The Carolina Hurricanes have left the safety of PNC Arena to venture to parts of Canada in pursuit of road wins, and tonight they begin in Toronto. The Maple Leafs have started in a similar fashion to Carolina—they sit one game above .500 with an 8-7-3 record, good for 19 points, and have relied on some young talent to carry them thus far. They last played on Saturday night in Montreal, losing 2-1 to the Canadiens.
The Leafs are led in points by James van Riemsdyk with 17, but the trio who have electrified Toronto fans, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews, are hot on his heels with 16, 14, and 13 points, respectively.
The young offense is rounded out by a few veterans: Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, and Leo Komarov have 13, 14, and 8 points of their own, and have combined with the rookies to create a potent scoring attack. Toronto ranks 3rd in the League with an average of 3.17 goals scored per game. They also rank 2nd behind Pittsburgh in shots, with an average of 32.6 per game.
On the back end is where things have not gone as well for the Maple Leafs. For as many goals as they score, they let just as many, and often more, in. They rank 27th in the League averaging 3.28 goals against per game, and have allowed the 6th most goals with 59.
Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner continue to run the defensive show for the Leafs. However, there are even more newcomers jumping right into the fray for Toronto, as Nikita Zaitsev and Martin Marincin are each averaging top-4 minutes (above 19:00 per game), and Connor Carrick is tied for the team lead in +/- with Gardiner. Not to mention, Rielly’s 11 points are good for 7th on the team, only behind the aforementioned high-scoring forwards.
Goaltender Frederik Andersen has a history with the Hurricanes. He was Carolina’s seventh-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, but never signed and was drafted again by the Anaheim Ducks in 2012. The Ducks then traded Andersen to the Leafs in the offseason for a pair of draft picks, including a first rounder. Andersen has been a workhorse, starting 16 out of 18 games for the Leafs so far, and earning all eight of their wins. He boasts a .908 SV%, a 3.09 GAA, and no shutouts.
As it stands now, the Maple Leafs are one point ahead of Carolina in the standings, and sit two spots closer to a wild card placement. It may be early, but the likely contest between these two throughout the season means that tonight’s game is a crucial one already. Come April, one of these teams may strongly regret coughing up the the two points to the other back in November.
What to Watch for
- Expect a Toronto team eager to beat another perennial draft lottery team since 2010. The Leafs are looking to breakout in a big way this season, and winning games against teams like the Hurricanes will be crucial for shifting the narrative surrounding the team.
- Also, having last played an intense rivalry game in Montreal three days ago, the team did not have to travel far to get home and have had plenty of time for preparation to face the Hurricanes. They will be well rested, while Carolina has played more recently and traveled much farther.
- The Maple Leafs 9th-ranked power play will have to contend with Carolina’s top-ranked penalty kill. The winner of this special teams battle in particular will have taken a large step towards winning the game.
- This will be the first NHL meeting for two Calder Trophy hopefuls in Matthews and Sebastian Aho, but the two have met multiple times on the international stage through the World Junior Championships, World Championships, and World Cup of Hockey. Look for the two familiar opponents to play off one another as the game progresses.