The temperature is rising in Toronto. Mired in a four-game losing slide, the Maple Leafs look to get back on track against a familiar foe in the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
The themes of the first offseason under GM Brad Treliving were the addition of “snot” and the emphasis on depth scoring. Both have been called into question in the early going of the 2023-24 season.
The Leafs did not bring much emotion or physical presence against the Sabres after being crucified for their lack of response to Timothy Liljegren’s injury against the Boston Bruins. Tonight, with Toronto fans longing for more togetherness and physical pushback from their team, the Leafs will face an opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning that is known to relish the nasty side of the game and jump to the defense of their teammates at the drop of a hat.
Regarding depth scoring, the Leafs have gotten only six goals out of their forwards excluding the Core Four, and only four at even strength. In need of a spark, Sheldon Keefe has made some alterations to the forward lines, creating his most offensively-minded top nine of the season
Matthew Knies, who scored twice in the comeback win against the Lightning in their last meeting, will slot onto the top line with Matthews and Marner.
Max Domi has been moved into the third-line center spot with Calle Jarnkrok and Marlies recall, Nick Robertson, with the hopes of getting Domi skating more and spending more time with the puck. It creates a playmaking-shooter combination between Domi and Robertson, with Jarnkrok there to provide a worker bee and a defensive conscience. The 22-year-old Robertson has gotten off to a strong start with the Marlies, posting five goals and 11 points in nine games.
Pontus Holmberg has been sent down to make room for Robertson, bumping Kampf down to center the fourth line with Noah Gregor and Ryan Reaves.
On the blue line, Jake McCabe is not expected to play tonight as he continues to recover from a groin injury. Simon Benoit, who suited up for 78 games last season with the Ducks, will draw in for Max Lajoie, who played just four minutes and change — and was responsible for a goal against — versus Buffalo. The hope is that Benoit can at least provide steady enough shifts and win enough trust to play 12-14 minutes, avoiding a situation where the top four on defense is “so exhausted… it can’t skate or move the puck” which is how Sheldon Keefe described his blue line in the third period against Buffalo.
Ilya Samsonov will take the net tonight. His previous start against the Lightning just over two weeks ago was ugly — three goals on four shots before getting the yank for Joseph Woll. He gets a chance to redeem himself and build off a solid showing against the Bruins.
Game Day Quotes
Jon Cooper on team toughness in Tampa being part of their culture:
“It’s something we instituted early on in my tenure. We brought in the players that could back that up. The torch has been passed from the leadership group all the way through.
I’m a big believer that there’s intimidation still in the game. If there is a chink in your armour and other teams see it, it can be used against you. We just make sure that definitely doesn’t happen to us.”
Morgan Rielly on how the team is handling adversity:
“In terms of adversity, I don’t think this is anything. This is just the start of the season. This is how it goes. You go through ups and downs, and then you try to right the ship, and then you get going. So, I don’t think anyone’s reading too much into it.”
Sheldon Keefe on Domi at center:
“[Him] getting the puck in the middle of the ice can help push that line. Having a little more offensive push to the line itself and getting him unlocked as an offensive driver for the group is an important thing for us. It is really about that.”
Nick Robertson on his confidence ahead of his season debut:
“I would say I’m really confident now. I got my reps (with the Marlies). Last year, I played a couple of games and played up here and was trying to find my confidence that way. I’m going in here with a lot of confidence, a lot more touches than last year.”
Keefe on his message to Robertson:
“The biggest thing when I talk to any player that comes up, and when I chat with Nick today, is don’t think too much. Just play. You’re a good player. Move your feet and a lot of the things will just fall into place from there.”
Keefe on how Klingberg can get more shots through:
“Making decisions quicker & distributing the puck quicker… Sometimes when you move it quicker, you will end up getting it back & there is more real estate … It is just kind of finding the balance and rhythm with the group.”
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #11 Max Domi – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#18 Noah Gregor – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 John Klingberg
#85 William Lagesson – #2 Simon Benoit
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Scratched: Max Lajoie
Injured: Conor Timmins, Jake McCabe, Timothy Liljegren
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
#38 Brandon Hagel – #21 Brayden Point – #86 Nikita Kucherov
#12 Alex Barre-Boulet – #71 Anthony Cirelli – #23 Michael Eyssimont
#91 Steven Stamkos – #20 Nick Paul – #73 Conor Sheary
#84 Tanner Jeannot – #11 Luke Glendening – #51 Austin Watson
#77 Victor Hedman – #81 Erik Cernak
#98 Mikhail Sergachev – #43 Darren Raddysh
#44 Calvin de Haan – #48 Nick Perbix
Starter: #31 Jonas Johansson
#90 Matt Tomkins
Scratched: Zach Bogosian
Injured: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tyler Motte