Coming off a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs are at home against the improving Chicago Blackhawks Saturday.
Petr Mrazek has been nursing a groin injury but appears ready to start in goal after a six-week rest.
The Maple Leafs defence looks like it will continue with changes made against Tampa Bay, with Timothy Liljegren partnered with Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl with rookie Kristians Rubins.
Up front, the lines get a little shuffle, as Ondrej Kase gets another chance to play with Auston Matthews on the top line. Kase scored a pair of goals against Tampa Bay and Matthews is the only Maple Leaf with more 5-on-5 goals.
Mitch Marner has been placed on LTIR, keeping him out of the lineup until after the Christmas break, a move that gives the Maple Leafs the financial flexibility needed to activate Mrazek.
The Maple Leafs are 18-8-2, which gives them the third best record in the Atlantic Division. Tampa Bay has 38 points in one fewer game and the first-place Florida Panthers have 40 points in two fewer games.
Auston Matthews leads the Maple Leafs with 17 goals and 29 points in 25 games.
Here is the expected lineup for the Maple Leafs vs. Chicago:
Bunting – Matthews – Kase
Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander
Ritchie – Kampf – Simmonds
Clifford – Engvall – Steeves
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Liljegren
Rubins – Holl
Since firing Jeremy Colliton as head coach and replacing him with Derek King, the Blackhawks have been a much more competitive team.
Chicago was 1-9-2 when they let Colliton go and, after Thursday’s 2-0 win at Montreal, they are 9-5 since. A big part of that difference is goaltending, as Marc-Andre Fleury struggled to start the season but is back in his groove.
From the Maple Leafs’ perspective, they get a look at backup netminder Kevin Lankinen Saturday.
With 22 points in 26 games, the Blackhawks are 10 points out of fourth place in the Central Division, eight points out of a playoff spot with a crossover to the Pacific Division. It is still an uphill climb.
Defenceman Seth Jones leads the Blackhawks with 23 points (3 G, 20 A) in 26 games. Alex DeBrincat leads Chicago with 14 goals.
Here are expected lines for the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday:
DeBrincat – Dach – Kane
Hagel – Toews – Johnson
Kubalik – Strome – Kurashev
Carpenter – Slavin – Hardman
de Haan – Jones
McCabe – Murphy
Stillman – Gustafsson
Watch on Sportsnet/CBC and listen on TSN 1050 in Toronto.
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