The Maple Leafs welcome the top defensive team in the league to the Scotiabank Arena as they attempt to end a two-game losing slide on home ice before embarking on a five-game road trip (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4).

One of the most hard-working and consistently structured teams at five-on-five with the elite underlying metrics to prove it, the Hurricanes will provide another tough test at the end of a week full of tough tests for the Maple Leafs, who are looking to get a mediocre month of March (3-3-1) turned as Tampa nips at their heels in the race for home ice.

A really cagey 2-1 shootout loss to Colorado was a good lead-in to tonight as the Leafs will need to figure out a way to break through offensively against another team that can control games territorially and protects its slot really effectively.

No team owns the shot-attempt battle and expected-goals battle at both ends of the rink quite like the Hurricanes do. For what they lack in game-breaking scorers offensively — especially after the recent loss of Andrei Svechnikov for the rest of the year due to a knee injury — and in elite goaltending, they consistently tilt the ice on teams and produce a lot of volume toward the net while making it hard on the opposition to penetrate the interior of their defensive zone.

There is also the matter of the Carolina penalty kill that has the best goal differential of any PK in the league (11 goals for, 34 against) and hasn’t allowed a power-play goal against in the last 28 straight attempts dating back a full calendar month. The Leafs‘ power-play units will need to be extra attentive in managing the puck against a team with the Canes’ level of aggression and confidence while shorthanded.

The importance of net-front defense is also all the more important against a Carolina team with a really active defense that loves to funnel pucks toward the net.  Sheldon Keefe will be hoping Luke Schenn can provide a boost in that regard as Schenn will make his home debut v2.0 in his first game as a Leaf in Toronto since April of 2012.

Making way is Justin Holl, which means Schenn will be picking up Holl’s slack on the PK while moving around the lineup a fair bit in the seven-defensemen setup.

Interestingly, Keefe has indicated a plan to shift to 12/6 in the back-to-back in Ottawa tomorrow night. With energy levels a definite consideration in a week in which the Leafs will be playing their fourth game in six days tomorrow night, we’ll see where the minute distribution ends up tonight after Keefe described Mitch Marner (29:10) and Auston Matthews’ (26:52) workload as “way too many minutes” vs. Colorado on Wednesday.

Head to Head: Hurricanes vs. Maple Leafs

In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Hurricanes in three out of five offensive categories, but the Hurricanes hold the advantage over the Leafs in four out of five defensive categories.

Game Day Quotes

Jake McCabe on the challenge against the Hurricanes:

They defend so well. They are man-to-man all over the ice. They do a great job of staying above, pressuring, and forechecking. They deliver a ton of pucks to your net. You have to be really good in front of your own net with box outs and sticks. They are a really high competitive team in all three zones.

Luke Schenn on his home debut 2.0 in Toronto:

A lot of excitement just being out there in the morning skate with all of the flashbacks and memories. I am super excited to come back here and play in front of this organization and this fan base on the home side. I have been here a few times on the visiting side in the past decade or so, but it is pretty special to come back, be in this dressing room, come out through this tunnel, and be on this bench.

Schenn on the full circle moment of returning to the Leafs:

Just kind of how my career has evolved, to get the chance to come back here and play in ront of this fan base, it is extremely special to me.

Over the course of my career, there have been some downs where I have been on waivers a couple of times or in free agency. I was always kind of thinking in the back of the mind, “I wonder if Toronto would ever give me a shot here again.”

I am glad they didn’t because I feel the timing is better now just based on my experience throughout my career. I feel more prepared for it.

Sheldon Keefe on Schenn’s ability to manage the emotions of his return to Toronto:

A guy like Luke Schenn is still playing and has had the type of career he has because he knows exactly who he is and what he needs to do. I am not concerned about Luke trying to do too much.

Keefe on the areas for improvement in the remaining 15 games:

Getting healthy with O’Rellly, in particular, will allow a lot of things to really fall into place for us in terms of how our lines work and how we roll out our team.

Right now, things are a lot more in flux since O’Reilly has been out. That in and of itself is one thing you would like to get solidified.

The other thing for me: Whether it is power play, penalty kill, even strength, details, playing with leads, handling different adversity such as the other night where it’s such a tight game, you want to be really sharp in those areas. We were okay the other night, but we didn’t get the second goal. You want to feel good about those little details.

The other thing, if we have learned anything, is that you get your game feeling good and all of that, but I mean… Anything that happens through the regular season is going to be forgotten when everything gets back to zero and you are playing for real again.

It is just a matter of good habits, feel good about the team, get the group healthy, ramp up, and be ready to go.

Keefe on Calle Jarnkrok’s fit on the top line in Wednesday’s game:

I thought he did a good job. He was moving his feet. He was on the puck. He made a couple of good plays. I thought he contributed to the goal that we scored in helping move the puck up the ice and keeping those guys moving.

That is a really important part of playing with those guys: You have to keep the chains moving. You have to keep them moving up ice, moving fast, and on offense when the puck comes to you. That is what I thought he did really well.

He forechecks well. Defensively, he is responsible. He did a good job and has done a really good job no matter where we have put him.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#19 Calle Järnkrok – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#58 Michael Bunting – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #28 Sam Lafferty
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #52 Noel Acciari

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #2 Luke Schenn
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#56 Erik Gustafsson

Starter: #34 Ilya Samsonov
#30 Matt Murray

Extras: Justin Holl, Wayne Simmonds, Conor Timmins
Ryan O’Reilly, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete

Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines

#13 Jesse Puljujarvi – #20 Sebastian Aho – #24 Seth Jarvis
#86 Teuvo Teravainen – #82 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #88 Marin Necas
#48 Jordan Martinook – #11 Jordan Staal – #71 Jesper Fast
#21 Derek Stepan – #18 Jack Drury – #23 Stefan Noesen

#74 Jaccob Slavin – #8 Brent Burns
#76 Brady Skjei – #22 Brett Pesce
#41 Shayne Gostisbehere – #15 Dylan Coghlan

Starter: #52 Pyotr Kochetkov
#31 Frederik Andersen

Injured: Jake Gardiner, Ondrej Kase, Max Pacioretty, Andrei Svechnikov, Antti Raanta