The Maple Leafs take on the Detroit Red Wings in a four-point divisional game marking the halfway point of the regular season (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Earlier this week, Sheldon Keefe was asked about what might have sparked his group during a successful road trip through California. He stated that the loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in late December “got the team’s attention.” After back-to-back losses where the Leafs have relinquished multi-goal leads, Keefe will be looking for a similar response of tightening up the details from his group as they host the Red Wings tonight.
Ilya Samsonov, who cleared waivers earlier this month, will get the start in goal. The organization decided on individual practice time and a mental reset over any starts with the Toronto Marlies (who, notably, have been struggling with seven losses in their last eight); meaning, this is his first start since conceding six in Columbus on December 29 and certainly as (personally) pivotal as they come as far as mid-season regular season starts go.
Sheldon Keefe hinted that there could be a few lineup changes tonight. He confirmed that Mark Giordano, coming off a rough couple of games vs. NYI and COL, will be scratched, with Conor Timmins drawing in. The head coach also mentioned this morning that there were a few injuries last night, and some players are considered game-time decisions. Keefe did not dismiss a potential switch up the Tavares line, which he assessed “did not have one good shift” against the Avalanche.
Puck drop has been pushed back to 7:30 p.m., as the Red Wings are dealing with a winter storm that has affected their travel plans. Both teams are in a back-to-back situation, with Detroit defeating the Los Angeles Kings 5-3 last night. The former Leaf, James Reimer, is expected to start in goal for the Red Wings (3-6-2, .889 save percentage).
Game Day Quotes
Max Domi on the takeaways from last night’s loss:
“When you come out of the gates and you got a 3-0 lead like that, it’s a team skill to be able to hang onto that and it’s something that we can definitely work on. But, at the same time, there’s a level of consistency you need and you need to be able to dial in at certain points in the game.
A little mistake here, a little mistake there, and sometimes that can end up in the back of your net, especially when you’re playing against some of the best players in the world on a team like Colorado. They got a lot of weapons over there. That was like a playoff game as far as we’re concerned, so we’re definitely gonna learn from it and get better. The best part about is we get to play tonight.
Keefe on how Tavares responded to a benching in the third period vs. COL:
He took it fine. I think the message was sent. John knows he wasn’t his best last tonight. He’ll be good tonight.
Keefe on the mood in the room after last night’s game:
The mood is not great. It’s tough to come in after a night like that. It’s a chance to reframe some things in their mind and get them primed for tonight. It’s always tough on the back-to-back to wake up and come right back into the rink the next morning as it is, but especially after a loss like last night. We had time today to rinse it completely and come in tonight for a big divisional game.
Keefe on the lineup changes for tonight:
Giordano will be out tonight and Timmins will go in for him. Aside from that, we had a couple injuries last night — one that’s probably going to require a lineup change and at least one will be a game time decision. We will get that sorted out tonight.
Keefe on the decision in net for tonight’s game:
Samsonov is going to start today. We have gone through it. It is a big decision for a lot of reasons both for Sasmonov and Hildeby. You kind of go through it, and as an organization, you make a plan for Sammy. Going on waivers and going down, the plan was communicated to you guys by Tre.
He has done the work. You have to give him a chance to get back in and see if it has made any sort of progress. Once the decision was made that they didn’t want him to play any AHL games, I think we needed to get him back in a game here and see where he is at. We need to do a good job in front of him. He has done the work to be ready for today. We will get him in there.
Keefe on his overall assessment of the group at the halfway point of the season:
We chatted a little bit about it this morning. There are a couple of things as you approach the halfway point. It is a chance to reflect but also know there is a lot of hockey left to be played. It feels like we have played a lot of hockey, and you’re only halfway there.
A lot can happen and a lot has happened through to this point. Just in the last little stretch, it sort of shows where we have been.
At times, we have been really, really good and consistent. If you look at the stretch on that road trip where we came back against San Jose here in Toronto, we played different types of opponents and different types of games, but we showed a lot of maturity in our game in managing those situations. We were in a good place.
In the last couple of games, we built leads and did a good job to get ourselves into positions to win games and then we failed to close it, which is also kind of showing where we have been as a team. It has been a similar type of situation.
What we are seeking in the second half is greater consistency with who we are. That is really it. Tonight, as we welcome a divisional opponent who is right there on our heels, it is a good chance for us to get to that halfway point as we prepare to go on the road for a difficult road trip and the difficult rest of the month.
This is a big hockey game for us today. You are really looking for that consistency in who we are.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Red Wings in three out of five offensive categories and four out of five defensive categories.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#89 Nick Robertson – #91 John Tavares – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #11 Max Domi – #16 Mitch Marner
#23 Matthew Knies – #64 David Kampf – #18 Noah Gregor
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#2 Simon Benoit – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#31 Martin Jones
Scratched: Mark Giordano, William Lagesson, Bobby McMann
Injured: John Klingberg, Joseph Woll, Ryan Reaves
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines
#57 David Perron – #71 Dylan Larkin – #23 Lucas Raymond
#93 Alex Debrincat – #37 J.T Compher – #88 Patrick Kane
#27 Michael Rasmussen – #18 Andrew Copp – #36 Christian Fischer
#14 Robby Fabbri – #90 Joe Veleno – #17 Daniel Sprong
#41 Shayne Gostisbehere – #53 Moritz Seider
#8 Ben Chiarot – #46 Jeff Petry
#2 Olli Maata – #3 Justin Holl
Starter: #47 James Reimer
#34 Alex Lyon
Injured: Jake Walman, Klim Kostin, Ville Husso