A tough road trip across the western US continues tonight for the Leafs with a late puck dropping in Vegas against the Golden Knights, leading in the Pacific Division (10pm EST, TSN4).
Without Jack Eichel (who skated for the first time after surgery today) or Max Pacioretty due to injury, the Vegas forward isn’t the most star-studded group in the league, but as we all know by now, the Golden Knights play a structured , physical, up-tempo team play and often have all 12 attackers in the 11-18 minute range by the end of the 60 minutes. They have 14 regulars with 0.4 points per game or better, so there is a balance in their attack that allowed them to score in the top five with 3.47 goals per game.
With 12 games played in the last month (the most in the NHL), despite some injuries and Covid-related absences, they have been able to maintain a rhythm while many teams in the league have been shut down for extended periods. Vegas has only postponed two games – the two booked the vacation against LA on December 23 and against COL on December 27 – but have otherwise maintained a relatively normal schedule as they go 8-3-1 since December 11.
The Leafs, in terms of their depth, are likely to get Ondrej Kase (game decision) back in their lineup tonight with the expectation of him returning to the Auston Matthews wing, where he fitted in well during Mitch Marner’s absence in mid-December. prior to the Covid outbreak. That has the knock-on effect that Ilya Mikheyev is bumped back to a third line with David Kampf and Wayne Simmonds, while Sheldon Keefe can reassemble Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander’s second line. All in all, the depth improves noticeably, even without Marner and Pierre Engvall being available for the time being.
In net, Jack Campbell (17-5-3, .936 save percentage) will start against Robin Lehner (15-10-0, .906 save percentage), and Petr Mrazek is expected to receive his first start since December 11 in Arizona tomorrow .
The Leafs defeated the Golden Knights 4-0 in their early November meeting in Toronto, although the lineup is notably different this time with William Karlsson and Mark Stone back in line for Vegas and Mitch Marner for Toronto. This should be another good test for the Leafs in a tough building.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the challenge against the Golden Knights:
A talented team that plays fast, changes very quickly and is very dangerous in striker. They are also big and strong. They come at you quickly and play hard defensively. They are just really good and dynamic in many areas.
There are a lot of similarities in their attacking game – about the rush and those things – with what we saw in Colorado. From a preparation standpoint, there is that part of it, but there are other elements in the game that are challenging with their physicality and how hard they play.
Vegas head coach Pete Deboer on the challenge against the Leafs:
A great squad. Their record speaks for itself. Their game is real when you look at the analytics and dive in. It’s just a really solid hockey team.
For us in the first place, who do we have available tonight? Let’s put our best lineup on the ice. We understand the challenge against a really good team like this. We have to stand up for the occasion.
Keefe on Campbell blaming himself for the Colorado loss:
We have seen tremendous progress in that area. You don’t really have to look beyond the results on the ice. Regardless of how he answers questions, the proof is when he’s in the net. He is just as keel. He goes out and prepares for the next time. He comes back and is ready to play.
He was excellent in Colorado the other night. He ends up giving up five on the night, but there’s a lot more available for them to score. He has been great all season and Colorado was no exception.
Keefe on the recent game of the Muzzin-Holl pairing:
For me, I know that early out of the break, Muzz missed time and took some time. I’m very happy with Justin Holl’s game since we got back from the break. No one is going to play a perfect game, especially with the challenging minutes those guys take and the roles they play in five-on-five and penalty kill. Those are difficult minutes against very good players.
I see great progress in Justin Holl’s game. I think that is a very positive point for him, that couple and our team in general.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #25 Ondrej Kase
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #64 David Kampf – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#73 Kyle Clifford – #19 Jason Spezza – #20 Nick Ritchie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#36 Rasmus Sandin – #23 Travis Dermott
Appetizer: #36 Jack Campbell
#35 Petr Mrazek
Extras: Alex Biega, Timothy Liljegren, Joey Anderson
Vegas Golden Knights Projected Lines
#81 Jonathan Marchessault – #71 William Karlsson – #19 Reilly Smith
#63 Evgenii Dadonov – #20 Chandler Stephenson – #61 Mark Stone
#26 Mattias Janmark – #10 Nicolas Roy – #55 Keegan Kolesar
#28 William Carrier – #21 Brett Howden – #41 Nolan Patrick
#3 Brayden McNabb – #7 Alex Pietrangelo
#27 Shea Theodore – #2 Zach Whitecloud
#17 Ben Hutton – #52 Dylan Coghlan
Appetizer: #90 Robin Lehner
#36 Logan Thompson
Injured: Alec Martinez, Nicolas Hague, Max Pacioretty, Jack Eichel, Laurent Brossoit