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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs Pregame #50: 5 Things to watch against the Preds

The bye week is over. We made it. The All-Star Game is over and we don’t need to talk about it for another year. Another victory for us! Anyways, the Leafs find themselves coming out of the break in Nashville, and finding themselves in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Honestly, this isn’t as horrific as it looks as it’s entirely possible teams like the Panthers, Blue Jackets, Flyers, and Hurricanes could experience some drop off in the remaining 30 or so games. The Leafs just need to be the best of that group, and under Keefe the Leafs have played better than their current spot in the rankings demonstrates. It was always going to be an uphill climb to the playoffs, but meaningful games are fun.

Lineups

LW C RW Forwards
Zach Hyman
ZACH HYMAN

Rating: 74.6#31 LW

Auston Matthews
AUSTON MATTHEWS

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Rating: 83.3#3 C

Mitch Marner
MITCH MARNER

Rating: 78.3#8 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 78.72#5 FL1
Andreas Johnsson
ANDREAS JOHNSSON

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Rating: 72.5#69 LW

John Tavares
JOHN TAVARES

Rating: 79.0#12 C

William Nylander
WILLIAM NYLANDER

Rating: 76.3#13 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 75.93#4 FL2
Pierre Engvall
PIERRE ENGVALL

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Rating: 73.1#55 LW

Alexander Kerfoot
ALEXANDER KERFOOT

Rating: 71.2#119 C

Kasperi Kapanen
KASPERI KAPANEN

Rating: 72.3#62 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 72.23#10 FL3
Timothy Liljegren
TIMOTHY LILJEGREN

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Rating: 73.4#50 LW

Adam Brooks
ADAM BROOKS
Jason Spezza
JASON SPEZZA

Rating: 70.2#103 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 71.80#7 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Travis Dermott
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Rating: 72.1#74 LD

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Justin Holl
JUSTIN HOLL

Rating: 71.7#23 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 71.91#29 DL1
Martin Marincin
MARTIN MARINCIN

Rating: 70.8#99 LD

Tyson Barrie
TYSON BARRIE

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Rating: 76.1#12 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 73.45#17 DL2
Rasmus Sandin
RASMUS SANDIN

Rating: 73.8#35 LD

Cody Ceci
CODY CECI

Rating: 71.0#85 RD

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DL3 Rating
Rating: 72.39#14 DL3
LW C RW Forwards
Calle Jarnkrok
CALLE JARNKROK

Rating: 72.6#84 LW

Ryan Johansen
RYAN JOHANSEN

Rating: 72.8#78 C

Austin Watson
AUSTIN WATSON

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Rating: 70.9#104 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 72.09#31 FL1
Filip Forsberg
FILIP FORSBERG

Rating: 75.7#21 LW

Matt Duchene
MATT DUCHENE

Rating: 75.5#33 C

Mikael Granlund
MIKAEL GRANLUND

Rating: 72.1#67 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 74.46#12 FL2
Rocco Grimaldi
ROCCO GRIMALDI

Rating: 72.0#78 LW

Nick Bonino
NICK BONINO

Rating: 73.7#58 C

Viktor Arvidsson
VIKTOR ARVIDSSON

Rating: 75.4#25 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 73.68#2 FL3
Colin Blackwell
COLIN BLACKWELL

Rating: 73.5#44 LW

Kyle Turris
KYLE TURRIS

Rating: 71.0#127 C

Craig Smith
CRAIG SMITH

Rating: 73.3#65 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 72.59#1 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Roman Josi
ROMAN JOSI

Rating: 79.3#2 LD

Yannick Weber
YANNICK WEBER

Rating: 70.4#99 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 74.82#12 DL1
Mattias Ekholm
MATTIAS EKHOLM

Rating: 74.9#20 LD

Dante Fabbro
DANTE FABBRO

Rating: 71.8#74 RD

DL2 Rating
Rating: 73.35#19 DL2
Dan Hamhuis
DAN HAMHUIS

Rating: 71.1#91 LD

Matt Irwin
MATT IRWIN

Rating: 70.9#95 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 70.99#25 DL3

Take the Leafs lines with a grain of salt as we know that both Muzzin and Moore have been cleared to play, and Tyler Gaudet has been recalled as well. Considering he’s a former Predator there might be some interest in putting him on the fourth line tonight as well. Since Liljegren and Brooks were sent down we’ll assume they aren’t on the fourth line. 

Now 5 Things to watch for…

1. Jake Muzzin is going to fix everything

Okay, that’s a stretch, but he’s likely providing the Leafs with 20 minutes of high quality defense that they weren’t previously receiving and that’s a big deal. It will be interesting to see who he slots in with. He was spending a lot of time with Holl previously, but Dermott and Holl has been one of the more tolerable pairings for the Leafs, though you could also say that Dermott has been the one partner that seems to work with Cody Ceci as well, so maybe they do get split up.

There is also the possibility that Muzzin plays with Barrie, his original partner, as they would be the easy choice for a high volume top pairing.

The wild card is that the Leafs play Muzzin with Ceci and they try to showcase Ceci in advance of the trade deadline. I doubt that, as winning games is still the priority over optimizing trade value.

2. Trevor Moore is back too

Maybe there isn’t the same fanfare attached to this as there is with Muzzin, but Moore is a solid 4th liner that can play up as needed, and that’s not a bad addition to the lineup either. The more comfort the Leafs have with their fourth line, the better. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing a Gaudet-Spezza-Moore 4th line tonight, as it gives the Leafs potentially their optimal forward unit, as well gives Gaudet a chance to face his former team.

Timashov is clearly on the way out, but the Leafs seem hellbent on getting something for him and not simply losing him to waivers. He might have been more of a Babcock player than a Keefe one. Additionally, Gauthier could very well be in tonight, but Gauthier seems to have fallen into the role similar to Marincin on the defense, and that is the role of extra. He’s not the first choice to be in the lineup, but he’ll occasionally get his time and no one should be too upset about that. Even me.

3. Which Freddie Andersen is showing up?

This is probably the make or break issue for the Leafs. If Andersen is still struggling the Leafs season could be sunk by the weekend. They need Freddie to be at his best and January wasn’t it. Really December wasn’t it either, and October wasn’t exactly pretty either. Maybe November Andersen will show up, and all will be cured, but with Hutchinson still being a giant question mark at best and with no one interested in letting the Leafs have a goaltender for cheap, the net remains the most concerning issue.

4. Are the Preds in the same boat?

The Preds are sitting six points back of the final wild card spot in the West, but have a ton of games at hand over the teams they are chasing and looking at their roster it seems foolish that they are on the outside looking in. They’ve just gone through their coaching change and potentially are ready to push down the stretch. This game won’t be an easy out for the Leafs and hopefully they can make a statement against Nashville.

5. Auston’s wrist

Goal scorers wrists are important and having Matthews hurt is a concern. There’s also the potential that the Leafs wanted to keep him off the ice in the All-Star game for rest, but couldn’t afford to lose him to a one game suspension so had him attend in a handshaking capacity.

It’s likely he’ll go about his business and we’ll never know the extent of the injury, but fingers crossed this is the last we hear of it. The season has already had enough injuries and seeing Matthews cross the 50 goal threshold stands to be one of the highlights of the year if the Leafs make the playoffs or not.

Start time is 8PM ET, and the game can be seen on TSN4.