Skip to main content


Leafs forced to dress all-lefty defence against Golden Knights

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly - The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs (optional) and Golden Knights skated at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday. 

Right-shot rearguard Timothy Liljegren will miss Tuesday's game with an undisclosed injury, which means the Leafs will be forced to dress an all-lefty defence. 

"I don't like it," said head coach Sheldon Keefe of his previous experience with the alignment. "We do have a number of guys that are at least comfortable on the right side, and certainly if not comfortable at least have experience with it, and can manage that and just press on." 

Jake McCabe switched to the right side earlier this season and has been playing in that spot consistently. T.J. Brodie has played his off side for most of his career before moving to the left after the suspension to Morgan Rielly. At Monday's practice, Simon Benoit got reps on the right. William Lagesson has also filled in on that side. 

"McCabe's getting to a point that he's got enough reps there and he's had some success with it, so he's feeling good with it," Keefe said. "Morgan, over my time here, has been very willing to play the right side. Obviously, he hasn't done very much of it, but any time that we have asked him to or needed somebody to, he’s kind of the first one with his hand up and wants to go over there."

When Liljegren got hurt on Saturday, Rielly offered to switch sides so Brodie could remain on the left. 

"He just said, 'I'll go play the right side,' and he's good with that," Keefe noted.

Benoit indicated that the plan is for him to remain with McCabe to start Tuesday's game.

"I suspect we'll be moving things around a fair bit," Keefe cautioned. 

The Golden Knights believe they can take advantage of Toronto's all-southpaw defence. 

"On D to D [passes] in the neutral zone, sometimes if you take a good angle you can limit where they can go with the puck or force a quicker play," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Pucks coming around the boards in the offensive zone, you recognize you can get on top of them a little quicker, because they have to take it backhand to forehand. In general, those are probably the areas. I don't know how well they pivot on their off side. Stuff like that you wouldn't know until you play against them a few times. But, in general, there are a few opportunities."

Cassidy did note that his team will have to be on the lookout for quicker one timers when the Leafs have the puck in the offensive zone. 

"There's some positives of playing on your off side too," Keefe noted. "If you're playing a better team game, you can enhance those positives. If you are not playing as good of a team game, you can enhance the negatives and the difficulties that come with it."

The Leafs are thin on the right side after key off-season acquisition John Klingberg underwent season-ending hip surgery. He hasn't played since November. 

Conor Timmins, another righty, is also unavailable right now as he recovers from mononucleosis.

ContentId(1.2081604): With Liljegren out, Leafs forced to dress all-lefty defence


 Toronto's team game is in the best shape it’s been all season. The Leafs just swept a four-game road trip, including a win in Vegas last Thursday. Toronto has won seven straight games overall. 

"You don't want to have any let up," said Keefe. "The fact we're playing the same opponent, an opponent we have a tremendous amount of respect for, that in itself should be enough for us to not take a step backwards."

The first game back from a Western Conference road trip can be tricky. And Tuesday will be the fifth straight time the Leafs change time zones between games. 

"Any sort of fatigue or anything that we might be facing coming back from the road trip, to me, is probably nothing in comparison to playing on a back to back like we did when we went into Vegas and probably had our best effort of the season when it comes to our actual work rate and our enthusiasm," Keefe said. "That's a back-to-back situation in the middle of a long road trip and all of that, so that level of effort and enthusiasm is going to be certainly required tonight."

After weathering an early storm, the Leafs built a 4-0 lead and cruised to a 7-3 victory in Vegas. 

"I would fully expect the game to be entirely different than it was when we were out there," Keefe warned. "I expect it to be hard and tight and a grind all the way through ... You’ll have a better group on the Vegas side."


The Knights have dropped four of five games and followed up the defeat to Toronto with a shootout loss in Ottawa on Saturday. Vegas is currently playing without top-line centre Jack Eichel and captain Mark Stone among others. 

But with Shea Theodore returning last week, the Knights now have a healthy defence.

"No matchup issues for us when they're going well," said Cassidy. "So, on the road, no concerns about, 'Hey, you got this matchup, you got that matchup.' Last year in the playoffs, I'd use [Nicolas] Hague and [Zach] Whitecloud, because they were considered the bottom pair, the other two were probably interchangeable, we used them against [Matthew] Tkachuk and [Aleksander] Barkov a lot, and they were up to the task. So, tonight if [Auston] Matthews jumps on for a shift we haven't mapped out, we won't be hauling them off the ice. We trust them in every situation and that's what I like best about them is they all can play against anybody."

The Vegas blueline features two right shots in Alex Pietrangelo and Whitecloud.

"We can pretty much roll six guys, which is a luxury that not many teams have," said Pietrangelo. "I trust any guy on that back end to play against anybody. I think that alleviates a lot of the pressure on some of us who play against the top lines consistently. It's good to have the gang back together."

ContentId(1.2081620): Leafs Ice Chips: What will it take to sweep the champs?


Eichel (knee) joined the Knights for the morning skate. It was the first time he skated with teammates since sustaining the injury on Jan. 11. 

"He's not ready to play yet, but he's that one step closer," said Cassidy. 

The Knights still have games against Boston, Columbus and Buffalo before this road trip ends on March 4. 

"He needs to get through a full practice, which maybe [comes] tomorrow in Boston," said Cassidy. "Could he play on this trip? I guess. That's why he's here, but we're not planning on it that way. It'd be nice if he could play."

ContentId(1.2081609): Eichel skates with Golden Knights for first time since injury


The last time the Leafs played at home, William Nylander hit the 500-point mark in a rout of the Anaheim Ducks

"It is a little bit crazy thinking that you have 500 points," the winger said with a smile. "It feels like it's way less than that. I don't know. It's a pretty cool feeling, I guess."

On Saturday in Colorado, Nylander recorded three assists to reach 300 on his career. Nylander's nicest set up came on the game-winning goal on the power play. He skated behind the net and caught Alexandar Georgiev and the Avalanche defence by surprise with a feed to Tyler Bertuzzi in the slot. 

"That was a really nice play," said Bertuzzi, who was also surprised. "The goalie was sliding to the other side."

"I don't know how he makes those passes," said Benoit with a smile. "I don't know, but it works for him. He's a great playmaker. He sees stuff on the ice that nobody can, right. Good for him. He worked really hard to be where he is today and it's really fun to play with him."

Cassidy recalls being burned by Nylander quite a bit during his time coaching the Boston Bruins

"He's so good at changing his pace and then getting the puck out where he can fake that shot," Cassidy noted. "I think he freezes D and goaltenders, for that matter, and takes the extra step or second to find the shooting lane, and obviously very accurate." 

Nylander has six goals during Toronto's seven-game winning streak and likes the chemistry since joining forces with Max Domi on the second line. What stands out? 

"The way he just always wants to find a pass and obviously skates really well and sees the ice incredibly well," Nylander said. "So, just try to get open for him so he can find me."

ContentId(1.2081592): Milestone man Nylander showing off his playmaking


If there's one area the Leafs are looking to tighten up during the winning streak it's the penalty kill, which has allowed a goal in five of six games. The team held its first practice in more than a week on Monday and dedicated a significant amount of time to shorthanded situations. 

"Sometimes you just have to work on the details," Benoit said. "Sometimes when you play a lot of games you forget some details, so that practice yesterday makes sure we stay dialled on those details and bring it into tonight's game."

Benoit pointed to eliminating cross-ice feeds and creating pressure as areas of emphasis. 

The Knights failed to score on their one power play against the Leafs last week. They did convert on one of two chances on Saturday. 

With Stone and Eichel out, Cassidy is looking to simplify the approach. 

"We're trying to dummy it down where we're just converging on the net," Cassidy said. "Years ago, when I was in Boston, the Leafs had [Mitch] Marner and Matthews just come downhill and sling it to the net and [Nazem] Kadri and [John] Tavares were there and it was a pretty effective power play. Now, Toronto's grown their power play where they're moving to different spots, but we have to be kind of consistent in our approach like they were back then."

Last season, Stone missed the Knights' final 39 regular-season games. Vegas went 23-9-7 (.679), but its power play percentage was 13.3, which was down from 25.6 per cent in 43 games with Stone.

"We might be predictable and that could hurt you in terms of the other team knowing what you're doing," Cassidy concluded. "They can kill easier but, by the same token, if we know what we're doing and we're consistently doing it, I think we'll get a decent result."


Timmins skated on his own before the Leafs workout. 

"He's doing well," said Keefe. "He's not cleared for contact yet. He's feeling well, which is why you're seeing him on the ice. He skated a bit while we were away as well. He's not cleared to be on the ice with other players at this point and [take] contact and such. I don't know a lot about mono, but I guess there's an enlarged spleen and all this stuff that has to settle down and it has settled to the point where he's able to skate but not to the point that he can take contact. So, that's the next phase for him."


Cassidy visited the Hockey Hall of Fame on Sunday. 

"We had lost four in a row at home," Cassidy said. "We just lost to the Senators. You think, 'Boy, I can't coach a lick,' and you go in there and you see your team's ring and a little stall with the Knights Cup stuff, so it gives you a little confidence boost. It was good that way."

Cassidy toured the Hall of Fame archives after Monday's practice. What caught his attention? 

"Bobby Orr's stick," he said, eyes lighting up. "I grabbed the one that he scored his 200th goal with and you take a look at it and how heavy those things were back then ... I loved it. I was like a kid in a candy store."


Projected Leafs lineup for Tuesday's game: 

Knies - Matthews - Marner
Bertuzzi - Domi - Nylander
McMann - Tavares - Robertson
Holmberg - Kampf - Reaves

Rielly - Brodie
Benoit - McCabe 
Giordano - Lagesson

Samsonov starts