Calgary Flames @ Toronto Maple Leafs

Friday, March 19 - 7:00 p.m. on Sportsnet Ontario, Sportsnet West and TVAS

Saturday, March 20 - 7:00 p.m. on Sportsnet - note: this is not the HNIC game, that’s the Montreal game, so no CBC stream or broadcast

The Maple Leafs welcome the New Improved Fresh Scent Darryl Sutter Flames — now burning 25% brighter. The Flames went through a period of bad goalie + bad luck which turned into bad play, and of course, now everything is fixed! They are still in fourth place in the North, but they’ve crawled up to .517 in points percentage and are chasing the Montreal Canadiens and their new coach in a battle to see who can bounce back highest.

There is no actual chase, of course, and it doesn’t matter what order teams win games, only how many. The Flames have 25 more games to play, and the Canadiens have 26, and both of them need to win something north of 60% of their remaining games to challenge Edmonton for third place. Naturally they’d like to beat the Leafs while the Leafs are a little wilted from a run of losses.

On the one hand, it is fun having the Leafs be the team the other teams see out of the corner of their eye, ready to bring them down if they show any weakness. On the other, the Flames are in that sort of mood now. Why can’t we ever have a team roll in happy and sated and too full of themselves. Oh, wait, that’s usually the Leafs, right.

The Leafs are not full of themselves right now, they’ve been practising for three days, working new faces and old into the lineup while they search for a formula that works better than the one they tried vs the Jets.

A host of players have moved up and down between the Marlies, the Taxi Squad and the Leafs, and the result was two days of practice lines that Sheldon Keefe confirmed will be the lineup for Friday:

Joe Thronton - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alex Galchenyuk - John Tavares - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - Alexander Kerfoot - Zach Hyman
Wayne Simmonds - Pierre Engvall - Jason Spezza

Morgan Rielly - TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian

Frederik Andersen - starter for Friday
Jack Campbell - assumed starter for Saturday

Meanwhile the Flames used this group last time:

Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Dillon Dube
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Brett Ritchie
Milan Lucic - Mikael Backlund - Andrew Mangiapane
Sam Bennett - Derek Ryan - Josh Leivo

Mark Giordano - Rasmus Andersson
Noah Hanifin - Chris Tanev
Juuso Valimaki - Oliver Kylington

Jacob Markstrom
David Rittich

The Flames will surely want to inflict Rittich on us once in these games, and they have been tinkering with depth and the defenders, so some changes are likely.

Galchenyuk makes his debut with the Leafs on the Tavares line, and these two games will give us a hint if there’s enough there to keep him in the lineup from now on. But the Leafs now have another problem, because while the Galchenyuk on the Marlies experiment was very interesting, Alex Barabanov lit the joint on fire and sauntered off like pro hockey player in the wrong league. It’s going to be extremely difficult to justify sitting him for anyone not adding significant special teams value on that bottom six.

Galchenyuk was a little slower to start, but he clearly thinks the game too fast for the AHL, and while there’s been a lot of talk about his old knee injury, he skates fine at the minor-league level. And — glances at Thornton — it’s not clear wingers on the Leafs need speed. He played what looked to me like a cutdown version of a scoring winger’s job, and was still almost too creative for his linemates.

On the Leafs with Tavares and Nylander, he won’t have to worry about that sort of thing. Tavares can play with anyone, and Nylander seems equally as adaptable. Their trouble genuinely will be living through the occasional foray into the defensive zone. Also, Galchenyuk, when he plays left wing, really likes to end up on the right side circle to do his thing. And yes, that is Nylander’s office. I have seen a side-switching left winger and a new right wing partner run right into each other in that spot one time, and that was extremely funny, but I’m hopeful we’ll be laughing at the Flames for thinking the coach was their only problem.

Go Leafs Go!