After dropping points to the Blue Jackets and Senators coming out of the holiday break, the Maple Leafs will need to counterbalance their habit of playing down to bottom feeders by stepping up against top teams in their next two games against Carolina and LA.

The Kings and Hurricanes are the top two teams in the NHL at five-on-five when it comes to controlling shot attempts, shots, scoring chances, and expected goals. The Leafs are middle of the pack in all of those categories, but their biggest issue of late has been the tendency to make big, untimely mistakes defensively and the dearth of big saves to bail them out.

Carolina has suffered a goaltending crisis of their own this season, with Frederik Andersen (.894 SV%) injured and Antti Raanta (.855 SV%) experiencing his own Ilya Samsonov-style meltdown that inspired a trip to the minors and back. Pyotr Kochetkov is also below .900 this season (.898 SV%) but has rebounded of late with a .931 over his last seven starts (4-1-2).

The Hurricanes enter the game entirely healthy among their player group and have been resting as the Leafs lost their OT battle to Columbus and then flew home from Ohio.

The last time these two teams met last March in Carolina, the Leafs were in the middle of a mediocre stretch of hockey with sagging underlying numbers, and they fell behind 2-0 early in the game. They then flipped a switch and played perhaps their most dominant 40 minutes at five-on-five against an elite opponent of the entire 2022-23 season, but they still lost due to subpar netminding from Matt Murray (which Sheldon Keefe called out after the game). They solved Kochetkov three times, but he still finished with a .932 save percentage after stopping 41 out of 44 shots.

The Leafs will turn to Martin Jones tonight hoping to receive at least competent enough netminding for them to settle in defensively and not play with the mindset that they’ll need five or six goals to win. In a tired situation against a team as structured and hard-working as the Hurricanes under Rod Brind’Amour, the Leafs will likely need one of their best efforts of the season to date to pull a result out of a “schedule loss” situation.

In a back-to-back situation, we may see the fresh legs of William Lagesson, Conor Timmins, and/or Pontus Holmberg inserted into the Leafs lineup tonight. Jake McCabe appeared to suffer a minor injury in Columbus last night but remained in the game.

Update (5:00 p.m. EST): Sheldon Keefe is making an example out of David Kampf, scratching him citing recent mistakes.

Puck drop: 7:00 p.m. | TV Broadcast Channels: Sportsnet Ontario/West/Pacific, CBC

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Carolina Hurricanes:

Good team in all facets — five on five, PK, PP. Lots of pressure on the puck. It is going to be a much different type of game and style of play than we have seen from any of our opponents in the last while. Big test for us for sure.

Keefe on playing against Michael Bunting as a member of the opposition:

He plays with lots of energy and all of that. It will be different. I haven’t seen a lot of him playing in Carolina this season, but we do know what to expect.

I think he fits in very well with how they want to play as a team. They are in your face, competitive, and around the net creating chaos all over. To that end, he fits in well.

With this team, you get four lines of that.

Keefe on the decision to healthy scratch David Kampf:

There needs to be some accountability. David Kampf is going to be a scratch tonight. In my opinion, he just didn’t do a good enough job in some of those moments I am talking about as a guy that we really rely on in those positions, especially when we are playing with leads.

He is a really important player for us and will be important for us. He has been good here in the last little while, but there have been too many of those types of things. A guy like him — who we have come to really trust and rely upon — needs to be able to come through and lead the way for us in that department.

Keefe on whether the scratching of Kampf is a message to the group:

I guess you could call it a message to the group. There is going to be less tolerance for that. We have to get better in this area. That is it.

In particular, members of our leadership group — as David is — we trust to lead the way for us. The expectations are higher. Kampf, specifically, has to be a leader on that line. He has to be a leader in those types of situations where we are in control of the game.

It is obviously not just him. It is the guys that we really rely on to be good in those areas, whether you are the top guys who produce a lot of offense — we need those guys to be good in these areas as well, of course — but for someone like Kampfer, in particular, that is his job. That is his primary job and focus when he is on the ice. When he strays from that, he opens up opportunities for others to take his minutes.

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

In the season-to-date statistics, the Hurricanes hold the advantage over the Leafs in four out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.

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
#74 Bobby McMann – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #18 Noah Gregor

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #2 Simon Benoit
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren

Starter: #31 Martin Jones
#35 Ilya Samsonov

Scratched: Conor Timmins, William Lagesson, David Kampf
Injured: John Klingberg, Joseph Woll, Ryan Reaves

Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines

#37 Andrei Svechnikov – #20 Sebastian Aho – #86 Teuvo Teravainen
#58 Michael Bunting – #82 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #88 Martin Necas
#48 Jordan Martinook – #11 Jordan Staal – #24 Seth Jarvis
#23 Stefan Noesen – #18 Jack Drury – #71 Jseper Fast

#74 Jaccob Slavin – #8 Brent Burns
#76 Brady Skjei – #22 Brett Pesce
#7 Dmitry Orlov – #5 Jalen Chatfield

Starter: #52 Pyotr Kochetkov
#32 Antti Raanta

Injured: Frederik Andersen