Campbell's pursuit of franchise history could provide spark for Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens (optional) skated at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.
After starting his National Hockey League career with six seasons in Montreal, Alex Galchenyuk is embracing the chance to switch sides in an Original Six showdown.
"I know how big the rivalry is," the winger said. "It's finally nice to get one from this side. It's a little different feel without fans in the building, but it's a huge game for both teams and definitely going to be a lot of emotion."
Galchenyuk played his last season with the Canadiens in 2017-18.
"You talk here and there with guys throughout the summer a little bit, but it's been a while," Galchenyuk noted. "It's been a few years now since I played with them, so some of the connections, you don't talk as much. I talked to [Brendan] Gallagher a couple times, so he texted me when I got traded and stuff, but other than that not much."
Galchenyuk isn't out to impress old friends tonight, but he is looking to make new ones in the Leafs organization. With only days left until Monday's trade deadline, Galchenyuk is aiming to prove he can be the forward the team has been seeking to play alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.
"To be honest, there's still a lot of ways I want to improve and keep building," Galchenyuk said. "Obviously, the more games you play the more comfortable you keep getting and especially chemistry with linemates."
Toronto's second line seems to be generating some momentum. For the first time since the first two games of the season, Tavares has produced consecutive multi-point games. Galchenyuk picked up his first goal as a Leaf on Sunday in Calgary.
"They've been buzzing," noted defenceman Justin Holl. "They've been getting a lot of chances. Gall's been doing a great job of getting on the forecheck and being aggressive and working hard all over the ice and they're starting to get rewarded for it."
"Keep working hard," Galchenyuk said when asked what the message is from the coaching staff. "Keep competing like I have been."
The players and coach Sheldon Keefe are getting more and more questions about the looming trade deadline. The atmosphere around the team this year is much different than last season when the inconsistent Leafs lost to emergency backup goalie David Ayres in their final game before the deadline.
"From my vibe this morning and how they were on the road trip, I don't think it's a factor here," said Keefe. "The guys are feeling good as a group and they know what is and isn't in their control. We're just keeping the focus on preparing the team and the players are just focused on preparing themselves and continue to try to be as good as we can every night."
During his mid-season media availability, general manager Kyle Dubas said if the Leafs responded well to a 1-5-0 slide that would put pressure on him to make a move to improve the roster.
"If our group can do that in combination with what they showed at the beginning of the year, I think the onus will be on me to do everything within reason to improve the group," Dubas said on March 16.
The team has gone 7-1-1 since then. Only the Colorado Avalanche have a better points percentage in that stretch.
"It certainly is a time of the year when there's a lot of uncertainty," Holl said. "Any time you're on a team that’s successful going into the trade deadline, it's a better feeling."
The schedule makers have dealt the Leafs a tough hand tonight. Toronto travelled home on Tuesday from a four-game swing through Winnipeg and Calgary. They held a 15-minute skate this morning to get the legs going again.
"The games come quick," Holl said. "I was talking about it with [Tavares] this morning actually and I was like, 'I can't remember, are the games usually this condensed?' And he said in the second half of the year it's kind of similar to this, so it's not too different. But with coming back from the West and only getting a day and things of that nature, those are the challenges we're dealing with."
"We're going to have to really dig in here tonight," said Keefe. "Our schedule has been challenging and is challenging, but that's the nature of the season. It's a good chance for our team to overcome that here against a very good and hungry Montreal team."
Jake Allen starts for the Canadiens. It’s the first time a goalie not named Carey Price has started for Montreal against the Leafs in two years.
"It is a different dynamic for sure, but I think both goaltenders have had success for them," said Keefe. "I don't think it changes a whole lot in terms of their mindset or ours in that sense."
There's still no sign of Toronto's No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen.
"No update," said Keefe. "No update on him today. He had another follow-up [appointment] here, but I haven't had the update on that."
Andersen hasn't been seen on the ice since a game on March 19.
Any concern his season may be in jeopardy because of this lower-body injury?
"No concern," said Keefe.
Holl insisted he's feeling just fine these days despite sitting out Saturday's practice for maintenance.
"Just four or five minor things that came up at the exact same time so just something that made sense to stay off the ice on that particular day, but health-wise I feel great," the 29-year-old said.
Holl is averaging 21 minutes and 12 seconds of ice time per game this season, which is up from 18 minutes and 31 seconds last year.
"The games are coming so quickly, it's kind of nice," Holl said. "We're into a groove where you get one day off and you play, you get one day off and you play, so from that standpoint I think guys are dialled in mentally and ready for this home stretch."
Lines at Wednesday's morning skate:
Hyman - Matthews - Marner
Galchenyuk - Tavares - Nylander
Mikheyev - Engvall - Simmonds
Thornton - Kerfoot - Spezza
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Dermott - Bogosian