Leafs Ice Chips: Hutchinson starts Sunday as red-hot Campbell gets a rest
The Maple Leafs held a team meeting on Sunday.
Morgan Rielly will play his 555th game as a Maple Leaf tonight moving past Brian Glennie and into 10th place on the franchise's all-time list among defencemen.
"There's great history here and just to play one game for this organization, you're automatically a part of it and that's special," the 27-year-old said. "I've been pretty fortunate to be around."
Tim Horton tops the list with 1,184 games played in blue and white. Rielly is now closing in on Ian Turnbull who is ninth with 580 games played.
Rielly, who was drafted fifth overall by Toronto in 2012, was asked if there's a former Leafs defenceman he's come to respect.
"You come to respect all of them. With this organization you get to cross paths with those guys [a lot] whether it's at charity events or, I know a big one for me was the outdoor game in Toronto," Rielly recalled of the NHL's Centennial Classic. "I got a chance to overlap with those guys in the locker room and just to be around the guys who have been here before you is fun and it's extremely special and one of the great things about playing in Toronto.”
Rielly is often reluctant to talk about his own accomplishments.
"I don't really look into that stuff too much," he noted again on Sunday morning.
Instead, Rielly was more interested in addressing Toronto's slumping power play, which has gone 0/26 over the last 10 games. It's the longest dry spell for the franchise since the 1997-98 season when they failed to score a man-advantage marker over 14 games.
"It's important that we answer and break this slump that we're in at the moment and we're focused on doing that," Rielly said. "We've had meetings. We've worked on it. Now, it's just a matter of going out and doing it ... The power play's due to break out of this slump so it's important we concentrate on that."
The Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings are the only other teams to experience a double-digit drought this season.
"It's at the top of our list to get sorted out so, yeah, we got to get it going," said coach Sheldon Keefe.
Since their last power-play goal on March 9, the Leafs have tried plenty of different tactics and personnel. Part of that was by necessity. A wrist injury hampered Auston Matthews' shot and led the team to put him in front of the net for a few games instead of his usual office on the flank. And the absence of notable net-front presence Wayne Simmonds, who returned from a broken wrist on March 19, also caused some issues.
"We've been changing a number of things, probably too many things," admitted Keefe. "We got to get back to what had worked for us and quit changing up things. We started this trip out by loading up the one unit and giving that a go and didn't like that. We're just settling back into how we started the season."
So, that means going back to two balanced units. Here's how it looked in Friday's game:
Unit No. 1: Rielly, Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Simmonds.
Unit No. 2: Jake Muzzin, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, William Nylander and Zach Hyman.
Tavares started the season with the Nylander-Spezza unit, but recently moved to the Matthews-Marner unit giving that group more of a shot threat in the middle of the ice.
The structure and system, however, remains the same for both units.
"Attack the net together as a unit and have the puck arrive when our players get there and look to find ways to put in rebounds or get some ugly goals or create some confusion in the penalty kill so that when we come up with the puck our skill can take over while they're a little disorganized," Keefe said. "Right now we're playing against a lot of structure and any power play is going to struggle against teams if they're structured and organized."
It won't be easy to break through against the Flames tonight. Calgary has blanked the Leafs' power play in four straight meetings (18 chances).
"They're very strong at their net front and they block a lot of shots so they compete very hard," noted Tavares. "They're well structured. They've done a good job of making it difficult on us. At times, we've had some looks, a lot of good pressure and we haven't been able to capitalize on the opportunities that we've had."
For the first time this season, Tavares has gone three straight games without a point.
Toronto's second line struggled to get in a groove on Friday in Winnipeg. Per NaturalStatTrick, shot attempts favoured the Jets 22-8 when Tavares, Nylander and Alex Galchenyuk were on the ice in five-on-five play.
"Just got to keep working," Tavares said. "Keep finding ways to have the puck and create opportunities on the inside. We've had some good looks, you know, competing hard so make sure we're strong defensively and continue to do the right things. Stick with that process eventually good things will happen."
Tavares has just one assist and is -2 in six games against the Flames, which makes Calgary the opponent he's struggled with the most this season.
The Leafs are back in Calgary for the first time since 'The Puck Flip Game' when Muzzin sent a puck floating at Matthew Tkachuk at the buzzer of a Toronto win on Jan. 26. That enraged the gritty Flames winger, who had fallen on Jack Campbell during a scrum in front of the Leafs net in the previous game.
During the last series between these two team, Justin Holl wallpapered Johnny Gaudreau with a huge hit that led Tkachuk to drop his gloves with the Leafs blue liner.
Since being paired together last season, Muzzin and Holl have emerged as a solid shutdown duo and the chemistry continues to build.
"I have seen it grow and like it greatly," said Keefe. "We rely on those guys very heavily."
Muzzin leads the Leafs in hits and Holl is right behind. Muzzin leads the team in blocked shots while Holl is third. They seem to relish the chance to do the heavy lifting against top players.
"They defend them well," Keefe noted earlier this week. "They've got good sticks. They play them hard. I think they really get excited about the chance to play against them. Certainly, there's a lot to be said for the job those guys do."
"They’ve been outstanding here for a while now," Rielly raved. "When they compete hard they're tough to play against. They take that job very seriously. They're both very good at it and they're doing a helluva job. They're having fun with it. They work well together so to watch them go out and do their thing and make it hard on top lines, I mean, that's great for us."
After missing Saturday's practice, Campbell skated this morning although it's unclear if he will dress as the back-up goalie tonight.
"We'll see how he comes out of that today and make a decision later on," Keefe said.
The team has been very careful with Campbell's workload since the 29-year-old returned from a leg injury. Campbell is scheduled to start on Monday night.
If Campbell doesn't dress, Veini Vehviläinen will suit up for the second time in his Leafs tenure.
David Rittich is the projected starter for the Flames. He's 1-1-1 with a .962 save percentage against the Leafs this season.
Good morning from Calgary, @rayferrarotsn and I are here for the Maple Leafs/Flames on TSN4 at 9pm et for viewers in the Leafs region. After winning their first three under Darryl Sutter, the Flames have won two of their last nine, one of those wins was in Toronto March 19th.— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) April 4, 2021