Toronto Maple Leafs at Columbus Blue Jackets
7 PM on Sportsnet and Hulu (really, hockey is on Hulu now)
The Maple Leafs travel for the first game of a back-to-back that sees them come right back home to face the Kraken tomorrow. Is that a smart schedule? Nope. And yet it’s what we have since the NHL carved out a hole for the Olympics and then discovered that Covid was carving a hole out of their teams. March has an easier schedule than February, and even has a week with only two games in it, but the back-to-backs will continue until morale improves.
Columbus is in the liminal space where their fans and maybe even their GM can pretend they’ll make the playoffs, but they aren’t, and they should trade away some players at the deadline. To that end, there’s not much for Leafs fans to do in the next two weeks but watch the non-playoff opponents the way you check out your neighbour’s car.
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Patrik Laine
Jakub Voracek - Jack Roslovic - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Max Domi - Sean Kuraly - Justin Danforth
Yegor Chinakhov - Cole Sillinger - Emil Bemström
Zach Werenski - Andrew Peeke
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Gabriel Carlsson - Jake Bean
Elvis Merzlikins - starter
The Blue Jackets are fairly emptied out of talent, with a few notable exceptions. They likely will want to trade Max Domi, expiring as a UFA, and they might trade Patrik Laine as a rental. They’ve vehemently denied that, which makes me think it’s true. They want to move Joonas Korpisalo, who has just come off IR, and is supposed to be the backup tonight. They might be done with Alexandre Texier, also injured, and should re-sign expiring defender Dean Kukan.
None of those players really thrill me, and the thirst in Leafs land for Gavrikov is very likely to go unslaked.
The Maple Leafs are throwing out one experimental roster after another, looking at the younger players and trying to decide what to do with them while letting all the scouts in the NHL watch. To that end, Nick Robertson is expected to play some power play time tonight. Rasmus Sandin is still sick and did not travel with the team. On the weekend, the Leafs put Ondřej Kaše on IR (to make roster space to recall Sandin, so he wasn’t getting hosed on salary in the minors). Neither player is available for tonight.
That means we should expect the same lines from the last game, with Petr Mrázek to start.
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Nick Robertson - John Tavares - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - David Kämpf - Pierre Engvall
Alex Kerfoot - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly - Timothy Liljegren
TJ Brodie - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Ilya Lyubushkin
You got me. I don’t see any patterns in the way the Leafs skaters have played lately. Sometimes execrable, sometimes their best selves, sometimes a weird combination of all of those. I do know that no matter which of the three third-pairing defenders you put with Rielly, you’re going to get chaos. And frankly, if you want to trade one, this a dumb way to do it. But Keefe has a bit of an asset value saboteur in him, intentional or not.
As for the goalies: