“He’s a pretty special player and he’s been on a roll,” said Canadiens winger Josh Anderson. “It will be a very good challenge, but a challenge that our line accepts. We like to have this mentality, this role of closing the top line. We’re going to do everything we can not to let them score and try. be physical and not let them really have fun. “
Although he’s been slowed down at times by a wrist injury, Matthews has been remarkably consistent, scoring in 60% of his games this season (28 of 47). Lately he’s been even deadlier, scoring in 13 of 17 games.
“He has that aura around him where you can tell he expects greatness from himself,” observed new lineman Nick Foligno. “It’s fun to be with people like that. It’s cool to watch. Even as an older player you appreciate guys who are good at their craft and Auston takes that very seriously. “
Anderson and teammates Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault are expected to see most of the five-to-five minutes against Matthews, Foligno and Mitch Marner tonight.
“Phil is that gritty center when he wants it,” Anderson noted. “He’s playing hard. He’s playing the right way. You saw the way he played against Connor McDavid when we were in Edmonton. He was tough. He was skating. He was physical and he had that mean side to him. We have to bring this. “
Anderson was asked to compare what it’s like to defend against Matthews against McDavid.
“They are two different players,” he said. “With McDavid he’s got so much speed and skill and his hockey skills are out of this world, so you never really know what he’s going to do there. With Matthews he’s grown a lot and you’ve seen what he’s capable of doing this year. He seems to be scoring in every game, so you always have to know where he is on the ice. It seems Marner generally likes to find him and he’s pretty good at it and Matthews [is good at] find that open ice too. We have to have our head on a pivot and just know where these guys are and play hard with them. ”
Tonight is the first of three games between the Canadiens and the Leafs this week. As it stands, the lifelong rivals are on a collision course to meet in the first round of the playoffs.
“We just had a meeting on this, actually,” Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin revealed. “We were talking about watching a little mini-series here against them. It is certainly something that we have talked about and that we are thinking about. We’re going to see these guys in the next three games and maybe the first round. playoffs, so it’s a little introduction to the playoffs maybe here. “
Toronto has won five of seven games against Montreal this season, with one of those wins coming in overtime.
“They defend very well as a team,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “They’re one of the best defending teams in the NHL in terms of what they don’t give up, so offense is a challenge. So you expect the games to be close and for the most part most of the games have been close so you have to be specific there. “
The Leafs won the most recent game 4-1 last week in Montreal. However, all other matches between the clubs were decided by two goals or less.
“We’re looking at our previous matches and what we can adjust and improve,” Muzzin said of the team’s preparation, “and what they could adjust as well… so a little chess game here for the three. next matches. “
Keefe stressed that the focus remains on the task at hand tonight and the standings remain fluid. The Canadians, after all, are chasing the Winnipeg Jets for third place.
“We’re looking for the rankings right now,” Anderson said. “We are not looking behind us. We are only two points from Winnipeg. “
While in Columbus, Foligno would jump into the arms of Elvis Merzlikins to celebrate the victories. After a recent victory for the Blue Jackets, the Latvian keeper jumped on his own, wrapping his arms around his own body.
“I was laughing at the jump hug he gave himself,” Foligno said. “It was pretty funny. I must have texted him after. “
After Sunday’s practice, Foligno made a similar jump into the arms of backup goalkeeper David Rittich. The couple shared a laugh. It was another example of Foligno looking comfortable with his new teammates and his new surroundings.
Foligno was congratulated on his smooth transition to Toronto.
“I have to be a good actor,” the 33-year-old said with a chuckle. “I feel like I messed up a few things. “
Muzzin, who was acquired by Toronto as part of a midseason trade a few years ago, spoke to Foligno after he arrived and urged him to be himself.
“It’s an honor for the guys to make me feel this,” Foligno said. “Without making them get up and go the extra mile to make me feel welcome and be a part of that from the start, maybe it wouldn’t be like that. “
“Different guys handle these situations differently,” noted Muzzin. “I was maybe a little shy and pretty calm until I felt really comfortable and felt like a bigger part of the team. “
Foligno is more outgoing, it seems, and actually gave a brief speech to his new teammates ahead of his first game.
“I know who I am,” Foligno said. “I’m comfortable with what I can bring and just try to do it and slowly introduce myself to it. Every day I feel more comfortable with the gym, the coaching staff, the coaches, the system, but also knowing that there are certain attributes I can bring to help move this forward. “
The Leafs have won five straight games since Foligno’s quarantine ended and he joined the squad in Winnipeg on April 22. Foligno has appeared in four of the games, producing an assist in every outing.
“They have something special here,” Foligno said. “I was part of teams when you have this factor” that “. You have this room running on its own and the guys care about each other a lot. You can feel it in this room and I think it’s so important. attracted me to this team… They have concentration. They have fun and they have the care, which I think is so important in this league. “
Alex Galchenyuk celebrated emphatically after shattering a six-game goal drought on Saturday night.
“I feel good,” he said after the game. “These last games, I definitely played better than the previous games. I knew I had to be better and find my game a little bit. But, at the same time, I had to stay focused. Keep building. Keep working on the same things and build that momentum. “
Galchenyuk has three goals and six assists in 21 games for the Leafs.
After taking a puck in the face on Saturday night, defenseman Justin Holl did not make the trip to Montreal. Timothy Liljegren will take his place alongside Muzzin tonight. This will be Liljegren’s second game in the NHL this season.
“I feel great all year developing with the Marlies and I’m just waiting for a chance,” said Liljegren after racking up 15 minutes and 35 seconds of ice time against the Canucks on Thursday. “It took kind of two or three shifts there. I was so excited to play that it was pretty easy to get started. I felt like I played a solid game. It was fun. “
With Morgan Rielly and Muzzin both sidelined for maintenance, Liljegren and Ben Hutton played in Thursday’s win over the Canucks.
“How well our D body did the other night when we brought the big guys out, that was just a sign of our depth,” said Travis Dermott.
But that improved depth, especially Rasmus Sandin’s recent play, could make it difficult for Dermott to maintain a top-six spot once Zach Bogosian returns from a shoulder injury in the playoffs.
“Honestly, it’s great,” insisted the 24-year-old. “You can think about it selfishly and say ‘Oh, damn, we’ve got a lot of competition,’ but we want to win a Cup. So that’s our goal and defensive depth is an important part of that. “
Toronto has kept their opponent to one goal in each of the last four games while boosting their physical play.
“It definitely got better,” TJ Brodie said. “One thing we’ve been focusing on the last few weeks is making saves behind the net, trying to get pins and go between the guy and the puck and creating those battles and it’s definitely improved. , but there is always room for improvement. “
Leafs’ projected lines for Monday’s game:
Foligno – Matthews – Marner
Galchenyuk – Tavares – Nylander
Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Simmonds
Thornton – Brooks – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Liljegren
Sandin – Dermott