The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without Nikita Zaitsev again on Saturday night when they try to even up their series against the Washington Capitals. As Kristen Shilton of TSN reports, Zaitsev missed practice again despite Babcock lobbying for his return. All season the Maple Leafs have kept clear boundaries between the coaching staff and the medical staff, taking any decision out of the player or coach’s hands.
Zaitsev’s absence was noticeable for the Leafs, who were forced to use Matt Hunwick for over 26 minutes, often on his wrong side. As we wrote yesterday, an impressive performance from Hunwick in the first round could be very impactful for his career in the NHL, and he actually showed fairly well. While he’ll never be an elite defender, the Leafs held their own against the powerful Capitals, even holding a 2-0 lead at one point in the first period.
- Ryan Rishaug of TSN reports that Matt Benning will likely make his playoff debut tonight, inserted into the lineup for the struggling Eric Gryba. Gryba played a key role in two of the San Jose Sharks goals, and the young Benning will try to fix those weaknesses as the Oilers try to get back even in the series. The 22-year old was quite a find for Edmonton this year, coming straight out of Northeastern and at times looking like a solid NHL piece. Gryba had 16 minutes of ice time in game 1; expect a similar amount for Benning tonight.
- Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford will both be in the St. Louis Blues lineup tonight according to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with Jordan Schmaltz and Jori Lehtera coming out. Sanford will likely skate alongside Alex Steen and Vladimir Sobotka, though Steen did miss practice today. Bortuzzo fits in beside Carl Gunnarsson on the third pairing. The Blues will have to try and reduce the number of chances they allow to the Wild, as it took an outstanding game from Jake Allen to give them the victory. Sanford was a big part of the Kevin Shattenkirk deal, and could make fans forget all about their traded all-star if he plays a big role tonight.