The Toronto Maple Leafs have tinkered with their lineup, line combinations, and looked internally for reasons why they have lost the last five games since being thumped by Pittsburgh on Saturday, but the first sign of whether that will make any difference will show itself when the Leafs take on the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday.
Leafs team captain John Tavares and assistant captain Morgan Rielly met with head coach Mike Babcock to put their heads together on why the club continues to struggle in their defensive zone and on special teams, which has been a large factor in their disappointing 9-9-4 record.
“They came to see me without me going to see them, which I really appreciated. To me, that is an important part. The leadership group is a huge part of it and the message to all of us.” Babcock said on Monday. “When you look at us as a group, not one guy is happy. The coaching staff is not happy. We are not doing a good enough job. We don’t need anyone to tell us that. We’re big boys and we just look around and watch how we play. We’ve got to do a better job.”
Toronto made a roster move to fill the absence of injured winger Trevor Moore, calling up 23-year-old Pierre Engvall on Monday. The big Swede has seven points (5 goals, 2 assists) in the last three games with the AHL Toronto Marlies and will make his NHL debut, replacing Dmytro Timashov alongside former minor-league linemate Frederik Gauthier and Nick Shore.
“(Engvall) is a big body. He can really skate. He is having success. It would make us a bigger, faster team. We would like to have him, but he has to be ready for us to have him.” Babcock said. “He played with Goat (in the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs). They played really well with and without the puck. They did a real good job.”
Although there is no way of knowing whether they will go back to their regular combos against Vegas, Toronto did shuffle their defensive pairings at practice on Monday and maintained them at their morning skate on Tuesday, with Tyson Barrie moving to the bottom pairing with Travis Dermott and Justin Holl moving into the top four with Jake Muzzin, but kept their top three forward lines the same.
It was thought that there might be some changes made on the Leafs power play, which has gone 3-for-26 (11.5% - 28th in the NHL) in November, but the club kept the top unit of Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Andreas Johnsson intact, and Barrie quarterbacking the second unit with Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Spezza, Nic Petan, and Zach Hyman.
Frederik Andersen will be in goal for Toronto and is expected to make all three starts on the road this week (in Arizona on Thursday, Colorado on Saturday), while Marc-Andre Fleury (10-5-0, 2.52 GAA. .920 Sv %) will start for the Golden Knights.
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