Leafs Gameday: Battlin’ with the Bruins

Does Goliath have a few cracks in his armour? The Boston Bruins, for the first time this season, are slipping. The first-place group went into the start of their five-game road trip with a historically great 38-5-4 record, not once losing back-to-back games and having their closest gap between regulation losses stand at six games. But there’s trouble in paradise now, and while the Toronto Maple Leafs are still far behind them for the Atlantic Division lead, they have an opportunity to create a four-point swing here tonight. Let’s take a look.

Know Your Enemy

As mentioned, the Bruins are in a bit of a rut right now, losing three consecutive games between the Lightning, Panthers (in OT), and Hurricanes. It’s their first time losing consecutive games all season, and now it’s three in a row with another top team in their face. But they’re still the Bruins, and that means a seven-point lead in the standings over second overall, seven more regulation wins than anyone else, the most goals in the Eastern Conference, nearly half a goal against fewer per game conceded than the next best team, the sixth best powerplay and the best penalty kill. Their 64% share of the goals at 5v5 is four percent higher than anyone else in the league, and while they’re outperforming their expected goals, they’re third in the league in that metric too.

In other words, they’re scary good. Better than any of us expected, even with the star power they have. David Pastrnak, with 71 points in 50 games, is making the most of a contract year. Brad Marchand is still great at 34, Patrice Bergeron still great at 37. David Krejci took a year away from the NHL and came back as a point-per-game talent. Charlie McAvoy still looks like a Norris threat, and Linus Ullmark is putting up a Vezina-quality season. Even though the shift from Bruce Cassidy to Jim Montgomery behind the bench felt like a downgrade tactically, it seems to have united the room in a positive way. Even with a slump, they remain the league’s most dangerous team.

Buds Watch

Over in Toronto, we got a little bit of clarity on the immediate term future of the roster heading into Sunday night’s game against the Capitals. Joseph Woll was recalled on an emergency basis following a re-aggravated injury for Matt Murray. Auston Matthews was officially put on injured reserve for his knee sprain, which likely keeps him out for about two and a half more weeks. TJ Brodie counter-balanced that bad news, however, returning to the lineup and looking like he didn’t miss a beat.

It was a good overall performance for the Leafs on Saturday, as they cruised to a 5-1 win against the aforementioned Washington team. Nicklas Backstrom put that in brief doubt with a powerplay goal late in the third period, but Toronto did not want to put John Tavares’ 1000th NHL game to waste. Tavares himself was part of that push, picking up two helpers, and the game winning goal came courtesy of Morgan Rielly, who had been waiting months to bury his first of the year.

The Last One

The last matchup between these two teams came just a few weeks ago, as the Bruins took home a 4-3 win at TD Garden. Michael Bunting led the way for Toronto with a goal, an assist, and a roughly 75% share of the shot quality, with Auston Matthews and Pierre Engvall also picking up goals for Toronto. This wasn’t enough to hold the game in place, however – while the Leafs led twice, the Bruins came back just as many times, and Matt Grzelcyk’s second goal of the year robbed Toronto of any potential points with just 1:16 remaining in the third period.

Heading into tonight, the season series is tied at one win apiece, with the goals equal at 5-5. Needless to say, what comes next is anyone’s guess!

The Lineups

The Maple Leafs are expected to run this lineup tonight, with Ilya Samsonov likely to start in goal.

Michael Bunting – John Tavares – Mitch Marner
Calle Jarnkrok – Alexander Kerfoot – William Nylander
Pierre Engvall – David Kampf – Joey Anderson
Zach Aston-Reese – Pontus Holmberg – Wayne Simmonds

Morgan Rielly – TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano – Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin – Timothy Liljegren

Key Injuries: Auston Matthews, Matt Murray

Meanwhile, the Bruins are expected to look like this, with Linus Ullmark likely to start in goal.

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall – David Krejci – Pavel Zacha
Nick Foligno – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
AJ Greer – Trent Frederic – Jakub Lauko

Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort – Connor Clifton

Key Injuries: Jake Debrusk, Tomas Nosek

The Betting Lines

As it stands, the books are liking the Bruins in this one, which mostly makes sense. While I personally think Toronto has every shot to win this game, particularly with home ice in mind, the Bruins are still first overall by a bunch and likely won’t keep this losing skid going forever. The odds are getting tighter and tighter as the hours progress, though. At time of publish, 79% of bets across the major books were in Boston’s favour, with 62% of the money going its way – implying that those leaning Toronto were leveraging more.

The total goals line for this one is set at six, which feels high with the Bruins going through it right now and with the Leafs lacking Matthews. I suspect with Toronto getting last change they’ll be looking for a more methodical approach, and if executed as planned this should mean a lower score.

On individual player props, John Tavares sits at +105 on BetMGM and DraftKings to clear 3.5 shots on goal. He’s put 46 pucks on net over the last 10 games and with Auston Matthews out, I’d expect the captain to continue to be looked to as a volume shooter. He’s decently likely to clear that number, unless Toronto decides to match line-on-line with the Bergeron trio and it doesn’t get much on the power play front.

I’d also look at David Pastrnak and William Nylander, two best friends that are having career years and love to play against each other. Pastrnak’s shot line is at 4.5 (+105 over, -138 under at BetMGM) and Nylander’s is 3.5 (even over, -135 under at BetMGM). For picking up a goal, Pastrnak sits at +105 at BetMGM and DraftKings, while Nylander sits at +160 on those books.

As always, pick responsibly and remember to have fun out there first and foremost!

How To Watch

Puck drop for this game is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. If you’re looking to watch on TV, you’ll find it on Sportsnet in English, TVA Sports in French, or if you’re in Boston, you’ll find the game on NESN. If you’re looking to stream the game, your best bet is through Sportsnet Now. As a Sportsnet game, this will be in both their standard and premium packages. For more information on tuning into the league, check out our How to Watch the NHL in Canada guide.

Closing Thoughts

This has the potential to be yet another very fun game. It seems like there’s not a ton of consequence left in this season, with Toronto’s playoff position pretty secure and Boston being a bit out of reach right now. With that said, facing them directly has potential to close that gap at the top of the Atlantic, and stranger things have happened. The Leafs have been pretty good at playing up to their opponents this year and given two very solid efforts against the Bruins already this year, so I expect another good effort. Home ice could tilt that effort into a win if a few players step up, though the absence of their MVP in Matthews makes that far from a guarantee.