Of all people who hated watching the Leafs lose that playoff series to the Bruins last season, perhaps the most frustrated was Justin Holl from his front-row seat.
A defenceman employed just 11 times all year, he didn’t see the ice as the club crashed and burned in a series it could’ve won. Holl made all three April trips to TD Garden, yet only saw the ice in a game-day skate, spending the night stuck in the press box
“It was very tough when you’re sitting there watching,” said Holl, who should make his sixth start of this month on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in the first regular-season rematch with Boston. “Everyone knows the history. All you want to do is be out there. You’re helpless in that sense. But this is a new year and I hope to keep it going.
“Getting in a game against anybody would be great for me and I definitely want to get in against Boston. It would be a nice challenge, an intense game, I’m sure. Everyone knows they have a great lineup.”
With Holl and Martin Marincin , Cody Ceci or maybe the 6-foot-4 Kevin Gravel , the Leafs will certainly have more blue-line size against Boston than when Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev were here. Another key figure in the series, Jake Gardiner , is now in Carolina.
Up front, Alexander Kerfoot , Ilya Mikheyev and Dmytro Timashov will also get their first look at Boston as Leafs coach Mike Babcock might decide Jason Spezza or Nic Petan get involved.
“In this league, it doesn’t matter who you play every night, there’s nothing to pick between the teams,” said the coach. “Night after night you’re in a real grind. We have a history with Boston, but getting the day off (Thursday) is as important.”
HUTCH VERSUS JACKETS?
A second game against Boston on the road is sandwiched into the Leafs’ schedule on Tuesday, the night after they host Columbus. That Jackets game could be Michael Hutchinson ’s next start as he looks for his first win and to improve that ugly .886 save percentage.
The way the unguarded Capitals were able to tee off on him Wednesday should be taken into account, but Hutchinson is an area of concern. Just give him some time is his response.
“On all four goals (that came rapid-fire Wednesday in Washington), there’s something you’d like to do differently or something you’d like to have back. That first one (a Jakub Vrana rocket), if I get a bigger piece of that, maybe the game goes a little different. That’s just the nature of the position. The results aren’t there right now, but they’re going to be coming.”
Hutchinson doesn’t want to over-think the effects of a steady diet of back-to-backs, even as Babcock quotes statistical research that the team playing the second of consecutive games has won less than a third of them this season if the other club is rested.
“My mentality doesn’t change, my job doesn’t change, whether it’s the second game of a back-to-back or the first when the team’s rested,” Hutchinson said. “Your job is to stop the puck and you can’t be concerned if the guys are tired or slept little the night before.
“We’re still feeling our way through the early part of the season and that’s just how it goes. I’m not worried. I know we have a of talent in this locker room and I don’t think anyone else is worried either.”
MICK STILL A HIT
Give another gold star to Mikheyev, who made a third-period appearance on the John Tavares – Mitch Marner line in Washington. Babcock went through Kasperi Kapanen and Trevor Moore in that left-wing role the past couple of games.
“We’re trying to get that line to go, right?,” Babcock said of the rotating wingers. “Moving guys around, I don’t know how great that is either, but I thought (Mikheyev) had great legs and was flying.
A few lines were out of sorts as penalties piled up.
“Some guys are feezing, some guys are getting killed,” Babcock said of how the special teams upsets the flow of his bench. “I over-played guys in the third chasing the game.”
Tavares is impressed with Mikheyev’s wheels.
“His speed and his hockey sense, especially making the transition as a young player from overseas to the style game here, has been good. He has good instincts to read the play, hit the holes and put the puck in the right area.”
Kapanen called Wednesday’s first goal of the year — and Toronto’s first shorthanded this season — a huge icebreaker, given the lack of chemistry between him, Tavares and Marner. “A step in the right direction for sure. It was one of those days where the legs felt good and I got a lot of chances” … Egor Korshkov has four goals in as many games for the Marlies, who took out Hershey 4-3 on Wednesday at Coca-Cola Coliseum. Forward Kenny Agostino , back from a head-shot injury, scored his first of the year. Kasimir Kaskisuo made 27 saves … With his goal on Wednesday, Tavares became the 113th player in franchise history to reach at least 50. It came in No. 91’s 90th regular-season game … Auston Matthews ’ next goal will be his 119th, moving him past Steve Thomas , Vince Damphousse and Tom Fergus and into a tie with Red Kelly for 40th in franchise history.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019