Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake McCabe will draw back into the lineup Friday against the Calgary Flames after missing six games with a groin injury, head coach Sheldon Keefe informed reporters today (via David Alter of Sports Illustrated). The shutdown defenseman is expected to factor in on the second pairing, playing on his off-side along 40-year-old veteran Mark Giordano.
McCabe sustained the injury on his first shift in an October 26 game against the Dallas Stars, skating only ten seconds before leaving the game. The 2023 trade deadline acquisition from the Chicago Blackhawks hasn’t registered a point yet this season and has a -4 rating in seven games, and his possession metrics have dipped significantly (albeit in a small sample) from last season’s strong play.
That dip can’t be entirely attributed to him, however. His partner for most of the season before exiting the lineup was John Klingberg, who Keefe said will not suit up against Calgary as he deals with an undisclosed injury. Klingberg has five assists through 13 games but has posted a -8 rating, including two -3 performances in his last three games.
Klingberg’s logged the worst defensive numbers of any Maple Leafs defender this season and will be looking for a reset once he gets back to full health. McCabe, meanwhile, has excelled this season in small increments away from Klingberg – his pairing with the now-injured Timothy Liljegren has been the Leafs’ best at controlling shot quality this season, posting an expected goals share of 58.1% in nearly 50 minutes together, per MoneyPuck.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division:
- Things are looking up in the Sunshine State for the Florida Panthers, as they sit second in the Atlantic Division with a .625 points percentage. They’re about to get some reinforcements, too, as head coach Paul Maurice said today that center Sam Bennett is possible (but unlikely) to return from a lower-body injury on Sunday against the Blackhawks. Even if he doesn’t return to the lineup this weekend, that likely means Bennett could factor in next Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks. The feisty secondary scorer has missed all but one game this season due to separate lower-body injuries, last appearing October 30 against the Boston Bruins and playing just 7:54. The 27-year-old had 16 goals and 40 points in 63 games last season and will immediately help bolster their top six upon returning. 22-year-old Anton Lundell, who’s filled in as their second-line center in Bennett’s absence, has scored just once in 12 games.
- Florida is also likely to get defenseman Brandon Montour back soon, with Maurice saying the two-way defender could make his season debut as early as next week. Montour, who underwent shoulder surgery following the Panthers’ run to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final, was initially expected back around training camp but had his recovery timeline extended over the summer. The 29-year-old finished 12th in Norris Trophy voting last season, exploding for a career-high 73 points in 80 games and adding eight goals in 21 playoff games in Florida’s run to the Final. Florida’s defense has held up surprisingly well in his (and Aaron Ekblad’s) absence, but his return to action is still something to look forward to.
- Another big-time defender returning to action imminently is Boston Bruins star Charlie McAvoy, who has completed his four-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and is eligible to return to the lineup Saturday against the Canadiens. McAvoy had easily been the Bruins’ best defenseman through nine games, scoring two goals and six assists with a +6 rating while averaging 23:52 per game. McAvoy’s return to the lineup, along with shutdown defender Derek Forbort’s return from injury, meant the Bruins were able to return depth defenseman Parker Wotherspoon to AHL Providence earlier today.
- Detroit Red Wings forward Austin Czarnik will be unavailable for Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets for undisclosed reasons, per head coach Derek Lalonde. Czarnik has made 11 appearances for the Red Wings this year but has recorded just one assist and a -3 rating in less than nine minutes per game of ice time. The 30-year-old is in the second season of a two-year, two-way deal carrying a $762.5K cap hit and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.