The Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs will reignite their rivalry on Saturday night as they battle each other for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The Senators are a mere two points ahead of the Leafs, so Toronto has the chance to tie Ottawa in the standings. If the Leafs win in regulation, they will have the tiebreaker advantage.
The Maple Leafs are a different team than the last time the Senators faced them back in the season opener. Although the Toronto roster has changed little, their young stars are 40 games more experienced, and their improvement shows. The Leafs were 8-8-4 in their first 20 games, whereas they are 11-5-4 in their last 20. With a very tight game the last time these two teams met, we can expect much of the same with this one.
Ottawa Senators vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Canadian Tire Centre – 7 p.m. EST
Broadcast channels – CBC & City
2016-17 Season Series: October 12 – Senators won 5-4 (OT)
Ottawa Senators – 22-14-4 – 48 Points
Home Record: 13-6-4
Hot Players: Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris
Key Absences: Andrew Hammond (ankle), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Craig Anderson (personal leave)
Zack Smith – Derick Brassard – Mark Stone
Ryan Dzingel – Kyle Turris – Bobby Ryan
Mike Hoffman – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Tom Pyatt
Chris Kelly – Curtis Lazar – Chris Neil
Marc Methot – Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf – Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki – Chris Wideman
Toronto Maple Leafs – 19-13-8 – 46 Points
Road Record: 9-6-6
Hot Players: James van Riemsdyk, Mitchell Marner, Connor Brown, Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri
Key Absences: Ben Smith (upper body), Martin Marincin (lower body)
Zach Hyman – Auston Matthews – Connor Brown
Leo Komarov – Nazem Kadri – William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Mitchell Marner
Matt Martin – Frederik Gauthier – Nikita Soshnikov
Morgan Rielly – Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner – Connor Carrick
Matt Hunwick – Roman Polak
1) Goaltender Curtis McElhinney will be making his Maple Leafs debut after Toronto claimed him off of waivers. He has not played much this season, only starting five games with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has a 2.38 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, but those numbers are lowered to 2.96 and .903 in his career against the Senators.
2) All eyes will be on Auston Matthews, as the last time these two teams met, he made history by scoring four goals in his first NHL game. He has not slowed down, with 15 goals in his last 22 games, he currently sits third in the league in goals. Add in the fact that his two wingers are also rookies, it is a testament to how much Matthews is already able to do on his own.
3) Mark Stone has been the Senators’ most consistent player and has lead the way at both ends of the rink. Since November 14, he has 11 goals and 26 points in 25 games. He also leads the league in takeaways, ahead by a wide margin, with 52 in 39 games. He will play an important role in slowing down the Leafs’ top forwards.
4) Like they did in their previous game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Senators will have to commit to their defensive system by committee. The Leafs have scored the fifth most goals in the league since December 15, with 42 in 12 games. Toronto has several forwards that have been strong offensively in that time, with three of them averaging more than a point per game. They have not sacrificed defence for scoring goals either, as they are tied for fifth best in fewest goals allowed with 30. However, the Senators are coming into the game with faith in their defensive structure, as they have allowed the fewest goals in the league since December 15.
5) The Senators and Maple Leafs are polar opposites when it comes to how they generally start and end hockey games. The Leafs are third-last when it comes to their win percentage (.682) after leading two periods of play whereas the Senators are seventh best (.929). The Senators have allowed their opposition to score first 23 times, compared to the Leafs doing so only 15 times. Toronto has a .200 win percentage, last in the league, when they allow the first goal of the game. Ottawa has the second-best win percentage in the league when scoring first at .765, therefore scoring the first goal will be as crucial as ever in this game.