With a big break in the schedule upcoming for Toronto, it’s time to empty the tank. The Maple Leafs will need to dig deep in a back-to-back situation against a rested and red-hot Canucks team on HNIC (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
John Klingberg, call-up Bobby McMann, and Ilya Samsonov will all enter the lineup ahead of this clash against the league’s top offense (a whopping 4.54 goals/game, 32.7% on the power play).
Inserting Klingberg against a Canucks team that can readily capitalize on defensive gaffes or any additional time and space afforded in the defensive zone is a bit of a risky play, but Sheldon Keefe appears to want the extra mobility and fresh legs on a back-to-back by inserting Klingberg over Simon Benoit, who has fared well in his three appearances so far (plus-three with zero goals against, eight hits, seven blocked shots, 74% xGF, plus PK duty). There may also be an element of the coaching staff wanting Klingberg to play his way through this rut versus sitting out more games, but it’s not hard to picture this backfiring based on Klingberg’s recent form.
In a tired situation for the Leafs, McMann will hopefully bring a bit more juice up front on what is the best-looking fourth line the team has iced all season with the mix of size and now an additional speed and skill upgrade with McMann over Ryan Reaves. With the team’s third line really starting to gel — bringing lots of pace plus an offensive threat in behind the top six — hopefully, this makes for the most formidable four-line attack the Leafs have iced all season.
They’ll need it against a Canucks team that is both shooting the lights out — outscoring their 44.6% expected goal share at five-on-five by nearly 30% in terms of actual goals for/against (36-14 or 72%) — and has a goaltender in Thatcher Demko that is absolutely cooking with a .948 save percentage.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the biggest challenge presented by the Vanucks:
Probably just the confidence that they have right now. As a team, they have real belief in what they are doing. Things have gone really well for them. They have earned that.
First, they defend really well. They are getting elite goaltending. It seems everything that they shoot is going in the net.
We have to do all that we can to reduce their opportunities to score because they are really feeling it on offense. It seems like they don’t need a lot of chances to score. Stay out of the penalty box and do a job on the penalty kill because it is an elite power play.
They are a significant challenge but one I expect our guys to meet.
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet on the matchup against the Leafs:
They have high-end talent. If you cheat the game, the puck is in your net. We know what we have to do tonight when you play the Leafs. They have star players.
I have seen games in the past and present where they can score goals in two or three goals in three or four minutes. You have to be on your game.
Tocchet on the addition of former Leaf Sam Lafferty:
He was a big pickup for us. I don’t want to use the word grinder, but we added just a heavy guy on the forecheck.
Our scouting report said he was a good skater. I didn’t know he was that good of a skater through the neutral zone.
Also, the intangibles — he is a well-liked guy. Guys love him.
When you add a guy who all of a sudden 24 guys love the guy, you know you are getting a good character guy.
Keefe inserting Bobby McMann onto the fourth line:
Bobby is a guy that we have liked for a while here now. His training camp and preseason were disrupted by his injury and not being available for us until really late. We have always liked the size and speed that he brings. Playing in a back-to-back against a team like Vancouver, we think he can help us.
His greatest asset, in addition to his speed down the wing to generate shots and scoring chances, is his speed to get onto the puck first on the forecheck. It is very helpful for any line that he is on.
Keefe on the message to Ryan Reaves as he sits out the game tonight:
We want to give him the night off and give him a chance to clear his head a bit. It starts to pile up — whether the goals are your fault or not — when you are on the ice for goals against. That can be a challenge for sure.
We are just kind of telling him to clear his head, get a good skate today, and we’ll take it from there.
Keefe on Max Domi’s game coming to life at the center position:
There are a couple of things. The first — and the reason why we did it — is to get him skating, get him off the wall, and get him flying through the middle of the ice. That seems to have happened. His feet are moving with greater regularity. He is using his assets that he has with that pace.
The way it has come together with Robertson and Jarnkrok, and Robertson in particular… Max is a go-and-go type of player. Robertson is skating with Max and Max is finding him. Jarny is a good complement to all of that — the give-and-go game — by getting to space as well. He has scored some great goals finishing off sequences between Nick and Max, and then there is also the defensive piece.
We saw a real positive trend in Max’s game before we put him at center in terms of his defensive game and the work he was doing away from the puck. Last night might have been the best that it has been in that regard. It has all come together.
The development of that line has changed a lot for us.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Canucks
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 – #74 Bobby McMann
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#55 Mark Giordano – #22 Jake McCabe
#85 William Lagesson – #3 John Klingberg
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Scratched: Simon Benoit, Ryan Reaves
Injured: Conor Timmins, Timothy Liljegren
Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #40 Elias Pettersson – #96 Andrei Kuzmenko
#34 Phil Di Giuseppe – #9 JT Miller – #6 Brock Boeser
#81 Dakota Joshua – #24 Pius Sutter – #8 Conor Garland
#21 Nils Hoglander – #18 Sam Lafferty – #72 Anthony Beauvilier
#43 Quinn Hughes – #17 Filip Hronek
#7 Carson Soucy – #57 Tyler Myers
#82 Ian Cole – #51 Mark Friedman
Starter: #35 Thatcher Demko
#29 Casey DeSmith
Injured: Tucker Poolman, Teddy Blueger