After a pair of incomplete efforts in victories over Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to extend their winning streak to three games against the Vegas Golden Knights at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. The contest is the middle game of the Leafs three-game homestand, after which they play only two of the next 10 games at home.
The Leafs are 3-3-0 on the road and play in Chicago, on Long Island, and Pittsburgh with a home game against Boston squeezed in next week, followed by a five-game, 10-day road swing through Vegas, Arizona, Colorado, Detroit and Buffalo before finishing the month against the Sabres on November 30.
A concern for the Leafs has to be their special teams. The Toronto power play is 20th in the NHL (9 for 52 - 17.3%), but went 2 for 23 during the nearly three weeks that John Tavares was out with a finger injury. The Leafs went 0-for-4 with the man advantage on Tuesday, but head coach Mike Babcock believes that the power play will get back on track with the return of the team captain.
"I think you'll see our power play get rolling again. We have a good scheme, we get good opportunit(ies), and I think over a period of time that'll work itself out." Babcock said on Thursday morning. "I also think scorers, that's where you get your puck touches, that's where you get your confidence, that's where you get feeling good. And so it's an important part of the game when you're talking about the power play for your scorers."
The penalty killing has to be of an even greater concern. The Leafs were middle of the pack (18th overall) last season, but have struggled with the departure of Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev and the absence of Zach Hyman and are 26th in the league with a 75.4% kill percentage.
Vegas is currently 9-5-2 on the season, but are 5-2 on the road and pose a challenge for the Leafs with a solid forward group led by ex-Senator Mark Stone, ex-Hab Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Marchessault, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who is expected to make his 14th start tonight.
(UPDATE - Backup Malcolm Subban will be going for Vegas)
Babcock provided no update on Hyman, who indicated on Wednesday that he was getting closer to returning to the lineup, but evidence that the injured winger will return on Saturday appears strong after it was announced that the club placed forward Nic Petan and defenseman Martin Marincin on waivers.
Petan played on Tuesday, but was scratched in favor of Dmytro Timashov against Vegas. It appeared that the 24-year-old winger was being showcased, playing on a line with Tavares and Mitch Marner, but his being placed on waivers is a sign that there were no takers.
Marincin had no points in seven games this season and cleared waivers last season, so GM Kyle Dubas may feel that he will not get claimed or that the organization has enough defensive depth in case the lanky Slovak is claimed.
Cap Friendly indicated that the Leafs currently have $217,017 available in their LTIR Salary Pool and that if
Petan ($775k) & Marincin ($700k) get claimed or demoted to the AHL, it would give them nearly $1.7 Million in available cap space, but they would need to open up almost $600,000 to activate Hyman.
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