The Maple Leafs will attempt to even up the season series in their final game against the Ottawa Senators tonight on HNIC (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/HNIC).
With a 4-1-0 record over their past five games, the Leafs are looking to keep the momentum rolling and gain some separation from the pursuing pack beneath them in the standings. Their most recent victory against a top opponent in the Dallas Stars was largely fueled by a dominant performance from the Leafs‘ Core Four forwards, who combined for all five goals including three on the power play, although some encouraging signs were there from the fourth line at different points in the night as well.
Despite another disappointing season for the Ottawa Senators, who again sit in the basement of the Eastern Conference, this matchup is their pretend playoffs and always seems to bring out their best. Ottawa is also looking to extend their winning streak to three on the heels of wins against the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings. However, it is Ottawa’s first game since the All-Star break, which might present an opportunity for the Leafs to capitalize on some rust, early in the game especially. A better start than in the first period against Dallas is first priority for the Leafs tonight on the road.
In net, Martin Jones will make his first start in goal since the All-Star break. It’s fitting considering Jones’ emergence with the Leafs started in Ottawa with his third-period relief of Joseph Woll when he went down with a high-ankle sprain back on December 7. Ilya Samsonov took a bit of a step back against the Dallas Stars, but it’s also true that the team doesn’t have a back-to-back for another five games, so keeping the cobwebs off of Jones is also an understandable call by Sheldon Keefe.
William Lagesson, who has not played since December 27, will draw into the lineup in the place of Mark Giordano, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury sustained in Wednesday’s game. Conor Timmins is also unavailable due to illness.
Ottawa will be without their young star defenseman, Jake Sanderson, as he is day-to-day with an injury. Joonas Korpisalo is projected to start in net for the Senators.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge presented by the Senators:
The key is for us to play well within our own game and build off of the good things we did the other night to beat a really good Dallas team.
This Ottawa team stresses you with the offense they can generate through the lineup and through their defense. We have to defend real hard and play on their half of the ice.
Really, it is just about our game coming together.
Keefe on whether there is an advantage to his team with the Senators coming off of their bye week:
We will see. There is always debate, right? Rest vs. rust, and all of those kinds of things. We went through it coming out of the break ourselves, but we also played an opponent who was coming off of their break. It remains to be seen.
One thing that we do know: Any time we come in here to Ottawa, we get their best game. We expect nothing different.
Keefe on the decision to start Martin Jones:
Jonesy has played really well for us, so we need to keep him involved and keep him going.
At the same time, it gives Samsonov a couple of practice days. He and Jones both skated yesterday after not skating in the outdoor practice. They got a good work day in with Curtis Sanford and another good one today for Sammy.
Jones will go. He has done a really good job for us and got us through a tough period of time. He needs to remain a part of things here now, especially as we are still waiting for Joe Woll to come back. We need to utilize two guys.
Keefe on the expectations for William Lagesson in his return to the lineup:
Just to do the job that he did when he came in previously. When you haven’t played for a while, you need to simplify things even more, but he plays a pretty simple game as it is.
Just defend our end and move the puck up the ice. He has worked very hard and has been very patient. We have confidence in him because of how he has played. He got us through — much like Jones with the injuries in goal — when we had injuries on defense. He did a really nice job for us.
He should feel really good about that, just get in with a clear mind, and let it fly.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#18 Noah Gregor – #11 Max Domi – #89 Nick Robertson
#74 Bobby McMann – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe
#85 William Lagesson – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #31 Martin Jones
#35 Ilya Samsonov
Scratched: Maxime Lajoie, Conor Timmins, Mark Giordano
Injured: John Klingberg, David Kampf, Calle Jarnkrok, Joseph Woll
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #9 Josh Norris – #19 Drake Batherson
#21 Mathieu Joseph – #18 Tim Stützle – #28 Claude Giroux
#71 Ridly Greid – #57 Shane Pinto – #91 Vladimir Tarasenko
#81 Dominik Kubalik – #12 Mark Kastelic – #27 Parker Kelly
#72 Thomas Chabot – #2 Artem Zub
#6 Jakob Chychrun – #24 Jacob Bernard-Docker
#26 Erik Brannstrom – #23 Travis Hamonic
Starter: #70 Joonas Korpisalo
#30 Kevin Mandolese
Injured/Out: Anton Forsberg, Jake Sanderson