The Toronto Maple Leafs won their fourth straight game with a lineup minus their top two defensemen, one of their key forwards and their starting goalie, but will get all of them back against the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
Defensemen Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, forward Nick Foligno and goalie Jack Campbell were all given the night off and replaced by Ben Hutton, Timothy Liljegren, Pierre Engvall and Michael Hutchinson in the 4-1 win over the Canucks on Thursday, but all are eager to return for the stretch drive to clinch top spot in the North Division.
“I think it's a bit of a process trying to convince guys to take time off.” Rielly said. “In the long run, it was the right thing to do with the playoff around the corner, a busy schedule. I'm happy to be back, obviously feeling good and I think we’ll be ready to go tonight.”
Rielly and Muzzin will return alongside their regular defense partners TJ Brodie and Justin Holl, with Rasmus Sandin returning to the bottom pairing with Travis Dermott. Foligno took his place on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, while the other three lines remained the same with John Tavares centering Alex Galchenyuk and William Nylander, Ilya Mikheyev, Alex Kerfoot and Wayne Simmonds and Adam Brooks centering Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza.
Jack Campbell will make the start for the Leafs after David Rittich earned his first Leaf victory on Thursday, but the goaltending rotation over the next couple weeks could be altered with Frederik Andersen getting closer to returning to the lineup(depending on Toronto’s cap situation).
Head coach Sheldon Keefe indicated that injured forwards Zach Hyman and Riley Nash have both started skating after suffering knee injuries, but that defenseman Zach Bogosian has not resumed skating. Hyman was expected to miss a minimum of two weeks after the hit from Alex Elder on April 18, while Nash was slated to miss four-to-six weeks after being injured just before the trade deadline.
On Friday, the Leafs reassigned defenseman Martin Marincin and winger Nick Robertson to the AHL Toronto Marlies. The demotion of Marincin and the playing of Ben Hutton and Timothy Liljegren on Thursday is an indication that the veteran blueliner is now 10th on the depth chart behind Sandin or Dermott, Hutton and Liljegren once Bogosian returns.
The Robertson move appears to be more strategic. The Marlies resume their AHL schedule after being out of action for nearly three weeks due to COVID quarantine and play 13 games in the next 20 days before the end of the season. The 19-year-old has played six games this season and five in April after returning from the injured list.
Robertson was not expected to get much playing time with the addition of Foligno and the return of Hyman and Nash, but it is highly likely that the Leafs wanted to avoid playing him one more game, which would burn the first year of his entry-level contract.
Thatcher Demko will start in goal for Vancouver and Jake Virtanen will not be in the lineup due to being suspended after reports of sexual misconduct surfaced on Saturday.
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