Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Line Combos, Crosby & Kallgren

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins enter tonight’s game both looking back at their last game. However, they’re doing it for different reasons. 

Uncharacteristically, the Penguins are not playing as well as usual. They have a 5-6-2 record on the season. However, the team comes out of Washington on the heels of a 4-1 victory. Until that point, they had not won a game in their last seven outings. 

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On the other hand, after a tough western road trip, the Maple Leafs had blown a game against the Vegas Golden Knights that they should have won. Head coach Sheldon Keefe’s team did not manage the game well when they had a 3-2 lead. They also didn’t play well defensively, giving up five breakaways on goalie Erik Kallgren who stopped four of them.

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Tonight, we’ll see if the Maple Leafs can offer Kallgren some support in the net. His stats line would be much improved if the team played tighter defence in his outings.

Item One: Line Combinations and Defensive Pairings for Tonight’s Game

It’s still early in the season, and finding the right combinations on the four lines is still a work in progress. The first line is starting to heat up after a slow start. But Michael Bunting has been a pilgrim, moving from line to line. He hits the third line tonight that simply hasn’t found an identity. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The second line has been good all season, and John Tavares continues to be at a better than a point-a-game pace. William Nylander is contributing as well. Nick Robertson joins them again at the left-wing spot.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Robertson, Core Four & Trading Matthews

After struggling off the mark, the team’s fourth line is finally playing well. That has happened since Denis Malgin was moved there. That line is centred by the ever-reliable David Kampf, and Zach Aston-Reese is also starting to play well. The line is now generating more offence without losing its defensive reliability and shutdown ability. Malgin might be small, but he is a 200-foot player who is responsible defensively. 

Foreward Lines

First Line: Alex Kerfoot – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner

Second Line: Nick Robertson – John Tavares – William Nylander

Third Line: Michael Bunting – Pierre Engvall – Calle Jarnkrok

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

Defensive Pairings

First Pairing: Morgan Rielly – Timothy Liljegren

Second Pairing: TJ Brodie – Justin Holl

Third Pairing: Mark Giordano – Rasmus Sandin

In the defensive pairings, since Timothy Liljegren has moved to the top pairing he’s done well. At least for the moment, Justin Holl has silenced critics and picked up his game. Mark Giordano plays well with anyone and has put together the most positive advanced statistics for any defenseman on the team.

Item Two: Watching the Great Sidney Crosby

The Maple Leafs could see a lot of firepower from the Penguins. This Pittsburgh team could explode any minute, and it seems they regularly rise up to beat the Maple Leafs. Sidney Crosby, who I simply have to write about when I have a chance, is a generational player who has great games against the Blue and White.  

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While his Penguins might be on a bit of a slow streak, Crosby is not. He’s now a 35-year-old player whose game has morphed over time, but he’s still capable. To date this season, the future Hall of Famer is the team’s leading scorer with six goals and nine assists (for 15 points) in 13 games.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Rising Trade Values, Core Four & Rubins

Maple Leafs’ fans should expect Crosby to have a good game. He seems to shine against the Blue and White. Over his career, he’s played the Maple Leafs 47 times. In those games, he’s scored 28 goals and added 37 assists (for 63 points). The only active NHL player to score more goals against the Maple Leafs is Alex Ovechkin, who’s put 41 goals over the line.

Auston Matthews doesn’t mince words. According to the Maple Leafs first-line center, Crosby is “pretty incredible.” 

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Matthews added that “Even though he has gotten a little bit older, he has adjusted his game … no matter what the situation is. It is really impressive. He is a big guy who presents a challenge to opposing teams.” (from “Young Maple Leafs stars have always had an eye on Crosby,” Marty Klinkenberg. The Globe & Mail, 10/11/2022).

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Last night, Jack Campbell had a tough night playing the Hurricanes in North Carolina. He was torched for seven goals on 32 shots. In the Maple Leafs’ last game against the Hurricanes, also in North Carolina on Sunday, November 6, the Maple Leafs’ defence protected their goalie Kallgren and the team won 3-1.

Erik Kallgren Toronto Maple Leafs
Erik Kallgren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

They did not protect their goalie against the Golden Knights, and Kallgren could not stop all the odd-man rushes that came at him. It begs the question of how the Maple Leafs will play in front of their young goalie tonight. 

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That could be the difference in a win or a loss in tonight’s game. How will the team play in front of Kallgren? I’m looking forward to a strong team game.