The Toronto Maple Leafs have to be feeling the pressure from their rather precarious positioning in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Their inconsistent performance throughout the season has the Leafs outside of the top eight they face another difficult challenge against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
The Leafs put forth an uninspired effort in Pittsburgh for their second loss in a row on Tuesday and have fallen out of third place in the Atlantic Division after the Florida Panthers won 4-1 in Anaheim on Wednesday, but are looking to bounce back with a better effort.
"We can't overreact to one game, just like we don't want to overreact to two games in Buffalo and Pittsburgh. We've got to remain consistent in our approach and what we go through every day." head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the club’s optional morning skate. "We can come out today and have the best game of the season, it doesn't mean we are out of the woods. We're looking for consistency here, that's what (we're) looking for."
Newly acquired forward Denis Malgin was not able to get to Toronto on Wednesday with the Panthers on the West Coast, but he will draw into the lineup against the Pens in place of Dmytro Timashov. Frederik Andersen, who allowed five goals on 24 shots in the loss, will get the start for the Leafs.
While Toronto has to focus more on playing with more energy and make fewer mistakes in the second of home-and-home games, GM Kyle Dubas may be looking for opportunities to upgrade his roster before next Monday’s trade deadline at 3pm. Dubas was busy on Wednesday, making three deals with Atlantic rivals Florida and Ottawa, but none were of the impactful variety.
The Leafs acquired 24-year-old forward Max Veronneau from the Senators for minor-league forward Aaron Luchuk and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2021 and swapped veteran minor leaguer Darren Archibald for 21-year-old defenseman Trent Bourque.
Veronneau has 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 33 games for AHL Belleville this season and was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton University in 2019, but appears to be more of an addition for the AHL Marlies with the departure of Mason Marchment. Bourque was a sixth-round pick of St. Louis in 2017 and after not being signed by the Blues, the Burlington, ON native signed an AHL deal with Belleville.
There is no question that Dubas is trying to add some blueline help before Monday’s 3pm EST deadline, but the unknown is whether it will be a low-cost rental to temporarily plug the hole created by injuries to Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci or a long-term solution that may cost a young forward like Kasperi Kapanen or Alex Kerfoot.
A trade for an impact blueliner with term left on their contract like Minnesota’s Matt Dumba or New Jersey’s PK Subban (who the Leafs tried to acquire last June at the NHL Draft in Vancouver) are more than likely summer deals because of their cap implications. A more under the radar acquisition could be a possibility.
Leafs director of pro scouting Dave Morrison and two other scouts were at the Buffalo - Ottawa game on Tuesday. After having played both teams on the previous weekend, it is likely that they were there to take a look at a particular player. This is the second time that Morrison checked out the Sabres in the last few weeks.
While it is possible that the Leafs were looking at someone else, one name that checks off a number of boxes is Sabres defenseman Colin Miller.
Miller was acquired from Vegas last summer for a pair of draft picks and has been a healthy scratch at times with Buffalo, with just 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists) in 44 games. Toronto has been rumored to be interested in Miller going back a few years to his days with Boston prior to being selected by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
The 27-year-old is a right-handed shot, is signed through 2022 and played three seasons under Dubas with the Soo Greyhounds. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill may be looking to relieve himself of the $3.875 Million cap hit for the next two seasons.
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