The Maple Leafs are looking to clean up their play without the puck against an underachieving Flames team that has shown some signs of life in its last two games (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet). 

The 4-7-1 Flames currently have a total of one player inside the top 150 in NHL point scoring — Elias Lindholm with eight points in 12 games — as most of their top offensive players got off to slow starts while the team lost six in a row in the month of October.

They may be starting to work their way out of it, though, with a pair of come-from-behind wins over Seattle and Nashville in which they controlled over 63% of the expected goals and shots on goal while outscoring the Kraken and Predators by a combined 6-3 at even-strength.

Former Leaf Nazem Kadri started with one point in his first eight games and a -10 plus/minus rating; he now has six in his last four, including a two-point game with eight shots on goal in the Flames’ most recent win against Nashville.

The Leafs‘ offensive game has not been an issue of late; all of the focus resides on the defensive side of the puck with the team now sitting bottom five in the league in goals against having conceded 17 goals in their last three games, all on home ice.

To many in the fan base, John Klingberg’s absence tonight is going to be addition by subtraction. He’s been battling a nagging injury, per Sheldon Keefe, and seemingly was playing through it while the team was shorthanded on the blue line. There has naturally been a lot of skepticism online as to the legitimacy of the injury amid a nightmare start for Klingberg. The truth may lie in the middle somewhat; a minor injury could have been impacting him, but he may well have been in the lineup still if he was in better form, especially with a sizable break in the schedule coming up this week.

In Klingberg’s place next to Mark Giordano returns Jake McCabe from his groin injury. The Leafs will need more from McCabe than they were getting before the injury; he was outscored 7-3 with poor underlying numbers prior to his absence, albeit five of those goals were conceded alongside Klingberg, and his numbers improved dramatically once paired with the now-injured Timothy Liljegren (1-1 in 5v5 goals, 56% xGF).

In net, Joseph Woll remains between the pipes coming off of what could fairly be described as his worst game as an NHLer in the 6-3 loss to Ottawa. With the Leafs giving Ilya Samsonov extra time before tomorrow’s game to clear his head (per Keefe), this is a big game for Woll to turn the page and prove it was a one-off, thereby avoiding the goaltending crisis commentary that would no doubt follow a second consecutive substandard performance.

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Flames:

They are trending up. They are developing some belief in what they are doing. They have outplayed their competition pretty good in the last three games that they have played. They are coming off of a couple of wins.

I was talking to Tre a little bit this morning, and he has done a pretty good job of building this team. It is deep down the middle and deep on defense with competitors all the way through the group. There are challenges there with the center depth that they have and the defensive depth that they have. They have lots of guys that can move well and help on offense and also compete and do a good job defensively.

There are some challenges there. Probably the biggest one is that they are trending up. They are developing belief in what they are doing.

Keefe on Jake McCabe playing on the right side in his return from injury:

Six left shots, so there are some challenges playing the offside. McCabe has done it at different times. He spent a good portion of his time in Chicago playing on the offside.

I suspect the D will move around here, but with the six left shots, either way, we are going to have some guys playing on not their natural side. Lagesson has done it a bunch since he has been up here and he has done a good job of it. We are trying not to overthink that one.

For Caber, it is just nice to have him back.

Keefe on whether it is a money-on-the-board game for Brad Treliving:

One thing I have learned about Tre very quickly is that he develops very deep and close relationships with those whom he works with. He is still very much connected and cares a lot about the people who are still there in Calgary.

I am sure this one is a challenging one for him here. I know he has a great deal of respect for everyone in the organization.

Ryan Reaves on the team’s inconsistent start:

It was not our best last game against a big rival. We can’t just keep winning one, losing one, losing a couple, putting a few good periods together… We have to start stringing a bunch of games together here. It is a good time to do it on a back-to-back at home.

Auston Matthews on how the forwards can support the blue-line group better as the team looks to improve its play defensively:

Communication is a big key, closing quicker and giving the opposing team less time and space to get rolling around, and just more awareness in terms of who is out there and where they are out. Taking away time and space is a big thing.

Mark Giordano on Brad Treliving facing his former team:

It is probably a game he is looking forward to. It’s a little bit weird, I’d imagine, after being in Calgary for so long. When I went through it, you were happy to see the familiar faces that were around for so long, but I am sure this game means a little bit more for Tre to get the win tonight. We are playing the old squad. It is important.

Giordano on his relationship with Treliving:

It’s been great. We had a great relationship in Calgary that has carried on over the past few years even though we haven’t been on the same team. Tre is the type of guy you keep in touch with, whether through text or calls.

He has done a lot for me in my career. The guys here are realizing what type of person he is. He is an easy guy to talk to and get along with. You can tell he cares about his players. That relationship continues whether you are on the same team or off the team.

Giordano on Treliving’s messaging during the slow start:

Tre is very intense. He wants to do what he can to help the team. He is there as a guy you can talk to and a guy you can lean on if you need some advice. He is pretty honest with the boys, too. He tells you what he feels and we go from there. It is on us as players to make it happen.

He has been pretty consistent in that from my time working with him. It has been good. We are not where we want to be as a team to start the season, but on that side of it, he has been really consistent and really easy for guys to approach to get his feel on what is going on.

Flames head coach Ryan Huska on Nazem Kadri’s role centering two rookie wingers, Yegor Sharangovich and Connor Zary:

I think Naz has brought increased confidence to Sharangovich. The increased ice time Sharangovich has gotten as a result of playing with Naz has helped him feel better about himself for sure.

With Connor (Zary), it is a young guy who needs a lot of guidance. That is one of the things that he has drawn out of Naz: the responsibility of being a leader and helping someone along.

It doesn’t mean that you are going to pat him on the back and say it is okay. He is challenging him in the right way. That is what I really like about where Naz is at right now.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Flames 

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 – #22 Jake McCabe
#85 William Lagesson – #2 Simon Benoit

Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#35 Ilya Samsonov

Scratched: Pontus Holmberg
Injured: John Klingberg, Conor Timmins, Timothy Liljegren

Calgary Flames Projected Lines

#10 Jonathan Huberdeau – #28 Elias Lindholm – #88 Andrew Mangiapane
#47 Connor Zary – #91 Nazem Kadri – #17 Yegor Sharangovich
#76 Martin Pospisil – #11 Mikael Backlund – #20 Blake Coleman
#18 A.J. Greer – #29 Dillon Dube – #71 Walker Duehr

#52 Mackenzie Weegar – #4 Rasmus Andersson
#55 Noah Hanifin – #8 Chris Tanev
#16 Nikita Zadorov – #57 Nick DeSimone

Starter: #80 Daniel Vladar
#25 Jacob Markstrom

Injured: Kevin Rooney, Oliver Kylington, Jakob Pelletier