Leafs focus on themselves and not revenge in rematch against Marchand, Bruins
The Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins (optional) skated at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
It's been one month since Brad Marchand and Timothy Liljegren raced for a puck in Boston on a play that led to the Leafs defenceman crashing into the boards. Head coach Sheldon Keefe felt it was a clear "can opener" but there was no call from the officials and no real response from Toronto's players. Keefe said he "hated" everything about how it all played out.
The Leafs actually held a team meeting to discuss how the group can do a better job standing up for each other. Keefe and many players vowed that the team would be better moving forward.
"That was a bit of wake-up call for us, no question, in that area," said Keefe. "But that's the least of my focus, least of my worries, going into a game like this tonight."
Liljegren remains sidelined with a high ankle sprain as the Leafs renew their rivalry with the Bruins on Saturday.
"That particular incident probably got more attention than it deserved, quite frankly," Keefe said. "Over the years, we have addressed those situations fine. At times, maybe not. I know everybody in here watches just our team for the most part, but you turn on your TV and there's a lot of teams in the league that don't blow up and sell the farm every time somebody gets hit. You got to play hockey too."
It does feel like the Leafs have been a feistier bunch since the game in Boston.
"No question that's been there," captain John Tavares agreed. "Something we focus on and continue to grow and know the importance of it. But, first and foremost, go out there competing and playing between the whistles and doing what we need to do to get the result we want."
Max Domi has dropped the gloves twice since the game in Boston. Has he seen an improvement in the stick-together department?
"I think from Day 1 we've had that so no different tonight," the third-line centre insisted.
Toronto trails Atlantic-Division-leading Boston by six points. So, there's no need for added motivation going into a game like this.
"I don't think you can get extra emotion into a game like this," Keefe said. "We recognize we're playing against a very good team that's going to demand everything from us, everything we have, so that's what we're preparing for."
Marchand isn't sure what all the fuss is about.
"There wasn't a response because it wasn't a bad play," the Bruins captain said. "It's just one of those things that happens fast in a game and you get tied up and try to battle for positioning on a puck and things happen ... Their coach is being emotional and trying to get them to be there for one another and compete and that's what good teams do and they do that."
Marchand skated by the Leafs bench right after the play.
"Clearly, no one thought it was a big deal," he said. "They made it out as something. Unfortunately when you allow that stuff to leak into the media outside of the room it creates more drama than is necessary and that's what happened in that situation. They have a lot of guys who compete and work hard over there so we're expecting a good, competitive game just like every night against them."
Veteran winger Ryan Reaves, a healthy scratch in five of the last seven games, will draw back into the lineup on Saturday. He may not see many shifts against Marchand, but they're bound to exchange words at some point.
"There's always some chirping back and forth," said Reaves. "He likes telling me he makes a lot more than I do. It doesn't really bother me. A lot of players make a lot more than I do so it's not really a good one."
"I said that once a long time ago," Marchand responded. "Sounds like he's holding onto it. He's one of those guys that brings physicality to their group and he's obviously made a great career out of it. It seems like there's always a good rivalry with this team."
Marchand enjoys mixing it up and also has the skill to make teams pay. How do you deal with a guy like that?
"Well, he's not going fight you, that's for sure," Reaves said. "You just got to play him hard. You can try and bait him into whatever, but you got to make sure you're doing it smartly. You can't take penalties because he's not a guy that's going to drop his gloves. He'll try and bait you in and try and make you do something stupid and their power play's dangerous and that's where he thrives. You got to be smart but you just got to play hard."
Marchand is tied for second on the Bruins with 19 points this season.
"You want to make it a difficult night for him," said Tavares. "Making sure you understand the dynamic of playing between the whistles and also standing your ground when needed."
The Leafs enter the game on a 6-1-1 run since Nov. 10, but only two of the wins came in regulation.
"The bigger challenge is us against ourselves," Keefe said. "That's the focus for us is continuing to build our game."
Auston Matthews has just one goal in nine games. The results aren't there for the two time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, but what about the process? Is he doing the right things to generate chances?
"No, he's got to do better in that area," Keefe said in a rare rebuke of the top-line centre. "Don't focus on the end result and get concerned with anything other than doing the things that allow you to have success individually and for us as a team, most importantly. Auston's a driver for our team ... Overall team game and structure and the consistency with which we execute, we need Auston to drive in those areas. If that happens, whether he scores or not, we're going to be in a really good place to control play and win the game."
William Nylander has gone cold since his star turn in Sweden. The winger, who joined Matthews on the top line this week, has just one power-play assist in four games.
"There's been a little bit of a dip for a lot of us," said Keefe. "I mean, in Chicago if the puck doesn't hit all three posts we win that game and he's the hero again in overtime and who knows. When things don't go your way for a little bit you start to question everything. Is it Sweden? Is it coming off the high? I don't know. I'm just hopeful we'll get a response today and typically Boston brings out the best in us."
After taking a shot to the face and requiring 12 stitches on Tuesday, Mitch Marner wore a full face shield in Thursday's game. The winger recorded his second career hat trick and added a shootout winner against the Seattle Kraken.
"Probably a good reason why it's still on today," Tavares said with a smile.
For the record, Marner is looking to shed the fishbowl as soon as possible.
"It's a little tough sometimes to breathe and the chin guard gets a little soggy sometimes," he said following Tuesday's game. "But it's still clear vision."
Marner had gone eight games without a goal before the bubble bounce on Thursday. He admitted to being nervous on his first goal despite shooting at an empty net following a nice power-play pass from Nylander.
"I haven't been happy with my own game play," he acknowledged. "I haven't been my best."
"Just moving my feet and getting the puck to the right places and making plays off it and, at the same time, not forcing stuff and being smart with pucks," Marner explained. "That's when I'm playing my best."
"Pretty impressive," said Domi. "He was outstanding. That's the Mitch Marner everyone knows and it's good to see. He's having fun out there. He's moving his feet, making a lot of plays and making everyone else better. Huge part of our team and hopefully he can keep building on what he did last game."
"He's shown over time his ability to be a finisher as well," Tavares pointed out. "He did it in a few different ways so great to see. Really happy for him."
Joseph Woll will make a fourth straight start.
"We gave him the nod to start the week and he hasn't looked back," said Keefe. "It is a great sign for him and us. It is a Boston team on the other end that doesn't give up very much, whether it is the team structure and defence or the goaltenders. It is a great opportunity for him to meet that head-on."
With a pair of shootout wins this week, Woll has improved to 6-0 in games that go beyond regulation this season.
"It's a lot of fun," the 25-year-old rookie said. "When the game's on the line you get the opportunity to step up, and there's more space out there so guys are making plays and I'm just trying to enjoy it."
Woll's save percentage is up to .917 on the season, which is tied for seventh among those with at least 10 starts.
"It's pretty steady," he said of his confidence level. "I try to approach each game the same way. Regardless of the outcome, I try to have the same mindset and make sure I'm learning and moving forward after each game. I've been fortunate to have some good outcomes here and just trying to keep my eyes moving forward."
Linus Ullmark, who also owns a .917 save percentage, will get the start for Boston.
James van Riemsdyk is off to a strong start in Boston with 15 points in 21 games.
"It's been an exciting group to be a part," the 34-year-old told TSN in a recent interview. "Over the course of my career it seems like playing against the Bruins was always a measuring stick game and they were always a team that was right in the mix so it's been exciting to join a team that's had as much success as they've had over the years."
The Bruins culture is often cited as a reason for the team's sustained success.
"It's one of the first things you notice," van Riemsdyk said. "Just how dialled in everyone is as far what their jobs are and what it takes each and every day to be successful and obviously a lot of the top players I feel like driving the bus."
It starts with Marchand, who has taken over as captain following the retirement of Patrice Bergeron.
"He's incredible," van Riemsdyk raved. "He really sets the bar for the group. Me and him, for sure, over the years definitely had some back and forth, some battles and things like that, but it's nice to be on the same team as him ... now I can laugh at some of the antics out there versus getting upset about them."
Over the years, van Riemsdyk had some tough moments against the Bruins, including a couple Game 7 losses with the Leafs. But van Riemsdyk actually feels very much at home in TD Garden.
"It's weird," the New Jersey native said. "It's always a rink that, for whatever reason, I don't know if it's going back to playing here in college [with the University of New Hampshire] and some of the big games I played here with Philly at the start of my career, but I've always felt super comfortable playing here in that building. There's definitely been some tough moments, but there were some positive ones. The Game 7 with Philly [in 2010] was the big one and then some big games here in college and things like that."
It's been five years since van Riemsdyk played for the Leafs, but he always enjoys coming back to Toronto. He loves the restaurant scene here with Sotto Sotto being a favourite.
But, more than anything, it's the fans and Leafs Nation that has stuck with him.
"Even since I left, I've had great interactions with Leafs fans," he said. "I remember I was getting on a flight back home from vacation at the end of the season last year and I had a family, I think it was a set of grandparents, parents and then young kids, so three generations, and they came up to me in the line for security and mentioned they were Leafs fans and they loved watching me play there. Now, having a family of my own, you realize how special that is and how much the hockey in Toronto brings everyone together."
Lines at Saturday's Leafs skate:
Knies - Matthews - Nylander
Bertuzzi - Tavares - Marner
Robertson - Domi - Jarnkrok
Gregor - Kampf - Reaves
Rielly - Brodie
Lagesson - McCabe
Benoit - Timmins