Jake McCabe, Mitch Marner, and Mark Giordano are getting a night off as the Maple Leafs enter the second half of a back-to-back against a rested Detroit Red Wings team (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet Ontario).
With second place in the Atlantic fairly secure, the Maple Leafs continue to use rest as a weapon down the final stretch of the regular season. McCabe is the last up of the Leafs‘ defensemen to get a rest amid the rotation on the backend, while Mark Giordano will take the second half of a back-to-back off for the second time in the last couple of weeks (the first being a night off in Ottawa back on March 18).
As for Marner, few forwards in the league need it more than him; he’s played all 75 games to date, has surpassed 22 minutes in eight of his last 14 games, and leads all NHL forwards in time on ice per game since March 1 at 22:45. He looked visibly gassed in the final few minutes of the Florida game and did not have his usual stuff in Ottawa last night, so the timing feels right.
With the team taking extra precautions with the injury recoveries of Noel Acciari and Ryan O’Reilly, Nick Abruzzese will play his first NHL game since finishing up the regular season with the team last year coming out of college. His 44 points in 65 games with the Marlies rank seventh in the AHL in rookie scoring.
Sheldon Keefe on the call-up of Nick Abruzzese
“They are very happy with his progress down there. He is a very intelligent player that makes plays. He is very consistent with his approach and his play.
When you talk to [Marlies staff], he is a guy who has been pretty steady all the way through. There are no real peaks and no huge dips.
There have been a few different call-ups now where he has been a guy that probably warranted a recall, but for different reasons, you go with other guys. We talked about wanting to get Zohorna in here and give him some opportunity to get acclimated to our program. He is still adjusting with the Marlies as it is, but certainly, to get some time here…
Abruzzese has taken a bit more time here to actually get up, but I am sure he will be ready to go. He is a guy who at this time last year was playing for us pretty consistently and did a nice job.”
In net, after Ilya Samsonov quieted the chatter about his struggles on the road with a fantastic shutout effort in Ottawa, Matt Murray looks to answer the call on home ice, where he’s posted just a .880 save percentage this season despite a 5-2-1 record.
Head to Head: Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Red Wings in four out of five offensive categories and five out of five defensive categories.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the decision to rest Mitch Marner:
He has some bumps and bruises he has been going through as someone who has played as much as he has would.
In this case, it is a back-to-back. Mitch has played a lot. There is some wear and tear that comes with that. We have another back-to-back upcoming, so we will look at different things as we go.
Our schedule is going to get quite busy leading up to the playoffs, so we will look at that.
Keefe on the decision to rest Jake McCabe:
If you look at all of the other defensemen, I believe he is the only one who hasn’t sat. It has been a good stretch for him. We have been wanting to give him some time off.
Because we have been wanting to look at him and Brodie and give that more consistency, and also how it affected taking him out, we just wanted to keep him going.
It is a back-to-back tonight, and he has done a tremendous job for us since being here. He has taken on a lot of minutes and done very well.
He is going to be a guy we are going to lean on a lot. If we have a chance to give him a breath, I think it is important to do so.
Keefe on taking advantage of the team’s strong position in the standings and the team’s depth to create rest opportunities down the stretch:
We have tremendous depth and we are in a good spot. In many cases, we have earned the opportunity to make decisions appropriately, look at the big picture, and manage players accordingly.
We do still want to build our game and make sure our mindset is right. We don’t want to let up in any way. I was talking to the guys this morning about the fact that there are going to be 20 guys in a Leaf sweater in our building tonight. The standard and expectations — none of it changes.
That is the challenge when you are electing to give some guys rest: to stay in the right frame of mind. That is going to be on me as a coach and our group as players — to stay on that. Whether it is building our game and feeling good about our game, or taking care of our home-ice situation, those are things for us to remain engaged in the schedule left ahead here.
Keefe on the team’s success in the second half of back-to-backs this season (8-3-1):
When I was first hired here, back-to-backs were a big issue. You were talking about it more and coming up with different strategies that could help you through it.
To me, we haven’t really talked about it much. We just treat it like any other game as best as we can.
The thing that I point to the most is our strength in goal and our depth in goal. There is no real letdown there from one game to the next. We got a shutout last night from Samsonov. We are going to come back with an accomplished veteran like Matt Murray tonight.
That in and of itself gives you a chance, but I think you could take it even further when you look at Woll and Kallgren playing in these situations, too. We have found a way. Between the goaltending and the growth of our team and players, they understand it is just another game.
In some cases, we are coming off of a win and we have to do it again. In other cases, we have come off of a loss, and now you have to pick yourself up and get better the next day. We have dealt with both situations very well.
We haven’t had a whole lot of being on the road and coming home on these back-to-backs, so that is a little bit different, and yet the challenge remains the same. Go out and look at it as any other night.
Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde on playing Marco Kasper in between Andrew Copp and Lucas Raymond in his NHL debut:
We will see how it goes. It might be a tall ask possibly getting stuck against Tavares or Matthews, but we will start that way and see how it goes… We can move some things around.
I don’t know if it is a true center spot for him. Him and Copp are in maybe a hybrid center situation. Copp will take some d-zone faceoffs and will be the first one back defending. We’ll go from there.
This is an opportunity to get his feet wet. These experiences, in the big picture of his development, are huge.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #28 Sam Lafferty
#26 Nick Abruzzese – #53 Radim Zohorna – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#78 T.J Brodie – #3 Justin Holl
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Luke Schenn
#25 Conor Timmins – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #30 Matt Murray
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Extras: Jake McCabe, Mark Giordano, Mitch Marner, Erik Gustafsson (unavailable)
Injured/Out: Noel Acciari, Ryan O’Reilly, Bobby McMann, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines
#81 Dominik Kulabik – #71 Dylan Larkin – #57 David Perron
#18 Andrew Copp – #92 Marco Kasper – #23 Lucas Raymond
#73 Adam Erne – #90 Joe Veleno – #22 Matt Luff
#52 Jonatan Berggren – #21 Austin Czarnik – #48 Alex Chiasson
#96 Jake Walman – #53 Moritz Seider
#3 Simon Edvinsson – #8 Ben Chiarot
#2 Olli Maatta – #38 Robert Hagg
Starter: #39 Alex Nedeljkovic
#45 Magnus Hellberg
Injured/Out: Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, Mark Pysyk, Michael Rasmussen, Ville Husso