Maple Leafs News & Rumors: O’Reilly, Meier, Keefe & Bunting

The Toronto Maple Leafs play a tough New Jersey Devils’ team tonight. It won’t be an easy game, even if the whole team were healthy. But they’re not. Ryan O’Reilly was just reported today to have surgery on his finger and will be out for about four weeks. John Tavares is ill with the flu and is day-to-day.

The Maple Leafs will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. With the playoffs looming, every game is crucial for the team, and they’ll need to play their best to come away with a win against the surging Devils.

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Overall, it should be an exciting game between two really strong Eastern Conference teams. I know I am looking forward to watching all the changes to the Maple Leafs’ lineup and seeing Timo Meier play in his second game for the Devils.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Forgotten Ones: Travis Green

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look forward to the game, as well as other news emerging from the team.

Item One: Where Are the Maple Leafs Now?

The O’Reilly surgery was a bit of a setback for the Maple Leafs. However, it is what it is. The team has certainly made some significant moves to improve its roster, and everything is focused on seeing if they can finally break their playoff curse. 

The addition of O’Reilly was seen as a huge boost to the team. He brings a ton of experience, leadership, and talent to his new team. However, fortunately, playoff success isn’t solely dependent on his contributions or even on one line’s play.

Ryan O'Reilly Toronto Maple Leafs
Ryan O’Reilly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs will need the entire roster to step up and perform during the playoffs. Fortunately, there’s time left to allow Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe to see what lineups work best as he mixes and matches the newcomers into the old guard. This will be the postseason where the team’s stars – such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares – need to shine. 

I think it’s fortunate that general manager Kyle Dubas didn’t upset the regular roster too much. Pierre Engvall and Rasmus Sandin are gone, but their replacements are in place (if not practiced-up). In addition, the team’s depth players are still there with some quality additions who have the potential to contribute in key moments.

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary Advantage Samsonov, Sandin’s New Job

Looking forward to the playoffs, the Maple Leafs will likely have to get through their old nemeses. They’ll meet the Tampa Bay Lightning first. And while the Lightning seem to be imploding with five straight losses, all that likely means is that Toronto will get home-ice advantage. The Lightning will be as tough as ever.  

I hope the team’s next opponent will be the Boston Bruins. It’s about time they send that team home. It’s happened all too often the other way in the past. 

Linus Ullmark Jeremy Swayman Boston Bruins
Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have played well for the Boston Bruins this season.
(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For those Maple Leafs’ doubters, the NHL playoffs are notoriously unpredictable. Even the President’s Trophy winners are regularly upset by lower-seeded opponents. Overall, I believe the Maple Leafs have improved their postseason roster. Now, we’ll see if they can finally break their playoff curse and make a deep run in the postseason.

I’m looking forward to this season’s playoffs.

Item Two: Maple Leafs Fans Get to See Timo Meier

It will be interesting to see how Timo Meier fits into the Devils’ lineup and how he performs against the Maple Leafs. The Devils have been on a hot streak lately, winning six out of their last eight games. Meier’s addition only provides an added boost to their offense. They were good to start with.

Related: What Maple Leafs Fans Should Know About a Timo Meier Trade

Meier scored in his first game for the Devils after coming to New Jersey in a trade with the San Jose Sharks. He’s looking to build on his own history of success with his new team. He’s been playing on a line with Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes. The question is how much he can improve an already good Devils’ team.

Item Three: Maple Leafs Line Combinations for Devils

Yesterday Sportsnet’s Luke Fox projected the Maple Leafs’ line combinations for tonight’s game in New Jersey. They look like this:

Line NumberLeft-WingCenterRight-Wing
First LineAlex KerfootAuston MatthewsMitch Marner
Second LineCalle Järnkrok Sam Lafferty William Nylander
Third LineZach Aston-ReeseDavid KampfNoel Acciari
Fourth LineMichael BuntingPontus HolmbergAlex Steeves
Defensive PairingLeft-SideRight-Side
First PairingMorgan RiellyTimothy Liljegren
Second PairingJake McCabeTJ Brodie
Third PairingMark GiordanoJustin Holl

Starting goalie is confirmed to be Ilya Samsonov, with Matt Murray backing up.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

As a note, today’s Daily Faceoff had the same forward groupings but changed the defense. It listed McCabe with Brodie as the top pairing, Giordano and Holl as the second pairing and Rielly and Liljegren as the third pairing.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

I am really looking forward to watching the fourth line play. I am a Bunting fan, and I’ve enjoyed watching Holmberg play this season. Steeves has shown potential in the American Hockey League. This should be a speedy and hard-pressing line. 

Related: How the Maple Leafs Can Keep Michael Bunting Long-Term

With all the different moving parts for the team, what a fun game this should be.

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