*******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished their four-game homestand on the right note, with a 5-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena on St. Patrick’s Day, but did not come out of the game unscathed, as forward Noel Acciari did not return to the game after being struck up high by Carolina’s Jesse Puljujarvi late in the first period.
Acciari was struck just inside the Toronto zone and lay motionless on the ice before heading to the Leafs dressing room. The club later reported that he would not return due to precautionary reasons and head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game that the veteran forward would not travel with the club to Ottawa for the second of back-to-back games against the Senators on Saturday.
“He is not going to travel with us. He won’t be available (on Saturday). In terms of what happens going forward, we will have to see. He was in the room. He handed off the belt tonight to the other guys,” Keefe said. “He seems like he is doing alright, but clearly, he couldn’t come back in the game. That is concerning.”
Acciari’s absence forced the Leafs to play most of the game with 10 forwards, but that did not seem to adversely affect them in the contest. Zach Aston-Reese scored twice for the Green and White, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and Morgan Rielly added singles, and Ilya Samsonov made 32 saves for his 24th victory of the season and 18th win on home ice.
“I thought the guys boxed out well. There were a few tips that they got their sticks on for sure and (Samsonov) was really strong on. I thought the guys defended well. We blocked some shots and discouraged a few. We did enough to keep them away from the net.” Keefe said. “I thought we moved the puck really well coming out of our end tonight, which has been an issue for us in recent games (and) we (were) playing against a team that is maybe the hardest in the league to come out of the zone against.”
The victory moved Toronto three points in front of Tampa in the race for second place in the Atlantic, with the Leafs having a game in hand. Keefe indicated that the plan for Saturday was to go with 12 forwards and six defensemen against the Sens and that veteran Wayne Simmonds and blueliner Justin Holl would be in the lineup. With Acciari unavailable, the club recalled forward Bobby McMann from the AHL Marlies on Saturday, but goaltender Joseph Woll was also recalled.
Matt Murray is scheduled to play in the second of back-to-back games against his former club, but he suffered gameday injuries the two previous instances when facing his former club.