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Preview: Maple Leafs hit Vegas for one night only

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As the road trip continues, the Leafs visit the fun part of the desert.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Vegas Golden Knights: game #57

Time: 10:00 p.m.

Location: The exact spot the Stanley Cup was handed out last year.

Broadcast/Streaming: ATTSN-RM and Sportsnet Ontario

Opponent SBNation Site: Knights on Ice

Vegas and the Leafs have something in common; they both had a score of 5-2 in their most recent game. Vegas, however, lost to Arizona by that rather alarming amount, and they are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games.

This lull in their season has moved them firmly out of the running for the top two spots in the Pacific, and they are eight points behind the Flames. The Pacific is not like the rest of the NHL, though, and they have no real competition for third place. Vancouver and Arizona both sit out of the wild card spot with nine and 11 points between them and Vegas. Vegas is where the Leafs were last year at this time, with nothing much to fight for.

They have very mediocre looking results league wide where they sit 11th in ROW and 12th in goal differential, but it’s safe to say they’ve been significantly under performing their real skill level.

Vegas is fourth in shot share and third in Expected Goals using Offside Review’s numbers, and they’re ahead of Tampa in both measures. However, their expected save percentage is very low. That is, in part, a feature of really low pace of Corsi against, the lowest in the NHL. However, their Expected Goals against are only okay, and not all that much better than Toronto’s. Their defensive execution, then, is poor, but they allow so few chances, this shouldn’t hurt them. That is until they play a team that has an offensive pace similar to their own like Toronto has.

Most of Vegas’s woes are coming from the shooting end of things, where their under-performing shooters are about to face one of a fairly short list of goalies better than Marc-André Fleury has been this year.

Moneypuck has the odds at 56.8% for Vegas with their edge in five-on-five play and home ice advantage combining to make this the toughest challenge of the road trip, slump notwithstanding.

Who’s going to win? Ask me at one in the morning, I might know then.

Maple Leafs

From Tuesday’s practice, where reports focused on the D pairs carrying over from the Colorado game

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Par Lindholm - Frederik Gauthier - Connor Brown
Tyler Ennis

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Muzzin - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Travis Dermott

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Garret Sparks

Vegas Golden Knights

From the Cap Friendly Roster Projections

Forward Lines

Jonathan Marchessault - William Karlsson - Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - Alex Tuch
Oscar Lindberg - Cody Eakin - Valentin Zykov
William Carrier - Pierre-Édouard Bellemare - Ryan Reaves

Defence Pairings

Brayden McNabb - Nate Schmidt
Shea Theodore - Deryk Engelland
Jon Merrill - Colin Miller

Goaltenders

Marc-André Fleury
Malcolm Subban


Now, about those defensive pairings that are so upsetting in so many ways. This is exactly the configuration that was used for the final two periods of the Colorado game, so it is a little surprising that they’re coming right out against a much better team with the same pairings.

The point of this structure is almost entirely based around the most important player on defence — Morgan Rielly. He generates offence; he drives the offensive engine; he is intrinsic to the team’s success. And when Mike Babcock quoted Nick Lidstrom on defensive theory to say that the best defenceman should play on his forehand, he was not telling everyone that because he planed to do the opposite!

Ron Hainsey is beside the point here. Actually he is usually right on the point in the offensive zone, which is on point. Morgan Rielly does not need any sort of leash on his freedom to roam, and having him on the right side, given that the Leafs’ best wingers are all over there too is, frankly, really dumb. As a way to ease in Jake Muzzin to a radically different team structure and defensive system, it was totally fine to swap him over, but it was never going to last.

Next up is Muzzin. His usage to date shows that the coaches have kept an open mind on how to use him and how to fit his special teams minutes in with the five-on-five flow, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the general drift of his deployment has been defensive. Pairing him with Rielly creates a problem because the Leafs don’t play Rielly as much when a goal against is really harmful. But that’s exactly when you want Muzzin out there. So that was dealt with up to now by swapping Rielly over to play with Gardiner or Dermott and Muzzin with Hainsey or Zaitsev. This new pairing structure is just leaning in to that a little harder. But if you’re not expecting to see shuffling, you’re going to be surprised!

The last pairing is the most interesting, and it’s not because Dermott will play too little. It’s that he’s on the right side! Finally! Look, Rasmus Sandin (a lefty) is a hell of a player. If you built a defenceman in a factory to play for the Leafs, he’d be it. He’s coming up the development curve as fast as he can, too. He might beat Timothy Liljegren to the NHL, or they might show up joined at the hip. But if he does arrive early, then Dermott is kind of out of a job on the left.

This pairing set up is likely to see more even ice time doled out to everyone at five-on-five, and part of that is a need driven by the fact that Rielly does PK shifts with Muzzin now. If that continues, he’s playing a hell of a lot of minutes in the stretch drive when we’d all like him to arrive in the playoffs healthy. In one recent game, I was a little surprised to see absolutely dead even five-on-five minutes for all six defenders after two periods.

Will this last? Maybe not even into tonight’s game! Maybe five minutes, maybe for a few weeks. But the point of it all is getting the best defender on the team in the offensive zone on the left side where the forwards are weaker, and if that means Ron Hainsey mans the point some of the time, well, give Dermott a chance with Gardiner to see if he can climb that development curve faster as well because I sure don’t think it’s ideal, but I want Rielly on the left more than I care about anything else.


The Leafs haven’t had morning skate yet today, assuming they’re planning one, so we won’t know until later if Tyler Ennis will draw in or if these defence pairing really survived the night. When we have updates, we’ll let you know! There’s a lot of time before the game starts.

Update: Andersen vs Fleury, and Ennis is unlikely to play. No further word on lines/pairing today.