Coming off a four-day layoff, the Maple Leafs kick off a back-to-back on the road against the badly slumping Blackhawks in a Black Friday matinee (2:00 p.m. EST, TSN4). 

Chicago is mired in a five-game losing slide that’s been exacerbated by the absence of two critical parts of their veteran core they were depending on to keep them competitive in games this season: Taylor Hall is out for the season due to knee surgery, and known Leaf killer Corey Perry — a healthy scratch on Wednesday, missing from practice on Thursday — is away from the team as trade speculation swirls and the organization stays mum in the media as to the nature of his absence.

If last Friday’s game against the Red Wings (played after a similarly long layoff) is any indication, it may take some time for the Leafs to get their game legs underneath them and find their timing and rhythm, but hopefully, some lessons are learned from the experience a week ago. The Leafs were too cute offensively early in the game and fired just three shots on goal in the first 15 minutes. It is the time to simplify and challenge a team and goaltender low on confidence with some shots and traffic at the net.

There may be a few lineup changes in store for the Maple Leafs coming off their fourth consecutive victory against Minnesota in Sweden last Sunday. Returning from the ankle injury that placed him on LTIR following a red-hot preseason offensively, Conor Timmins will make his season debut on the bottom pairing alongside William Lagesson. Calle Jarnkrok, who took an Auston Matthews shot to the leg in practice, is a game-time decision after warmups, with Thursday’s call-up Alex Steeves and recent healthy scratch Ryan Reaves both at the ready if he can’t play.

Ilya Samsonov will take the start in goal for the Leafs this afternoon, with Joseph Woll on tap for tomorrow night in the Leafs‘ first meeting with Kyle Dubas’ Pittsburgh Penguins.

Today’s starter in net for the Blackhawks, Arvid Soderblom, has one win in seven games this season and it came in Toronto back on October 16 in the Leafs’ third game of the season. He played well in stopping 35 of 36 shots, but the Leafs by no means brought their best stuff that night in terms of generating grade-A chances inside the dots. Soderblom has allowed 22 goals in his five starts since then.

Game Day Quotes

Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson on the reasons for Corey Perry’s absence from practice as speculation swirls online:

We are going to keep that internal in the organization right now. I am unable to answer any more questions about that. I am sure there is [plenty of speculation], but it’s all I can say [for now].

Nick Foligno on Corey Perry’s mysterious absence and the impact it might have on a young team:

We just know he is not with us. We haven’t gotten any details. It is unfortunate. He is a big part of this. We will miss him. We haven’t really gotten any other information yet.

We have a lot of young guys, so it is kind of a shock at first, but it’s about being a pro. We talk about it. This is an opportunity to do that.

You have to push the outside noise away, whether it is this or anything else going on in your life. There is a job to do when you come to the rink. We are trying to get better and grow as a team. You have to learn how to block out a lot of that stuff.

As your career goes on, trust me, stuff comes up. You have kids at home or a sick baby. There are a lot of things that go on. It is probably a good lesson in a lot of ways about refocusing as a group regardless of the distractions. We have a job to do against the Leafs. We have to be at our best.

Richardson on the decision to start Arvid Soderblom in goal:

We thought he had an excellent game against Toronto last time. He is so big and covers so much of the net low. They try a lot of low plays around the net. He was excellent against them last game in the win. We want to get him back in there.

Richardson on the loss of Taylor Hall for the season:

He was playing great. I know Connor (Bedard) had the highlight goals and played great, but I think Taylor was the strongest forward on the ice that night on both teams. He was really good at both ends.

Unfortunately, with four minutes left in the game — when we looked like we had it under control — a guy just pulled him down. It was a nothing play. It was just the way he fell on it. That was one of the last straws. He tried to play through it, and in practice, he just caught a rut. That finalized it.

He is a former MVP. It helped Connor and the young guys see what a skilled guy can do with speed and strength on the puck. He is a quiet guy who doesn’t say a lot, but when he says something, he has been around long enough that it is worth a lot of value to the team.

We have a strong leadership group. The depth of the leadership good is good this year. We are going to lean on that.

Auston Matthews on the return of Conor Timmins to the lineup:

I think he has had a couple of good weeks in practice getting acclimated. It’s tough when you have that time off not skating in a team setting in those competitive atmospheres. I think he has looked really good.

He had a really good preseason. He has put in a lot of work over his time while injured but also in the summer. We’re looking forward to getting him back.

Sheldon Keefe on how Timmins can change the look of the Leafs’ defense:

In terms of what he can provide with getting the puck moving and getting it to the net, it is similar to what Klingberg’s strengths are. It would help us on the power play as well.  Having more mobility, puck movement, and some offensive contributions can help us for sure.

It changes the look of it. Lagesson and Benoit have done a really good job for us in some defensive roles, helping our penalty kill, and stabilizing that for us. Timmins is a different look.

The other part of it is getting a right shot in there, which is important in terms of moving the puck and being a little more fluid with ourselves offensively in all three zones. Having the right shot will help there, too.

Keefe on whether the prescout has changed on Connor Bedard since the last meeting:

It hasn’t changed a lot from our perspective. The strengths of his game remain about the same as we had seen in the early going: dominant through the neutral zone, dangerous on the rush. He has some guys playing around him who have similar strengths. They can bring the puck up the ice and feed him. I am sure his confidence is in an even better place. Clearly, he will be an area of focus for us today.

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

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 – #25 Conor Timmins

Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll

*game-time decision

Scratched: Alex Steeves, Simon Benoit, Bobby McMann
Injured: John Klingberg, Timothy Liljegren

Chicago Blackhawks Projected Lines

#27 Lukas Reichel – #98 Connor Bedard – #23 Philipp Kurashev
#90 Tyler Johnson – #70 Cole Guttman – #11 Taylor Raddysh
#17 Nick Foligno – #17 Jason Dickinson – #15 Joey Anderson
#14 Boris Katchouk – #8 Ryan Donato – #52 Reese Johnson

#72 Alex Vlasic – #4 Seth Jones
#55 Kevin Korchinski – #5 Connor Murphy
##44 Wyatt Kaiser – #41 Isaak Phillips

Starter: #40 Arvid Soderblom
#34 Petr Mrazek

Injured/Out: Taylor Hall, Corey Perry, Colin Blackwell, Jared Tinordi, Andreas Athanasiou