There’s good news and there’s bad news for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The bad news is that there won’t be fans for the game tonight. The good news is that only Timothy Liljegren is still on COVID-19 protocol. As a result, there’s a bit of optimism looking ahead to the game.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ Quick Hits, I’ll share quick bits of news about the game tonight when the Maple Leafs go against the Ottawa Senators. Then, I’ll share what the line combinations were during Friday’s practice. Finally, I will talk about the difference between being out of COVID-19 protocol and being ready to play in a hockey game.
Quick Hit One: Expect Some Rust For Both Team’s First Game Back
Fans of both the Maple Leafs and the Senators should expect some rust when their teams play. It will be the first game for Toronto since December 14, when the team went on the road and beat the Edmonton Oilers by a score of 5-1. For the Senators, it will be their first game since December 18, when they lost in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-3.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for one team or the other to find game legs. I heard that it takes NHL players – as fit as they are – about four games to get their skating legs back. No one on either team will be in a situation where they have their game legs or even close.
It will also be the first Battle of Ontario since the two teams split games during the first week of the regular season. The Senators won at home on October 14 by a 3-2 margin, and the Maple Leafs returned the favor by winning at home on October 16 by a 3-1 margin.
Item Two: Senators Were Hot Until COVID-19 Shut Them Down
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Senators coming into the game. They only have a record of 9-17-2, but before they were shut down because of COVID-19, they’d had some success. Although they lost their last two games by a goal during each game, the Senators had won five of six games before that, including wins over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Florida Panthers.
Item Three: Line Combinations for Tonight’s Game
With nearly a full complement of players on its roster now, the Maple Leafs’ line combinations during Friday’s practice looked like this. The one note is that Nick Ritchie seems to be the extra forward and might be on the outside looking in for the game.
Item Four: Out of COVID-19 Protocols, But Maybe Not Ready to Play
Obviously, any hockey player who has cleared COVID-19 protocol can play; however, there’s a difference between being cleared to play and being able to play. Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said after practice that, although every player has had multiple days to come back and get themselves ready to play a game, some might be more ready than others.
Keefe noted that “Those guys, in their situation, are different. We are just going to be mindful of that and know that it is not an easy process for them to get back up and running.”
In other words, Keefe was noting that it was about each player felt coming out of the protocol. Different players had different symptoms and different circumstances to deal with. Each player has recovered in their own way.
For example, John Tavares noted that COVID-19 hit him hard for the first few days. He had horrible headaches and a complete loss of energy. On the other hand, Rasmus Sandin was reported to be completely asymptomatic and his energy never waned.
Coach Keefe noted that, in some ways, choosing a lineup for the game tonight was “out of my hands. It is the medical team that deals with that in their discussions with the players and their own assessments. They will make the determination about when it is appropriate for players to return to play.”
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