Kathryn Riley-USA TODAY Sports

Bruins notes: Last chance to face Toronto without Matthews, Nylander

Matt Kalman
November 26, 2018 - 12:51 pm

The Bruins will get one last chance to exploit the shorthanded Toronto Maple Leafs on the road Monday.

The Maple Leafs will be without star center Auston Matthews, who’s on the cusp of returning from a shoulder injury that will have cost him 17 games after Monday. Meanwhile forward William Nylander has missed the whole season because he’s a restricted free agent without a contract. Nylander has until Saturday to sign or by the rules set out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement he can’t play in the NHL this season.

Toronto is 16-8-0, fourth in the NHL overall standings, despite Matthews and Nylander’s absence. But one of the blemishes on the Maple Leafs’ record came from the Bruins, 5-1, Nov. 10 in Boston.

Matthews has been skating regularly with the Maple Leafs and will reportedly return to the lineup after he participates in a contact practice and is given a full bill of health. Nylander is reportedly getting closer to ending his impasse, with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston saying over the weekend that a six-year contract worth around $6.9 million per season is still on the table.

By the time the Bruins and Maple Leafs meet again (Dec. 8 in Boston) a red-hot Toronto club could have all its weapons firing. So it’s vital that the Bruins find a way to get more standings points off the Maple Leafs before they become an even stiffer test to tackle.

Halak over Rask

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has made the somewhat surprising decision to start Jaroslav Halak instead of Tuukka Rask in Toronto.

Rask, who had 31 saves in the 3-2 win in Montreal on Saturday, has a .938 save percentage in his past three starts and he has dominated the Maple Leafs to the tune of a 2.14 goals-against average and .925 save percentage (regular season only) in 28 games.

Halak, who made 40 saves in that Bruins win against Toronto earlier this season, has a 2.82 GAA and .914 save percentage against Toronto in 17 career games.

One might suspect Halak wants a chance to face his old team the New York Islanders on Thursday at TD Garden, and if Cassidy grants that wish he would be giving Rask a full week between starts (assuming Rask’s next start would be Saturday against Detroit). Cassidy’s trying to keep both goaltenders sharp, so it doesn’t seem ideal that Rask would have to wait so long to follow up on his superb performance against the Canadiens. Of course, Halak would be off for six days if he waited until Thursday to play, and it sounds like Rask will probably start Thursday (something Cassidy said he's leaning toward), so everything I just wrote might be rendered moot.

For what it’s worth, I would’ve started the Maple Leafs killer Rask against Toronto, Halak against the Islanders and his old teammates.

Sean of the scratched

For the first time this season, Sean Kuraly might be scratched. During morning line rushes Anders Bjork was back in the lineup on the third line and Colby Cave slid into Kuraly’s spot on the fourth line.

The Bruins’ bottom six looked like this:

Bjork -- Joakim Nordstrom -- Noel Acciari

Chris Wagner -- Cave -- David Backes

If this is the way the Bruins line up against Toronto, and Kuraly is healthy (there's no reason to believe he's not because he skated), it's a bit odd.

Just a couple days after saying Nordstrom helps the Bruins the most when he’s on the wing, Cassidy moves Nordstrom back to center. After finally getting a couple serviceable games out of Backes, the coach switches Backes' center to Cave, who has five games NHL experience and looks like he's lost offensively. Bjork better respond to his two-game healthy scratch absence and produce against the Maple Leafs or these lineup switches will smell.

Related: Bruins notes: Night of firsts for Moore, Backes in Bruins win over Habs