Maple Leafs Line Combinations & Player Movements for Devils’ Game

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, the team takes on a surprising New Jersey Devils’ team that is second to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference with a 13-3-0 record. The Maple Leafs will be trying to stop the Devils from winning their 11th straight game tonight.

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[As an aside, The last time the Devils won 10 games in a row was from March 28-April 18, 2006. In that season, they finished the season by winning 11 games. Both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were rookies that season and both scored 100 points.]

Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were both rookies in 2005-06
(Tom Turk/THW).

Both teams are coming off a strong game. On Tuesday, the Maple Leafs had one of their best games of the season by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road by a score of 5-2. The same night, the Devils beat the Montreal Canadiens on the road  5-1. Rising star Jack Hughes (who has seven goals and 11 assists on the season) scored two goals and added an assist in that game.

Item One: Line Combinations and Defensive Pairings for the Devils Game

Top Four Lines

First Line: Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – William Nylander

Second Line: Alex Kerfoot – John Tavares – Mitch Marner

Third Line: Pierre Engvall – Pontus Holmberg –  Calle Jarnkrok

Fourth Line: Zach Aston-Reese –  David Kampf – Denis Malgin

Defensive Pairings

Morgan Rielly – Jordie Benn

Mark Giordano – Justin Holl

Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren

Starting Goalie 

Matt Murray 

Notes About the Lines and Pairings

The same lineup that worked well for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ game will be employed for the Devils tonight. On the first line, although Auston Matthews didn’t score a goal, he handed out two assists. Between them, Michael Bunting and William Nylander scored three goals in that game. 

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: William Nylander, Skilled But Polarizing

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On the second line, John Tavares scored his 400th goal and Mitch Marner kept his 10-game, point-scoring streak alive.

On the third line, which is an all-Swedish line, Pontus Holmberg plays his second straight game as the line’s center. He’s looking solid and reliable both offensively and defensively.

The team’s fourth line, which has consistently been one of the team’s best since Denis Malgin was added to it, will continue to be thrown out against the tough lines and in dangerous defensive-zone situations. Zach Aston-Reese keeps “almost” scoring, and he’s beginning to play more offensively as well as engaging in a physical game. For his size, Denis Malgin is quite a physical player. David Kampf as always is reliable in his shutdown role.

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On the team’s defence, for the third straight game Jordie Benn partners with Morgan Rielly. Mark Giordano is now getting more time on the ice in his second pairing role with Justin Holl; and, the two young Swedish defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren keep showing Maple Leafs’ fans what the team’s future defence will look like.

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In the crease, Matt Murray will be looking for his second straight strong game. If he can string a few really solid games together, he can hush the lingering whispers that he was a poor choice when he became a member of the Maple Leafs’ goalie crew during the offseason.

Item Two: Defenseman Mac Hollowell Moved Back to Marlies

With the lineup solid from the Penguins’ game, young defenseman Mac Hollowell was reassigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies yesterday. He served as an extra defenseman for the Penguins’ game, but he didn’t make his NHL debut. 

Mac Hollowell - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Mac Hollowell when he was with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Given the injuries to Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie, it might be that the 24-year-old will reappear with the Maple Leafs sometime soon. At present, the team has six healthy defensemen on its roster. That’s it.

Item Three: Kyle Clifford Was Activated from IR

Two things happened with Kyle Clifford yesterday. First, he was activated from the injured reserve after his shoulder injury healed. Second, he was sent down to the AHL Marlies. It’s been a tough season for the veteran warrior. He was hurt in the team’s second game of the season and has only played in two games.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Time’s Up for Simmonds & Clifford?

Look for Clifford to get some game action at the AHL level and be ready to go if called upon later in the season. He will join Wayne Simmonds in the AHL. Simmonds was also sent to the Marlies when goalie Murray was activated off the injured reserve for Tuesday’s game. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tonight’s game should be interesting. I hope Murray can have another solid game between the pipes. He has a bit of Jack Campbell’s humility, which I find refreshing.

After the game, Murray noted “I think you could tell the guys were really playing hard in front of me. Tons of blocked shots. I’ve got to give a specific shout out to Jordie (Benn), who made an unbelievable play in the second period there to save a goal on the back post. That’s a great road win for us. The guys put their hearts out.”

It’s nice to see Murray appreciate his teammates by name. That’s the stuff of team-building.