The Leafs beat the Flyers 6-0 on Saturday, and it was the first shutout of the season for Garret Sparks (who has performed great in a back-up role this season so far, hopefully silencing the strange collection of Curtis MacElhinney fans) as well as the first hattrick for Andreas Johnsson, who is making a case to stay in the lineup when Auston Matthews and William Nylander return.
Though it is early in the season, tonight’s game is a very important one for both teams. The Leafs and the Bruins are both cup contenders and two of the best teams in the NHL. Because of that, neither one wants to lose the division title and risk facing off against the other one, or the Lightning, in the first round.
The Leafs have played one extra game, and they sit two points ahead of the Bruins. If the Leafs win tonight, they will pass the surprising Buffalo Sabres, and sit only one point behind the Lightning.
You have Morgan Rielly putting himself in the Norris conversation with an absurd amount of points. You have Travis Dermott slowly taking more minutes and more of a role as he continues to emerge as a solid young defenseman in the league. You have a surprising fourth line built around Josh Leivo, Tyler Ennis and Frderik Gauthier at least outshooting and outchancing teams, while both Ennis and Leivo have started putting some of their chances in the net recently. And we just had an Andreas Johnsson hat trick hinting at even MORE scoring depth that is starting to be realized.
If the Leafs lose, they will be passed by the Bruins and sit in the Wild Card position. With the Atlantic Division being one of the best in hockey, every game is important, especially inter-divisional ones.
Share Share Monday FTB: William is coming tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports The William Nylander contract saga has been… exhausting, if I want to put it politely. From endless NHL executives who have never been named throwing their opinion around, to so-called NHL insiders filling in THEIR opinion because of a lack of any real information, to an increasingly frustrated and bitterly divided fandom either railing at Nylanders greed or railing back at the people talking about his greed.
On the injury front, Auston Matthews will miss his 214th straight game (just 14, but it feels like more) and Nikita Zaitsev missed the morning practice, and there is word that he will possibly miss tonight’s game in favor of Martin Marincin.
Is Zaitsev injured? Has he been traded? (I doubt it, but we can hope!) As of writing this, no one seems to know. I do think that the Leafs should think about upgrading on Zaitsev, but I really wouldn’t expect any trades to go down before William Nylander is signed, sealed and playing.
How a pair of Leafs tickets and a good deed led to a cross-country friendship
Either way, a Leafs and Bruins game to kick off the week is pretty sweet. Here is hoping for a Leafs victory.
Jeff Blair: Bruins still the measuring stick for Maple Leafs
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Physical play key for injury-ravaged Bruins against Leafs
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Mike Augello – Matthews nearing return, what about Nylander??? Leafs vs. Bruins
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TORONTO – As the clock ticks on the Maple Leafs window to sign restricted free agent winger William Nylander by Saturdays Dec. 1 deadline, Torontos bubble players are both bracing for change and using the looming possibility as motivation.
Im happy with what Ive done, but I have to take this game tonight [against Boston] and try to do something noticeable out there and stay consistent every time I get the opportunity, said fourth-line winger Josh Leivo after the Leafs morning skate on Monday.
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You only control what you can control, and right now were all still in the lineup. Have to make the most of it.
Its possible that Toronto will have both Nylander and injured centre Auston Matthews back in the fold by the end of this week, which could leave Leivo or his linemates, Frederik Gauthier and Tyler Ennis, on the outside looking in.
Matthews has been practising with the Leafs in a red no-contact sweater for the past two weeks and been on the ice for several morning skates working closer to a return. The 21-year-old centre said last Thursday he will need at least one full-contact practice before coming back, with his next opportunity on Tuesday. From there, Matthews could be eyeing a return as early as Wednesday against San Jose, or Saturday at Minnesota.
Ennis and Gauthier have already experienced being healthy scratches this season – Gauthier didnt play until the Leafs fourth game of the season and Ennis was scratched for three games in mid-October while rotating onto the fourth line with Andreas Johnsson.
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It wasnt until Matthews hurt his shoulder on Oct. 27 that both Gauthier and Ennis took hold of regular fourth-line spots; in the 13 games since, Ennis has registered two goals and one assist, while Gauthier has two assists. Leivo has been at his post in all 24 games for Toronto this year, producing three goals and two assists. All three rave about their burgeoning chemistry now and arent ready to quit building on it.
The Leafs penalty kill percentage is fourth best in the league this year, and theyve only given up 11 goals shorthanded. Theyve scored two. In terms of shot rates against (CA60), theyre 20th, so not great, but not horrible. Their save percentage on the kill is a little better. Its very difficult to measure effectiveness of penalty killers because they do it in so few minutes, and the percentage method tells you the results, not what to expect in the future, but the Leafs certainly seem to do close to league average on the kill, and close to exceptionally elite on the power play itself.
We just have to focus on doing our best every shift, Ennis shrugged. Our goal is to just go out there every shift and try to score, make sure were good in our own end. Whatever happens with everything else will happen.
Gauthiers position might be most precarious of all, given that he entered the Leafs lineup came when head coach Mike Babcock moved Par Lindholm from centre to the wing prior to Matthews injury. With a centre and winger potentially returning, Gauthier is expendable, even while his game is showing steady improvement.
Maple Leafs Fans Wish William Nylander Had David Pastrnaks Mindset About Contract
When at his best, Gauthier is driving the fourth lines success from the faceoff circle. Their line sees only 36 per cent of their draws in the offensive zone, but still theyre at 50 per cent possession on the season – a credit to Gauthiers 50 per cent success rate overall this season on defensive zone faceoffs, boosted to 53 per cent success in the month of November.
Gauthier has added some quality scoring chances to the mix in recent games, but to his great frustration they have yet to go in.
Roman Polak led the team in penalties taken last year with 22 and he drew only 8. People complained bitterly about his negative effect on the team, but 22 penalties isnt even Kuznetsov territory. Next up was Nazem Kadri (of course) with 18 taken and 29 drawn. Third was Zach Hyman with 17 taken and 19 drawn. Mitch Marner was tied with Hyman for 19 drawn, as was William Nylander. Auston Matthews only had 18. Those three took very few penalties themselves of course.
Sometimes I hear it from Josh in practice, like Just do that scoring in a game! Gauthier joked. But I think were all just taking it day to day and Im just doing my thing. Were playing tonight, so you come in and do your best and then well see what happens when the big players come back.
Bruins pregame notes: Toronto ends long road stretch
Hes just a kid trying to figure it out, trying to get better, added Babcock. Coach wont even play him on the penalty kill yet. There are lots of things you have to work on. But if youre [Andreas Johnsson] two days ago [who scored a hat trick against Philadelphia] versus today, that one game doesnt make a career, but it might give you some confidence. So its all about confidence and earning your way for [Gauthier].
Indeed, its reasonable to assume Johnsson has far fewer worries about being pushed out by Matthews and Nylander coming back, despite being a healthy scratch for five games in October. His three-goal game on Saturday put the 24-year-old at five goals and one assist in 19 contests, and hes developed a strong rapport with Lindholm, who stands to remain in the centre position going forward.
All things considered, Mondays outing against Boston could be one of the current fourth lines last opportunities to skate as a unit, and they say they wont squander it. Plus, the trio is hungry for a little redemption. When the Leafs met Boston on Nov. 10, it ended in a 5-1 loss for Toronto, and Gauthiers line had a team-worst 38 per cent possession. They argue a lot has changed since then and can prove it on Monday.
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Weve been building chemistry and gelling and built that base where we know what were doing every night and how to do it, said Ennis. When youre on the fourth line you have to be ready to go at all times and just be focused and determined and ready to roll.
Nikita Zaitsev was absent from the Leafs morning skate on Monday due to an illness, but Babcock assumes hell play against Boston. Martin Marincin will slot onto the Leafs second defensive pairing if Zaitsev is unable to go.
If you [told] me when I was 15 that I was going to be playing for $6 million a year when Im 22, I would not think you were saying the truth. Its a dream come true. I could be playing in the Czech [Republic] for a couple hundred bucks a month. Im happy.
– Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak on whether he regrets signing a six-year, $40 million contract extension so quickly in 2017, and not holding out in restricted free agency like his friend William Nylander for a larger deal.