There wasn’t much negativity for the Maple Leafs to ponder as they winged their way west on Saturday.
Nothing beyond nit-picking, really, considering the Leafs found themselves with eight points and a share of first overall in the National Hockey League as they flew to Calgary to begin a four-game swing through Alberta on Sunday against the Flames.
“You just try to build the momentum off a decent week,” Leafs captain John Tavares said after the club’s win against Edmonton on Friday night. “Each game is so important, we know everything is intra-divisional. It doesn’t stop.”
It’s going to be a well-rested Flames team the Leafs face in a rare afternoon start on Sunday (4 p.m. Eastern). Calgary, off to a 2-0-1 start, has not played since beating Vancouver on Monday.
“We have a real challenge going into Sunday with the travel, the turnaround, the kind of hockey we have already played,” Tavares said. “Mentally and physically we have to respond, get ourselves ready to go and know we have a tough one in the first time seeing the Flames.
“I didn’t really think about it at all,” Brodie said of anticipating his first game in Calgary as a member of the opposition. “My main focus was hearing from all the (Leafs) guys (in the off-season), trying to get to know the systems. It’s something that I didn’t really worry about, I figured that I would think about it when the time comes.
“Since the season started, I have not really talked to (his former Flames teammates). It has been a little chaotic with the schedule but it will be good to face off against them.”
For Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, through six games Brodie has been exactly what the club thought it was acquiring in the 30-year-old defenceman.
“He has been a steady presence for us, whether it be defensively or offensively, how he moves the puck,” Keefe said. “Consistent, low-maintenance guy. Like every (new) player, there’s an adjustment period, but he looks really comfortable.
“When I talk about our team not getting rattled or fazed by anything that might have occurred in any of our games, he epitomizes that. He just goes out and plays. He makes a mistake, or our team makes a mistake, it doesn’t rattle him, he goes out and plays his next shift. That’s really valuable on defence in particular.”
With no Leafs availability on Saturday, and none planned on Sunday before the game, we likely won’t know until warmup whether Auston Matthews returns to the lineup after Toronto’s top centre didn’t play on Friday because of upper-body soreness.
If Matthews is back, he will attempt to do something he has not accomplished in his career — score a goal against the Flames.
Calgary is the lone NHL team that Matthews has not scored against, and the Flames have been sharp in limiting his output overall. In seven games versus Calgary, Matthews has one assist. Against every other NHL team, Matthews has at least three points.
The Leafs added forward Travis Boyd to the roster before travelling … Mitch Marner couldn’t have asked for a better start. Not only was Marner tied with Mark Stone of Vegas for the NHL scoring lead with eight points as of Saturday morning, he led all NHL forwards in ice time with an average of 24 minutes 25 seconds a game. Including this season, Marner’s career average is 18 minutes 34 seconds … We figure on seeing backup goalie Jack Campbell getting a start at some point on the trip, even without games on back-to-back nights. Frederik Andersen is 8-2-2 versus the Flames in his career with a .918 save percentage.
“It should be a fun trip. No back to backs, so you try to take advantage of those days in between and make the most of it.”
Two games in Calgary will be followed by two in Edmonton.
Neither game against the Oilers this past week was marked by offensive fireworks. In Tavares’ mind, that could become a pattern in the North Division.
“When you are seeing teams back to back and you know you’re going to be seeing teams eight, nine, 10 times, you get very familiar with tendencies, adjustments that are being made game to game, so things might be a little bit tighter than people expected,” Tavares said.
“It’s a long season. I’m sure there’s going to be some exciting hockey, some games that coaches don’t love.
“There’s a lot of respect on both sides. I think all teams want to play well defensively and establish that and make it difficult for each side to earn their ice.”
Nothing is perfect, of course, and one area that has to improve for the Leafs is goals for at five-on-five. The Leafs have eight in six games (and 10 against). By comparison, the Washington Capitals led the NHL going into Saturday with 15 goals at five-on-five in five games, followed by the Montreal Canadiens, who had 14 in five games.
The Leafs’ power play has been hot, scoring on eight of 18 opportunities.
BRODIE’S QUIET RETURN
The soft-spoken TJ Brodie, not surprisingly, had little to say about his return to Calgary.
A fourth-round pick by the Flames in 2008, Brodie played in 634 regular-season games and 30 in the playoffs with the team before signing a four-year, $20-million US contract with the Leafs in October.