Boosted by the fresh legs of the returning Morgan Rielly, the Maple Leafs will need to dig deep in a back-to-back situation if they’re going to make it six wins in a row. They kick off a tough stretch of their schedule against the rested but banged-up (no Jack Eichel or Mark Stone) Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights tonight in Vegas (10:00 p.m. EST, TSN4).

The Leafs have rallied around the Rielly-Greig incident, Rielly’s subsequent suspension-related absence, and an ugly initial return from the All-Star break (1-2-0) by rattling off a 5-0-0 run. They beat five non-playoff teams from 2022-23 who have a combined 102-107-5 record so far this season. The Leafs conceded just 11 goals in those five games, although it came against offenses ranked 23rd, 24th (x2), 26th, and 29th in the NHL.

The stiffer tests begin tonight in Vegas as in the next six games, the Leafs will play four teams that combine for a 138-64-24 record between them: the Golden Knights (x2), Avalanche, Rangers, and Bruins.

Outside of Rielly’s return — he will skate with William Lagesson on his right side — the Leafs will insert Ryan Reaves back into the lineup over Noah Gregor, who finished last among Leaf skaters with 10:53 in ice time against Arizona. The other three lines and two pairings are expected to remain the same as Sheldon Keefe unsurprisingly opts for continuity/stability with his Benoit-McCabe and Brodie-Liljegren duos.

Martin Jones will start in goal after ending a rough 1-4-0 stretch (.858 save percentage) with his 19-save performance in the 9-2 win over Anaheim last Saturday.

Game Day Quotes

Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy on the loss of Mark Stone to injury (in addition to Jack Eichel) and the team’s history of stepping up in Stone’s absence (23-9-7 without Stone in 2022-23):

We played pretty well (without Stone last season). History sometimes repeats itself. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The way we are looking at it: We have the six D that we went through the playoffs with who are all healthy now. It is the third time they are going to play together this year. That is a positive. We should receive solid play from them.

We have two healthy goaltenders. That hasn’t always happened. That is how we are going to start: We have to be better defensively.

We can make up some of the offense as we go along, but if we play good defense with this team, it generally leads to good offense. It is what fuels our offensive game. That is how we plan to attack this without Mark.

Even when Mark was in it, we wanted to get there. Now it becomes more incumbent on the group to understand that. Without Jack as well, it is 100 points out of your lineup.

I look at it as an opportunity. Some of those middle-of-the-road guys are getting an opportunity now. The middle group needs to start pushing. My hope is that they take more responsibility and hold themselves to a high standard. There is going to be PP and PK time available.

It has been a good group. When challenges have come our way, we have been pretty good with them. Let’s hope that we answer this one.

Sheldon Keefe on the biggest challenge presented by the Golden Knights:

They have their defense intact. They haven’t had them much throughout the season. It is the defense they won the Cup with and have lots of confidence in.

They know how to play and how to protect their net probably better than anybody in the NHL in terms of how they defend, especially in their own end. That makes it challenging to get to the net. It would be the biggest challenge for sure.

Keefe on the decision to keep two of the three pairings together on defense after Rielly’s return:

The team is going really well. We like our pairs.

We’ll keep the positive momentum of the team going. We are excited to get both Morgan and Lags back in. On a back-to-back, those guys will give us a jolt.

We expect the other groups to keep building their game.

Cassidy on the challenge of shutting down Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner amid their hot streaks:

The challenge is always there. He finishing a little more often this year, obviously, but he has always been that guy who is a threat and you circle every time.

The biggest challenge is trying to quiet Matthews and Marner down, but they have other guys if you go through the lineup. But it starts there if we can frustrate them and make them really work for all of their ice. If they want to push through, get to the hard areas, and make us pay the price, so be it. They are good players who are going to be able to do that. But we have to force them to work to get to that ice.

It is our job to make it harder on them. If they can push through and get it done, you have to tip your hat, but that is how we are looking at it. It is the same with Tavares and Nylander. Their top six are dangerous.

In terms of discipline, we have been good with staying out of the box. Edmonton came in here, and it was a real focus of ours. We did a good job of staying out of the box that night. When Carolina, came in here, they beat us, but we didn’t take a penalty against a good power play.

You want to be physical and make them work, but you have to be checking with your legs, good sticks, and your brains. That usually allows us to get over top of people. That is how we are going to try to deal with the challenge.

We have been a good defensive team for the most part — not every night, and we are still working on the consistency factor, but that is what is going to be required tonight.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Golden Knights

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

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi  – #11 Max Domi – #88 William Nylander
#74 Bobby McMann – #91 John Tavares – #89 Nick Robertson
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #85 William Lagesson
#78 TJ Brodie – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#2 Simon Benoit – #22 Jake McCabe

Starter: #31 Martin Jones
#35 Ilya Samsonov

Scratched: Noah Gregor, Marshall Rifai, Max Lajoie
Injured/Out: Calle Jarnkrok, Joseph Woll, Conor Timmins, Mark Giordano, 

Vegas Golden Knights Projected Lines

#49 Ivan Barbashev – #10 Nicolas Roy – #81 Jonathan Marchessault
#43 Paul Cotter – #71 William Karlsson – #55 Keegan Kolesar
#19 Brendan Brisson – #20 Chandler Stephenson – #22 Michael Amadio
#11 Mason Morelli – #51 Byron Froese – #56 Sheldon Rempal

#23 Alec Martinez – #7 Alex Pietrangelo
#3 Brayden McNab – #27 Shea Theodore
#14 Nicolas Hague – #2 Zach Whitecloud

Starter: #33 Adin Hill
#26 Logan Thompson

Injured/Out: Mark Stone, Jack Eichel, William Carrier, Brett Howden, Ben Hutton, Tobias Bjornfot, Pavel Dorofeyev