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Preview: Maple Leafs at Senators

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The Leafs visit their home away from home.

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NHL: Ottawa Senators at Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Ottawa Senators
7:00PM
TV: CBC (Hockey Night in Canada), Sportsnet One
Opponent’s site: Silver Seven Sens

Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa.

The last time the leafs faced the Senators, way back on February 1st, the Leafs just managed to get an overtime win off of a very nice goal from Mitch Marner.

I think anyone who’s watched the Leafs last couple of games is beginning to get a bit frustrated with the way the Leafs have been playing. Or maybe I’m just projecting my own feelings. For me though, it all boils down to the fact that I think the team not only should be doing better, they can play better – but for whatever reason, they’re just not quite getting there.

With that in mind, here’s some things I’d really like to see from the Leafs this game (please note that all of the below is moderated by the fact that half the team is out with leg injuries and the other half has the plague):

1. Rediscover offense

The Leafs have been looking a bit more defensively sound lately – Auston Matthews, in particular, seems to have discovered a new level to his defensive ability the last couple of months – but the offensive firepower of the early days of the Keefe era has seemed to wane considerably. Some of that may be down to luck and goaltending – I do think the Leafs deserved more goals than they got against the Stars – but not all of it. The Leafs need to get better at striking a balance between the two sides of the game rather than wildly oscillating between the two. With a more reliable backup in net (and yes, Campbell is starting tonight), the team just needs to make sure their offensive output keeps up.

2. Except for the defensemen

My kingdom for a less activated D and to never see Tyson Barrie take a point shot again.

The below goal from the Stars on Thursday night is a good example of something that I’ve seen several times recently from the Leafs defense*.
*Tyson Barrie, but I’m quite certain I’m veering into irrational dislike of him and don’t necessarily trust my opinion on him anymore.

I don’t have a problem with the idea of an activated defense in and of itself, I think the issue arises when defensemen are consistently put in a more offensive position than forwards in general, much less Auston Matthews (why is he at the blue line? why is Tyson Barrie up higher than him? he’s still not a defenseman even if he’s gotten better at it this year please stop doing this to him). The other issue is that I’m not sure that the majority of the Leafs defense are well equipped to handle the high risk, high reward style of defense they’ve been going for – they allow a lot of breakaways, but aren't equally capable of getting back to break them up. And unless you’re planning on giving up a lot of really good scoring chances every game, those two things do need to balance out.

3. Please don’t go to overtime

The Senators currently, in Dom Luszczyszyn’s model, have a 0% chance of making the playoffs, so I’m not quite as worried about potentially giving them two points as I would be against a different team in our division. I’d still rather not go to overtime though, and not just because I want to go to bed early. Four of the seven games the Leafs have played in February have gone to overtime. At this point it’s just as much about dignity as anything else – and the fact that beating the Senators in regulation absolutely is something the Leafs are capable of.

4. Play all three periods

A great way to avoid overtime! And also not something that is impossible or even improbable from this team. We’ve seen dominant performances by the Leafs recently, they just haven’t quite managed to sustain it for the whole game. There’s no reason for them to not be capable of doing that though, and if they can manage to pull it all together for a whole game, they’ll be unstoppable.

And what better team to try it against than the Senators?

Maple Leafs Lineups

Forwards

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Pierre Engvall - Jason Spezza - Kasperi Kapanen
Kyle Clifford - Frederik Gauthier - Dmytro Timashov

Defense

Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - Timothy Liljegren
Travis Dermott - Tyson Barrie

Goalies

Jack Campbell
Frederik Andersen

Senators Lineups

Via the Daily Faceoff

Forwards

Brady Tkachuk - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Connor Brown
Vladislav Namestnikov - Chris Tierney - Drake Batherson
Nick Paul - Artem Anisimov - Anthony Duclair
Scott Sabourin - Colin White - Tyler Ennis

Defense

Thomas Chabot - Dylan DeMelo
Mike Reilly - Nikita Zaitsev
Ron Hainsey - Cody Goloubef

Goalies

Marcus Hogberg
Craig Anderson