The Toronto vs. Vancouver rivalry on Hockey Day in Canada, a split-crowd atmosphere at Rogers Arena, nine All-Stars between the teams, and both sides are healthy and competitive in the standings. Doesn’t get much better than this for a mid-regular season game (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).

Between the Edmonton, Colorado, and now Vancouver matchups, the Leafs continue to run the gauntlet against some of the most dangerous lines in the NHL.

The Canucks haven’t always deployed Elias Pettersson on the left wing of their go-to JT Miller-Brock Boeser duo this season, but the goals through 90 minutes at five-on-five are 11-3 in favour of the Canucks when the three are together. Miller and Pettersson are hovering around the top five in NHL point scoring at 61 and 59 points, respectively, while Brock Boeser is currently tied for fifth in NHL goal scoring with 27.

In addition to their big three, the collection of secondary Canucks forwards shooting the lights out above 20% on the season includes former Leaf Sam Lafferty (10 goals on 48 shots / 20.8%), former Leaf draft pick Dakota Joshua (12 goals on 53 shots / 22.6%), and Nils Hoglander (12 goals on 56 shots / 21.4%).

Add it all up, it’s allowed the Canucks to outpace their 2.51 expected goals per 60 at five-on-five (which ranks just 23rd in the league) by a massive margin of 3.2 actual goals per 60 (which ranks first in the league). It’s also why the Canucks are probably not sustainably the best offensive team in the league at 3.78 goals per game, but it can’t be ignored that their goaltending — with an elite talent in net, Thatcher Demko — and defensive metrics are among the league’s best.

Head coach Rick Tocchet has the Canucks playing with a good five-man structure and they have three defense pairings they can rely on, led by the most offensively-productive defense pairing in the league, Quinn Hughes (53 points in 45 games) and Filip Hronek (36 points in 45 games).

It will provide a significant challenge for a Leafs team that has work to do to prove it can batten down the hatches consistently enough against high-octane offenses. A good run of defensive form against the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks (x2) during their four-game winning streak earlier in January has given way to a 1-3-1 stretch against the Islanders, Red Wings, Avalanche, Oilers, and Flames in which they’ve conceded four per game on average.

The Leafs are not expected to change anything about their lineup from their recent come-from-behind 4-3 win over Calgary. Technically, they’re swapping Tyler Bertuzzi and Matthew Knies on the left wing and thereby re-uniting the Bertuzzi – Tavares – Nylander line from the start of the game, but that line played most of the Flames game together anyway.

In goal, Vancouver native Martin Jones will start for the 10th time in the Leafs‘ last 11 games. Having spent most of his career out west, Jones has a great track record against his hometown Canucks with a career 12-4-2 record and .926 save percentage.

The Leafs are looking for their first win in Vancouver since December of 2019 having lost six consecutive at Rogers Arena.

Game Day Quotes

Morgan Rielly, a Vancouver native, on whether he is hearing lots of positive things about the Canucks from friends and family:

No, I have cut those people out of my life.

Sheldon Keefe on moving Tyler Bertuzzi back with John Tavares and William Nylander:

I just think he has done a good job there most of the season. Those guys have been a really good line for us when they are at their best. I thought when I put Bert in that spot [vs. Calgary], he did a really good job for us.

It is a good fit. Willy really likes playing with him. That is really it. It just falls into place nicely.

Keefe on the challenge presented by the Canucks:

They are just playing a good team game all the way through — four lines, six defense. They have a good mix throughout and have all the elements that top teams have: strong goaltending, some elite forwards who lead the way, good depth that plays hard, and elite puck movers on the backend along with some real big guys who make it hard to get to their net.

Max Domi on the Canucks’ play under head coach Rick Tocchet:

If you watch these guys play, they’re always ready to go. That’s probably going to be our biggest test tonight: matching their intensity off the puck drop.

Keefe on keeping his fourth line constant for the time being:

The McMann, Gregor, and Kampf line — for those three guys, maybe the best game they had as a trio was against Vancouver the last time we played them. That was early on when we put that group together. For that reason, you don’t want to really mess with that.

We think it can bring some value against a very quick, competitive, and physical team like Vancouver. They are deep and there are no shifts off. We like that line.

Canuck head coach Rick Tocchet on the challenge of shutting down Auston Matthews:

You have to protect the guts of the ice against that guy. On the goal against Calgary, somehow he gets the puck to the middle, and when he gets the puck in the high slot, his shot is one of the best in the league. He can score from anywhere.

If he’s going to shoot, hopefully, it’s from the outside. That is the game plan: protect the guts of the ice against him.

Tocchet on Matthews’ remarkable 71-goal pace:

It is hard to score in this league. It is hard to be consistent. He is such a consistent player. He scores under pressure. When the Leafs were down 2-0 [vs. Calgary], he makes it 2-1. All of a sudden, bang-bang, he wins the game for them.

He has the gift, but I know he works his ass off in the summer. He shoots a lot of pucks. He has a skills coach.

With guys like Kucherov, it is the same thing. They don’t take a day off in the summer. They work on their game.  That’s why, when you look at the leaderboard, those guys are always up there. They work on their game.

Tocchet on benching a 39-goal-scorer in 2022-23, Andrei Kuzmenko, in Vancouver’s recent win over Arizona:

It’s nothing personal. It’s not a systems thing. You’ve got to participate in certain parts of the game.

I think he’s trying to understand that, but it is very important. With Mikheyev’s forechecking, [Kuzmenko] has to forecheck with him. If Mikheyev forechecks and he stays back, the guy makes a D-to-D pass and it is an easy breakout. It is a chainlink thing.

You have to participate. He doesn’t have to hit a guy. I don’t care about that. I think there are certain parts of his game he has to participate in. When you come back to the zone, we expect you to be in the rail of the slot. That is your job to protect that part. You have to do it at least eight out of 10 times, not once in a while.

It’s not just him. Everyone goes through their different things. He’s a great kid, but he’s struggling right now. We just have to keep working with him and he has to understand.

In practice, it is the same with work habits. You have to work. It is the only way to get out of it. This league is a tough league. When you are in a slump, you have to work your way out of it. You can’t just think the puck is going to come to you in these spots. You have to go to these spots.

You have to take initiative. It really starts in practice. If there is a drill you are supposed to do a certain way, you have to do it that way and do it with pace. Sometimes, it is hit or miss with him.

It is hard to score in this league. I know he scored 39 goals last year, but that is last year. Different circumstances. We were a .500 team last year. We are in a different area. You have to make sure you participate in what we are trying to do here.

I have to help the guy out, too. When you are not scoring, it sucks. But you have to make sure that if you are not scoring, you are rock-solid in other areas. I am not trying to make him a Selke winner or anything like that, but there are certain parts of the game you have to be there for.

If you are scoring goals, sometimes a coach can overlook a few little mistakes. Right now, it’s adversity in his life. He has to face it. We have to help him. Maybe we have to do a better job of helping him understand certain things.

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

In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Canucks in three out of five offensive categories but the Canucks hold the advantage in five out of five defensive categories.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#29 Pontus Holmberg – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #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, Ryan Reaves
Injured: John Klingberg, Joseph Woll

Vancouver Canucks Projected Lines

#40 Elias Pettersson – #9 JT Miller – #6 Brock Boeser
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #24 Pius Sutter – #21 Nils Hoglander
#81 Dakota Joshua – #53 Teddy Blueger – #8 Conor Garland
#94 Linus Karlsson* – #88 Nilas Aman – #18 Sam Lafferty

#43 Quinn Hughes – #17 Filip Hronek
#7 Carson Soucy – #57 Tyler Myers
#91 Nikita Zadorov – #82 Ian Cole

Starter: #35 Thatcher Demko
#29 Casey DeSmith

Scratched: Andrei Kuzmenko*
Tucker Poolman, Phil Di Giuseppe

*with no morning skate, it remains to be seen if Kuzmenko sits and if recent call-up Linus Karlsson steps into the lineup