Max Domi enjoys being the man in the middle.
Though the 28-year-old remains in search of his first goal with the Maple Leafs, he was looking to build off one of his better games with Toronto when he participates in the Battle of Ontario for the first time on Wednesday night.
A line of Domi between Nick Robertson and Calle Jarnkrok brought energy for the Leafs in a 6-5 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday and will seek to do so again when the Leafs line up against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Arena.
“(Playing centre) frees you up a little bit with your speed,” Domi said after the Leafs had a full morning skate. “I’ve played a lot of centre in the last few years of my career, so it comes a little easier in terms of being able to maintain your energy and your speed and getting a lot more puck touches and ability to make plays in the middle of the ice.”
With just five assists in his first 12 games with Toronto after he signed a one-year contract during the off-season, Domi knows he has more to give on offence.
Does coach Sheldon Keefe see Domi as a long-term option at centre?
“He played an important role in Dallas (with the Stars) at the most important time of the year (in the playoffs last spring) and played down the middle of the ice,” Keefe said. “He has done it at different times and if I take the one-game sample that we have, I’d say yes. I think it can absolutely work for us.
“We’ll take it a game at a time. It’s certainly a nice option to have and it worked the other night, so we’ll stay with that.”
The Leafs’ five-game homestand continues with a spate of three games in four nights.
Joseph Woll will start in goal against the Sens, while William Nylander will attempt to record a point in a 13th consecutive to start his season, which would extend his club record.
Defensively, the Leafs will try to end what has been a bumpy run on home ice, as they’ve allowed at least four goals in each of their six home games. The victory against Tampa ended a four-game losing streak.
The Senators are struggling. They’ve lost five of their past six games after winning three of their first four, and some in the restless fan base think coach D.J. Smith should be fired. The Sens have gone down the separation route already with the general manager, as Pierre Dorion and the team agreed to part ways last week.
The Sens chose to have their media availability on Wednesday morning at their Toronto hotel rather than go to Scotiabank Arena, something that didn’t get past Keefe.
“They’re hunkered down at the hotel to avoid you guys to stay focused and be ready,” Keefe said. “We’re expecting their best, no doubt.
“Ottawa teams always bring their best against us. Regardless of what’s happening with them, that’s what we’d expect.”
Defencemen Jake McCabe (groin) and Conor Timmins (lower body) took part in the morning skate, but neither will play. McCabe is close, but Timmins is not. The Leafs’ plan is to take Timmins on the trip to Sweden next week so he can practise with the team.
As for Domi, he fondly recalled parts of the Battle of Ontario from the days that his dad Tie was a factor in the rivalry.
“I remember the playoff series for sure,” Domi said. “I was never really one to really watch the games back then, I was more of a mini-stick player so I don’t really remember much about the games. Remember (Daniel) Alfredsson with his long hair, Dany Heatley, there was a lot of good, talented players over in Ottawa.
“Great memories of watching these two teams go head to head. I’m excited to be part of it tonight.”
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The projected Leafs lineup for Wednesday
Matthew Knies-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Tyler Bertuzzi-John Tavares-William Nylander
Nick Robertson-Max Domi-Calle Jarnkrok
Noah Gregor-David Kampf-Ryan Reaves
Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano-John Klingberg
William Lagesson-Simon Benoit