In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Commentary, we’ll look at a number of players who are making an impact on the team. Looking back at the team’s most recent win over the Philadelphia Flyers and then ahead toward the end of the regular season, we’ll comment on how the team is doing and where it’s headed.
This has been a solid season for the Maple Leafs. The team has set franchise records for wins and points in a season. The top lines are playing well; and, the depth options the team have been outstanding. We’ll comment about some of the key players on the season.
Comment One: David Kampf’s Positive Effect
David Kampf’s effect on the fourth line was the one thing that stood out in all of the line juggling Keefe did in the Flyer’s game. While Kampf’s numbers themselves were average, he played significantly more minutes and had much tougher zone starts than either Spezza or Simmonds.
But, if we look at Spezza’s and Simmonds’ numbers when they were on the ice with Kampf, they were some of their best analytics of the season. At five-on-five, Spezza was on the ice for 100 percent of the shots for ( 5-0), 100 percent (6-0) of the scoring chances, and 100 percent of the expected goals. Simmonds was on the ice for 71 percent (5-2) of the shots, 60 percent (6-4) of the scoring chances, and 68 percent of the expected goals.
While Kampf has been solid defensively on the third line with anyone he plays with, he showed in this game that he would make the fourth line significantly better. That might be something Keefe might want to look at if he felt he wanted to play Colin Blackwell further up in the lineup, or if Ondrej Kase were to return to be healthy enough to return for the playoffs.
Kampf also scored another one of the “funny” type of goals he seems to be getting known for, a double deflection off of a Flyers player’s foot.
Comment Two: Mark Giordano’s Offense Is Like Old Times
When the Maple Leafs acquired the 38-year-old Mark Giordano at the trade deadline, they probably figured they were getting an older defenseman and former Norris winner who could shore up the team defensively. They likely never considered that Giordano would put up offensive numbers similar to the ones he put up when he won the Norris Trophy in 2019.
After getting his “feet wet” and going pointless in his first four games with the Maple Leafs while he learned the new systems and became familiar with his partners, Giordano has scored ten points in his past eleven games. That’s a pace similar to his 74 points in 78 games when he won the Norris. At the same time, he’s having a positive effect on his most common playing partner, Timothy Liljegren, who has seemed to reach a whole new level playing alongside him.
Comment Three: Ilya Lyubushkin’s Cracks Are Showing
For the most part, Ilya Lyubushkin has seemed like a solid addition to the Maple Leafs’ defensive core. He’s shown up pretty much as advertised, a strong defensive defenseman who has little offensive upside. At times, he actually seemed to be better with the puck than he was supposed to be, making decent first passes and even jumping into a play now and then.
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Lately, his play with the puck has been a little suspect. He’s had a number of turnovers in his past few games that have led to high-danger scoring chances for the opposition, some of which have ended up in the back of the net.
Until now, we’ve looked at the competition for the sixth and last defenseman’s spot going into the playoffs as a battle between Justin Holl and Liljegren. With the improvements in their play of late and the struggles Lyubushkin has had with the puck, we could see a scenario where Lyubushkin could find himself on the outside looking in come the postseason.
Lyubushkin has the advantage over Holl and Liljegren because of his physicality, which can be a strong plus in the playoffs. In his last 20 games as a Maple Leaf, he has delivered 66 hits. That compares to 41 by Liljegren and 39 by Holl. However, if he’s deemed a liability with the puck, it could negate any edge he may have defensively.
Comment Four: William Nylander Is Stepping Up
William Nylander seems at times to need a nudge in motivation. His talent is undeniable, but he seems to get into ruts where he struggles to keep his game at the intensity level it needs to be successful. Last season in the playoffs the injury to John Tavares appeared to motivate Nylander to the point where he was the Maple Leafs’ best forward in the postseason.
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Auston Matthews being out of the lineup the past two games seems to have had that same effect on Nylander. Once again he was the best forward on the ice for the Maple Leafs in the Flyers’ game. He scored a goal and an assist to pull his season’s point total up to match his games played for this season, giving the Maple Leafs three players playing at a point-a-game pace.
Hopefully, Nylander can stay this motivated once Matthews returns.
What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?
The road trip the Maple Leafs begin tonight in Tampa Bay is the beginning of a gruelling stretch for the Maple Leafs. To this point in the season, they’ve handled tough stretches better than we could have possibly imagined.
It’s probably time for some load management. Will Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe begin to play his depth players more as the season winds down? The team almost has second place in the Atlantic Division in hand. Should they win tonight, they will lock up home-ice advantage.
It’s been a good season.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf