The Maple Leafs are looking to make it a four-win five-game road trip in their final stop in Nashville on HNIC (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Following an MRI, there was positive news today on the Jake McCabe front, who is not expected to miss significant time due to his groin injury. McCabe has produced some mixed performances early in the season, but since uniting with Timothy Liljegren, it’s been a better fit and his game has settled down on a steadier, more complementary pairing. Behind that pair, Mark Giordano and John Klingberg has been a reliable combination for the team as well in their recent wins. In nearly 50 minutes of 5v5 ice time, McCabe and Liljegren have allowed just one goal against; the same goes for the Giordano-Klingberg pairing in nearly 40 minutes of 5v5 TOI.
McCabe’s short-term absence is going to force the Leafs to temporarily move Giordano up onto a pairing with Liljegren, which is another reason why the injury prognosis is such good news for the Leafs. Last year, Giordano provided the Leafs with highly commendable service as the team navigated various injury situations on the blue line, but the heightened demands on his 39 (now 40) year-old body appeared to come home to roost by the playoffs. Any sort of prolonged McCabe absence likely would’ve meant a similar situation for a year-older Giordano this season — elevated minutes through November and December, with management considerations falling by the wayside.
As McCabe recovers, William Lagesson will step onto an all-Swede pairing with John Klingberg for tonight’s game in Nashville. While Mikko Kokkonen arguably had a better camp showing than Lagesson, Sheldon Keefe gave a nod to Lagesson’s experience handling call-up duty in the NHL in the past (in Edmonton and Montreal) while expressing a preference for allowing younger prospects to gain traction without disruption early in their AHL seasons on the Marlies.
In net, Ilya Samsonov returns to the net at a time when he could really use a quality start to quiet the noise and get his season back on track. He’ll be up against a world-class goalie on the other side.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge the 3-4-0 Predators present:
They’re playing really quick. They have skill on the rush. Josi’s presence really helps them with that push. Real fast in transition. They play with lots of energy throughout their lineup. They have strong goaltending as you have come to expect. They are going to challenge us on the rush and in transition.
Keefe on his memories of working with Ryan O’Reilly and whether there was disappointment about his decision not to stay in Toronto:
What I remember most is that he was a professional in how he went about his business. We are fortunate that we have other guys who are like that, but for him to come in and just be himself, he is a confident guy, which he has earned over his time in the league. He helped us get better as a team.
In terms of the decision that he made, he has earned that. He has earned an opportunity to be a free agent, to be a guy who is in demand, and to make his own decision based on what is important to him.
We were lucky to have him. He made our group better last year. I think there are lessons all of our guys can take from their time spent with him.
Keefe on Mark Giordano’s ability to step up during Jake McCabe’s short absence:
He is a very experienced and accomplished defenseman. He is ready for anything that we give him. It is not even a question for us.
Mike van Ryn will continue to move things around on defense as he has been doing even before the injury to McCabe. We will get Lagesson involved and we have the pairings that we’ll start with, but I think you’ll start to see things move about. They’ll spread out the minutes and all of that.
Gio has been off to a really good start to the season for us. We don’t expect that to change despite the fact that he might have to play a little bit more.
Predators head coach Andrew Brunette on the challenge presented by the Leafs:
The biggest key is to manage the puck and not feed their transition game. They are as good as they are in the game. They are probably one of the highest-skill teams in the league. We really have to manage the game.
We didn’t do that early in Vancouver. It took us a while to get going in the game. Manage the puck.
Brunette on Ryan O’Reilly:
He has been a coach’s dream. He does every little thing right. Probably the biggest factor is how he does his day-to-day business. For just our young players to see that, it is worth the price of him. It’s what he brings.
On the ice, you can play him anywhere. He plays against anybody. He plays every situation. He is an extremely intelligent hockey player.
For me, it is a real luxury to have him as a voice in the room and a former captain. He brings it all. He has been so easy to be around.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#19 Calle Jarnkrok – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #64 David Kampf – #11 Max Domi
#18 Noah Gregor – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#85 William Lagesson – #3 John Klingberg
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Injured: Conor Timmins, Jake McCabe
Nashville Predators Projected Lines
#9 Filip Forsberg – #90 Ryan O’Reilly – #75 Juuso Parssinen
#44 Kiefer Sherwood – #82 Thomas Novak – #77 Luke Evangelista
#13 Yakov Trenin – #10 Colton Sissons – #36 Cole Smith
#14 Gustav Nyquist – #18 Liam Foudy – #26 Philip Tomasino
#59 Roman Josi – #57 Dante Fabbro
#27 Ryan McDonagh – #45 Alexandre Carrier
#3 Jeremy Lauzon – #22 Tyson Barrie
Starter: #74 Juuse Saros
#32 Kevin Lankinen
Injured: Luke Schenn, Cody Glass