Canadiens 2022-23 Opponent Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

2021-22 Record: 54-21-7 (115 points, lost to Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in first round of 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs)

Season Series: 2-2

The Toronto Maple Leafs will enter the 2022-23 season with much of the same core from last year, headlined by Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly. After underachieving in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they will look to have a good year with the goal of winning at least one postseason matchup, breaking their first-round series curse (From, ‘The art of a playoff collapse: Looking back at the Leafs’ recent first round failures,’ The Star, 5/2/22). They have been plagued with losing elimination games in playoff series over the last several years. Let’s take a look at their roster by position heading into the new season.

Maple Leafs Forwards

Matthews is only 24 years old and is coming off a Hart Trophy-winning season in which he set new career highs in goals (60) and assists (46) in 73 games played. He also had four goals and five assists during the Maple Leafs’ seven playoff games. He, Tavares, Marner, and William Nylander all did well last year during the regular season and will need to do so during 2022-23. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Matthews, Marner, and Michael Bunting are projected to be on the Maple Leafs’ top line this year, while Tavares, Nylander, and Alexander Kerfoot will play on the second line. They lost forwards Ondrej Kase, Colin Blackwell, Ilya Mikeheyev, and Brett Seney and added Calle Jarnkrok, Adam Gaudette, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel during the offseason. Jarnkrok, Gaudette, and Aube-Kubel will be in their bottom six to start the year.  

Maple Leafs Defence

Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, Justin Holl, Timothy Liljegren, Mark Giordano, and Rielly represent the top six defencemen for the Maple Leafs in 2022-23. Rielly is the top defenceman and will be featured on both the power-play (PP) and penalty-killing (PK) units. Muzzin, Holl, and Brodie are defensive blueliners and will play on their PK, while Giordano will be featured on the PP. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Defence Could Look Vastly Different Next Season

The Maple Leafs have an experienced defensive core that will need to be one of the strengths of the franchise. The change in the goaltending position with the departure of Jack Campbell will put pressure on the blueline to play well as Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov are unknowns heading into their first seasons with the club. Rielly and Muzzin are capable of leading the defense to limit the opposition’s offensive chances and make the game manageable for the goalies.

Maple Leafs’ New-Look Goaltenders

Goaltending is the spot that represents the biggest change from last year for the Maple Leafs. Campbell signed with the Edmonton Oilers during free agency, leaving them in need of another starting netminder. They traded with the Ottawa Senators for Murray and added Samsonov in free agency during the offseason. Murray will be looking for a fresh start after struggling during his time with the Senators.

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Murray will aim to repeat his success with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he won back-to-back championships during the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. During his time with the Senators, he struggled in comparison to how he played earlier in his career. Samsonov was a serviceable backup when he was with the Washington Capitals but struggled during his playing time last year, in which he played the most games during his career. In 39 starts and 44 games played, he had a 3.02 goals-against-average (GAA) and a save percentage (SV%) of .896.

Schedule

Oct. 12 – vs. Maple Leafs

Jan. 21 – vs. Maple Leafs

Feb. 18 – @ Maple Leafs

Apr. 8 – @ Maple Leafs

How the Canadiens Match Up With the Maple Leafs

The organizations are headed in opposite directions heading into 2022-23. The Canadiens, in a rebuild, are looking to further develop its young core, which includes Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, and Juraj Slafkovsky. The Maple Leafs are aiming to repeat last season’s success to advance past the first round in the postseason. If they underachieve this season, particularly in the playoffs, they may make changes at the head coaching spot and in the front office in 2023.


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