Toronto Maple Leafs Clinch Playoffs Before Marner Returns In Montreal

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs clinched their eighth straight playoff birth thanks to the Red Wings, Capitals and Flyers all losing. They close the season series against the Montreal Canadians tonight at the Bell Centre on Hockey Night in Canada.
Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens
Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Toronto Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In this game, we saw Morgan Reilly return to the lineup, but this did not spark anything in the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they went down early after Joseph Woll had let in the first shot.

Tonight, the Leafs will get Mitch Marner back in the lineup for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain on March 7th against the Boston Bruins. Marner is a massive piece of this team. He will slot back in on the first powerplay unit and presumably start killing penalties again once he gets his legs under him again.

Despite sliding back into his usual special teams roles, Maple Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe appears to be taking a new approach to his lines, trying to spread his superstars throughout the lineup.

Toronto Maple Leafs Clinch Playoffs Before Marner Returns In Montreal

In Marner's absence, we saw the Tyler Bertuzzi, Auston Matthews and Max Domi line have a lot of success, posting 66.67% expected goals percentage in the 84 minutes they have all played together. So you could see why Sheldon Keefe wouldn't want to split these three.

But what is concerning here is that Mitch Marner and John Tavares only have a 46.6% expected goal share when playing together on the same line this year, and Nylander only has a 34% scheduled goal share when not playing with either John Tavares or Auston Matthews (via MoneyPuck).

Sheldon Keefe also changed up the Maple Leafs defensive pairs at practice yesterday in preparation for this game against the Canadiens; tonight, we are likely going to see T.J. Brodie play alongside Mark Giordano for the first time this season.

This is a concerning pair, considering both of these guys move at the speed of molasses. Still, Giordano has been pretty good defensively since returning from injury and may be able to help hide Brodie on the third pairing, playing a more sheltered role.

The Maple Leafs also got more good news on the injury front yesterday, with Joel Edmundson practicing for the first time since his injury. Timothy Liljegren remains out, and the blue-line looks awful without him.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens Game Preview

Tonight, we will likely see Ilya Samsonov back in the Maple Leafs net. Since the new year, Samsonov has had a 2.71 goals-against average and is running away with the playoff starting job. Since joining the Maple Leafs, Samsonov is 3-1 in four starts against the Canadiens.

Although the Maple Leafs clinched a playoff spot last night, they will be looking to bounce back from their loss to the Lightning, in which the team fell flat for the entire third period. The Canadiens are also coming into this one after a deflating loss to the Lightning, who officially eliminated the Canadiens from playoff contention on Thursday night.

The Canadiens will likely have Sam Montembeault back in the net tonight. He has been very good recently, allowing 2.62 goals per game while posting a +2.15 goals saved above expected (via NaturalStatTrick) in his last eight starts. Montembeault has given the Maple Leafs trouble before, but almost one year ago, the Maple Leafs put seven goals past him on April 8th of last year.

Over their last 10 games, the Canadien's shot attempt, shot on goal, scoring chance and high-danger chance percentages are below 50%. They are also averaging the third most penalty kill time on ice per game over that same stretch. This is going to provide the Maple Leafs with a great opportunity to give these new lines a chance to play in the offensive zone and should allow the powerplay to get comfortable with having Marner back out there.


This is a game the Leafs should dominate, the motivation is their coming off of another bad loss to the Lightning, the storylines are there with Marner returning to the lineup for a Leafs vs Canadiens matchup on Hockey Night in Canada