The Canucks have landed on the east coast, and tonight they play the Leafs for their first of three in a row and nine this season. The Leafs are coming off four days of rest after an overtime loss to Edmonton, and though their last game was a loss, they are on a five game point streak. Meanwhile, the Canucks are struggling this season, and just lost two in a row to Montreal.
While most agree that a matchup against the Canucks should be a fairly easy win for the Leafs, the concern for Toronto is to avoid a trap game. Additionally, four days of rest should have them feeling fresh, but it could also mean that they struggle to start on time and get their legs going. The Leafs need to approach this game as though it’s going to be a tough matchup no matter what if they want to get back on a winning streak.
Sheldon Keefe continues to tinker with player rotations, adding Nic Petan to the lineup for tonight’s game. The Leafs are still without Joe Thornton, Nicholas Robertson, and Jack Campbell. While Alexander Kerfoot seemed to be dealing with something earlier in the week, it appears he is good to go for tonight’s game.
Sheldon Keefe says Alex Kerfoot is “day to day” with his injury and likens it to the injury Auston Matthews had earlier this season.
— Joshua Kloke (@joshuakloke) February 2, 2021
Alex Kerfoot is on the ice ahead of #Leafs practice, in a regular white sweater.
He missed yesterday’s practice with an ailment of some sort.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) February 3, 2021
Meanwhile, the Canucks are looking to build some momentum and start digging their way out of this early season hole. They had a good stretch of games last week, winning four in a row – but three of those were against Ottawa. They’re likely to come out strong, and unless the Leafs set the pace of the game early it could be tougher than they expect to get ahead of the Canucks. The Leafs have been playing a more balanced game this season, but it’s time for their offensive talents to really get going. This would be a good game for their top lines to score some goals in bunches.
While Toronto continues to rely mostly on starting goalie Frederik Andersen, Vancouver is using a tandem of Braden Holtby and Thatcher Demko, who are almost evenly split between games at this point. It’s going to be a fun game to watch.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs player to watch: Justin Holl
Justin Holl is having himself a season so far. Paired with Jake Muzzin, the two are doing some heavy lifting for the Leafs. Holl is seeing serious ice time, and fans and analysts alike are liking what they’re seeing from him. He’s looking more defensively sound and consistent than he has in the past, and he’s taking on tough matchups while on the ice. On top of his defensive play, in just 10 games so far this season he has 5 assist – last season he had 16 in 68 games. He isn’t always someone we think of as “one to watch”, but I think he’s earned it so far this season.
Canucks player to watch: Elias Pettersson
Elias Pettersson is a crafty, subtle player who can surprise you with how skilled he is. Canucks fans like to think that he’s on the same level as Auston Matthews, which is categorically untrue, but he is extremely talented. He’s had a bit of a slow start to this season, but that just means he’s due to start producing any game now, and with the way Leafs luck goes, it’ll probably be this one. Keep an eye on him – and Freddie should, too.
Leafs starting goalie: Frederik Andersen
Freddie has been really solid in net the last few games, and he’s slowly dragging his save percentage back up to where it’s been in past seasons – in his past five starts he’s rocking a .899. He’s looking steadier and more confident, and the team is looking the same in front of him as a result. He was on a bit of a hot streak when the team hit their four day rest, so hopefully he can carry that over into tonight’s game rather than regressing a bit, as occasionally happens with him after time off.
Canucks starting goalie: Thatcher Demko
In addition to having the best name in hockey right now, Thatcher Demko is also having a decent season so far. He’s rocking a .909 save percentage over seven games, which is better than his net partner Holtby can say at the moment. However, he’s 1-3-0 on the road this season, with a 3.66 GAA. If the Leafs offense can find a way to step it up just a little bit, Demko could be in trouble. But the Leafs shouldn’t take anything for granted, as Demko will prove himself a worthy opponent.