numbers and had some potential good looks.
We are going to have to be really sharp and competitive there [vs. Toronto].
Hakstol on his team gearing up for a playoff push down the stretch:
There are not many nights when you are going to score your way to winning at this time of year. [It requires] guys thinking and playing the right way all the time, and no one worrying about statistical games. It’s about everyone worrying about the team outcome The power that it brings to the group at this time of year is really important.
This is the group that started. This is the group that is going to finish this race. The mindset is something we have talked about all year. The importance of the mindset becomes greater at this time of year because the results are harder to come by.
There is a selfless mentality that has to take place at this time of year to be able to have success.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#91 John Tavares – #90 Ryan O’Reilly – #88 William Nylander
#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: #34 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Extras: Joey Anderson, Conor Timmins
Injured: Matt Murray, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete
Seattle Kraken Projected Lines
#19 Jared McCann – #10 Matthew Beniers – #7 Jordan Eberle
#17 Jaden Schwartz – #21 Alex Wennberg – #38 Jesper Froden
#20 Eeli Tolvanen – #37 Yanni Gourde – #22 Oliver Bjorkstrand
#9 Ryan Donato – #67 Morgan Geekie – #13 Brandon Tanev
#29 Vince Dunn – #6 Adam Larsson
#24 Jamie Oleksiak – #3 William Borgen
#28 Carson Soucy – #4 Justin Schultz
Starter: #31 Philipp Grubauer
#30 Martin Jones
Injured/Out: Andre Burakovsky, Chris Driedger, Joonas Donskoi