In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, we’ll focus on the game tonight against the New York Islanders. It’s a game that will decide if the road trip will be considered a success or not. It’s been about as tough a six-game road trip as a team can take, but it’s also been punctuated by a bit of a break in Toronto. We don’t know if that’s been a good or a bad thing. But, that’s NHL play with a COVID-19 influence.
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After tonight’s game, the team heads home for a game against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday and then quickly out on the road again to Detroit to play the Red Wings on Saturday. They then play the New Jersey Devils in back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday.
Item One: Random Thought, Is It Time to Push the Panic Button?
Yesterday, James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel of The Athletic wrote an article where they discussed whether it was time to start worrying about the Maple Leafs because of their recent play. They wrote about defensemen Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl’s struggles and ways they’d like to mix the forward lines around. It’s a good read if you have a subscription. (from “Mirtle and Siegel: Is there reason to be worried about the Maple Leafs?” James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel, The Athletic, 21/01/22).
Here are our two cents. Fans always worry when a team struggles, but the months of December and January have not been “normal” months for the Maple Leafs by any stretch of the imagination. During that time, the team has had all but two players miss games due to Covid-19.
The Maple Leafs have also suffered injuries to Mitch Marner, Ondrej Kase, and Jake Muzzin. The team played a total of seven games in the month of December, none after December 14th. Then they came back and went on this tough six-game road trip.
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Should they win against the Islanders tonight, they’ll end the road trip with a winning record. Maybe it isn’t time to press the panic button quite yet.
Item Two: Carl Dahlstrom Is Expected to Play Tonight
Carl Dahlstrom has been called up and is expected to play tonight against the Islanders. Petr Mrazek will get the start in the net. Joey Anderson will also dress in replacement of Kyle Clifford.
According to David Alter of The Hockey News the lines at yesterday’s practice were:
Forward Line Combinations
Line One: Michael Bunting – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Line Two: Alex Kerfoot – John Tavares – William Nylander
Line Three: Ilya Mikheyev – David Kampf – Pierre Engvall
Line Four: Wayne Simmonds – Jason Spezza – Joey Anderson
Extras: Kyle Clifford, Nick Ritchie
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First Pairing: Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Second Pairing: Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren
Third Pairing: Carl Dahlstrom – Travis Dermott
Extra; Alex Biega
Petr Mrazek (Will Start)
Jack Campbell (Will Backup)
The First and Second Power Play Units
First Power-Play Unit
Second Power-Play Unit
Item Three: Ondrej Kase and Justin Holl Have Exited the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol
Yesterday, both Ondrej Kase and Justin Holl came off the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol; however, neither is expected to play because of conditioning reasons. They’re expected back to game action on Wednesday when the Maple Leafs return home to play the Anaheim Ducks.
Item Four: The Maple Leafs Need to Start Playing Team Defense Again
With defensemen Holl and Muzzin and forward Kase still out, the Maple only real change on defense is that Dahlstrom replaces Biega. Mrazek will be getting only his third start since October 30th, and his fifth start this season.
We expect the Maple Leafs’ forwards to start this game by executing a plan to be more defensively responsible. That needs to start from the first face-off. In turn, we expect the Islanders to be tough defensively.
Under Barry Trotz, the Islanders play a sound and defensively-structured game. They’re also on a three-game winning streak where they’ve scored four goals in each game. They’re obviously finding some offense to go with their defensive play.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The game is the thing that the team is focusing on today. We don’t expect either the Maple Leafs or the Islanders to run away with this game and we’d be surprised if it ended with more than five goals scored in total. The game will more likely end 2-1 or 3-2 than to end 5-4 or 6-5 like most other games on this road trip.
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To this point, on this extended road trip, as we noted the Maple Leafs are 2-2-1. How this trip will be judged rests on the outcome of tonight’s game.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
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