Maple Leafs could face seven defensemen in Calgary

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Simmonds could be out after the birth of his child, but Matthews and Muzzin on the right track

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The Maple Leafs intend to complete the trip to Western Canada that they began in mid-December, although once again they are in a numbers crisis with their starting roster.

COVID-19 isn’t the reason, with an omicron variant surge halting Edmonton’s four-game swing after just one gig on Dec. 14. Now is the happiest circumstance of Wayne Simmonds wife Crystal giving birth to their second child. The right-winger wasn’t in practice Wednesday and stayed behind when the Leafs flew to Calary, likely forcing coach Sheldon Keefe to dress seven defensemen Thursday against the Flames.Due to salary cap constraints, Toronto only had one extra body for the start of the trip, defenseman Timothy Liljegren, and he’s technically still in the starting six until Jake Muzzin gets cleared. final to return after three weeks out with a concussion. Muzzin was able to spend the last three days of training and testing without apparent discomfort.

Center Auston Matthews also returned from a minor head injury for Wednesday’s practice to make at least 11 usable forwards.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens with Wayne…he and his wife will make that decision,” Keefe said. “Seven defenders is an option. I still don’t have the Muzzin’ deal, so we’ve got some loose ends, but (general manager Kyle Dubas) will sort it out.

As always, when the Leafs are two or three time zones west, asking for help on short notice is a challenge. All NHL teams lost their COVID taxi squads when last week’s All-Star Break arrived. William Nylander, Mitch Marner or Ondrej Kase could see extra right-wing duty on Thursday if seven D’s are plan B.

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Nine weeks ago, the Leafs traveled to Edmonton, beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers, but as the outbreak of Omicron in Canada worsened, they never made it to Calgary, eventually sticking to Vancouver. That game against the Canucks was also suspended, as was the border crossing for their inaugural game in Seattle.

A group of Leafs who tested positive during the layover, including Keefe and Captain John Tavares, were unable to return home with the main body and had to wait for a charter plane specializing in the medical transport of patients.

“Last time there we were gone 10 days, played one game and it was weird,” Nylander said. “But the situation being as it is, we’ll just play them now.”

This trip is scheduled in the same geographical order as in December; Calgary Thursday, Vancouver Saturday and Seattle Monday.

The Leafs have remained hot over the ensuing weeks, currently on a season-high six-game winning streak, while Calgary and Vancouver remain in tight playoff races and Seattle still struggles with the home team. ‘expansion. The Flames have won three straight.

“It’s been a long time since we were ready for these games,” Keefe said. “We had done our preparatory work, so we are a bit early that way. The time is up, so you go back to (the pre-scout). We thought we’d already have this trip on the books, but we can’t wait to get out there and play.

Matthews had to be helped into the room after an accidental collision late in Monday’s 4-3 overtime decision against Carolina. But the leading scorer said he was feeling better as he left Scotiabank Arena and was ready to resume his 50-goal pursuit, reaching his 31st against the Canes.

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“I was just shaken because it happened so fast and I didn’t expect it,” Matthews said of the strike against Carolina’s Brett Pesce. “I felt like I got hit pretty hard in the side of the head. But everything went well and I didn’t hesitate to get into training today.

Tavares said the Leafs are ready to put previous travel disruptions well into the past.

“It should be three good games, good atmosphere, seeing Seattle for the first time. We just want to build on what we’ve done.

He, Nylander and Alex Kerfoot also want to emulate Matthews’ line, which has been hot at even strength, Marner on an eight-goal streak. Jack Campbell is expected to get the start in goal on Thursday after Petr Mrazek hung on to beat the Canes.

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