The Maple Leafs are looking to avoid their first five-game losing streak since April of 2021 when they visit the resurgent Calgary Flames (9:00 p.m. EST, TSN4 & Sportsnet West).
Rewind just over a month ago to December 15, the Flames were in a four-game losing slide, sitting at 25th in the NHL at 11-14-5, and the main storylines around the team concerned the recent trade of Nikita Zadorov to Vancouver and which defenseman might be next out the door.
The Flames are 10-4-0 in the month since, are currently riding a four-game winning streak, and are now just two points out of a wildcard position. Their .924 goaltending over that 14-game stretch is fourth-best in the NHL and they’ve out-scored the opposition 50-32 at five-on-five (third in GF% behind only the Jets and Oilers over that timeframe).
A lot of the scoring has come through a balanced attack. Blake Coleman (18 points) and Nazem Kadri (14 points) have led the way offensively over the last 14 games, but they have eight forwards — and three defensemen — with seven or more points over this stretch and their ice-time distribution at even-strength among their top nine up front sits within a tight 12.5-14.5 minute cluster.
That presents a much different challenge to the Leafs than recent losses to Edmonton and Colorado. There isn’t a world-beating line to contend with, but the Flames will roll their units and are playing with good energy and structure from line to line within their top nine.
The Leafs are expected to keep the same lineup together — same four lines, three defense pairs, and Martin Jones in net — from their loss to the Oilers, hoping for a similar start but a better finish to the game.
At the other end of the ice, with Jacob Markstrom battling a minor injury, Dan Vladar will start for the Flames. While his season-to-date numbers aren’t pretty (.885), he is 3-1-1 with a .908 save percentage over his last five starts.
Game Day Quotes
Matthew Knies on the message from the coach in the team meeting yesterday:
He mentioned our details at the end of games — taking care of the front of our net, not letting those passes into the middle — and that is huge for us. Playing a little harder, being a little more physical, and not letting them take advantage of us late in games was an important message.
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge the Flames present:
They are a hard-working group with a lot of depth. There is not much difference between lines one to three. They have mobility on defense. It is a good team.
There are no nights off in this league. Certainly, tonight is going to be a tough one.
Keefe on keeping the same line combinations together from the loss to Edmonton:
You are seeking some consistency. We have moved the group around a little bit, but for the most part, we have stayed with these 18 skaters for a good chunk of time now.
You want to give it some time. Again, we want to be able to put ourselves in a position to win a game again here. This group has done it for us. We will stay with it.
Nazem Kadri on whether matchups against the Leafs still provide a little extra juice:
I have kind of gotten used to it by now, but I still have some buddies over there, of course. There is just a little extra incentive to play a little harder against your friends.
You have to turn the page eventually. That’s where I am at in my career. I really enjoyed my time there, but these are a big two points against a good hockey team.
Kadri on the Flames’ strong form recently and the team turning it around after a bad start:
We are playing good team hockey. Everyone is predictable to each other. We know where we are going to be and how to execute a game plan when we have something drawn up.
The job is not finished. We had to crawl ourselves out of a hole. We have done that. Now, we are looking to be one of the better clubs in the second half of the season. We have confidence. We don’t think it’s unattainable.
Mark Giordano on returning to Calgary:
A big part of my life was in this city. I am looking forward to a big match. It is a great atmosphere every time in here.
Giordano on the keys for the team to turn around the four-game losing streak:
We have to get in the mindset now where you have to do whatever it takes to get the win. When you get on these slides, things start to pile up. Whatever the scenario is tonight, we have to play in the moment to win the game.
We have been a little guilty of little lapses here and there, but we have done a lot of good things to earn those leads. Whatever the game calls for, as an individual, the mindset has to be to make the right play to win the game.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Flames
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Flames in four out of five offensive categories and three out of five defensive categories.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#23 Matthew Knies – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #11 Max Domi – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#74 Bobby McMann – #64 David Kampf – #18 Noah Gregor
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #31 Martin Jones
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Scratched: Conor Timmins, William Lagesson, Nick Robertson
Injured: John Klingberg, Joseph Woll, Ryan Reaves
Calgary Flames Projected Lines
#10 Jonathan Huberdeau – #28 Elias Lindholm – #17 Yegor Sharangovich
#88 Andrew Mangiapane – #11 Mikael Backlund – #20 Blake Coleman
#47 Connor Zary – #91 Nazem Kadri – #76 Martin Pospisil
#18 A.J. Greer – #63 Adam Ruzicka – #29 Dillon Dube
#52 Mackenzie Weegar – #4 Rasmus Andersson
#55 Noah Hanifin – #8 Chris Tanev
#82 Jordan Oesterle – #57 Nick DeSimone
Starter: #80 Daniel Vladar
#32 Dustin Wolf
Injured: Oliver Kylington, Jacob Markstrom