Maple Leafs’ Depth Stepping Up in Ways it’s Failed in Recent Years

One of the best things about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning was the play of the depth players. Coming into the series, it was a big question for the team about whether someone other than the Core Four would show up to help with the scoring. 

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Perhaps Game 3 showed that the Maple Leafs have the kind of depth that could take them on a longer Stanley Cup journey. In Game 3, the Maple Leafs went into Florida and their big guns were generally silent. Auston Matthews had no points, and Mitch Marner had an assist.

Maple Leafs Goals Come from Unexpected Sources

However, the Maple Leafs got a goal from one defenseman (Morgan Rielly) and a great play by another defenseman (Ilya Lyubushkin) when he fled Colin Blackwell for the second goal of the game. Defensive specialist David Kampf almost instant replayed a goal, once again coming in alone and scoring on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Finally, at the end of the game with the Lightning net empty and the team pushing to score, Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev partnered on two empty-netters to seal the win.

Colin Blackwell Toronto Maple Leafs
Colin Blackwell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs went up 3-0 and then held on, which wasn’t easy. The Lightning came hard and put on a vicious attack. However, the Maple Leafs didn’t break. 

Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall Have Become a Band of Brothers 

How close-knit is this team? The play toward the end of the game might not have been the wisest, but it worked perfectly. It also showed the kind of unselfish relationships the team has created among its players. 

After the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach shuddered a bit when he replayed the fourth Maple Leafs’ goal, when Engvall gave teammate Mikheyev a freebie. However, you could tell that – as a fan rooting for his players – he appreciated the selfless gesture to give a partner a goal rather than taking it himself. 

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It was a nice gesture. But I also wonder if Engvall thought about the last game of the season when he had a chance to do a similar thing with William Nylander. Nylander had two goals already and could have had a hat trick against the Boston Bruins. However, that night, although Engvall might have passed the puck to Nylander, he just shot it into the net himself. Who knows, right? There is learning from experience, too.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To my point in this post, the key consideration for Maple Leafs’ fans is that Mikheyev scored two goals; Kampf scored one goal; Blackwell scored one; and, Rielly scored the other. That’s not the usual suspects carrying the scoring for the team. 

Pierre Engvall Has Re-Established His Value to His Coach

There was a time not long ago when Engvall seemed to be in coach Keefe’s dog house. That’s changed. Engvall registered three assists in the 5-2 victory over the Lightning. However, his deployment by Keefe shows just how trusted he’s become in the eyes of the coaching staff. Engvall plays important minutes for his team.

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I noted Engvall’s relationship with Mikheyev earlier; however, the fact that both of these speed merchants were on the ice during the most difficult time of the game shows just how trusted they’ve become. In fact, Engvall was put onto the first line with Matthews and Marner to give that line a bit more defensive prowess. 

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Celebrate a Goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Engvall has become a trusted warrior for his team and is assuming the kind of a role that good teams need to win championships. The same goes with Mikheyev. Both are versatile players and neither panics under pressure. In fact, on one penalty kill, Mikheyev seemed to play keep-away from several Lightning players in their own defensive zone for about 15 seconds as the clock ticked down on a Toronto penalty. 

David Kampf Comes with Better Offense than Anticipated

It just seems more and more as if David Kampf’s single-goal season in 2020-21 was the exception rather than the rule. Although he’ll never be mistaken for his teammate Auston Matthews on the scoresheet, if Kampf has an opportunity, he’s skilled enough to score. 

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Kampf has scored two goals during the postseason and they almost mirrored each other. Kampf has good speed; and, when he collected the puck and headed for the Lightning goalie, both times he was able to snap the puck past a surprised Vasilveskiy. In fact, to make the goal even better, on Friday night he fired the puck through defenseman Zach Bogosian’s legs.

Kampf’s goal was the Maple Leafs’ game-winner. Kampf is a far better offensive player than anyone could have known when he signed with the team in the offseason. I have a feeling that even the coaching staff and general manager Kyle Dubas are surprised.

What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?

The main point of my post is that, if Maple Leafs’ fans are concerned that the team needs someone other than the top six to carry the scoring, Game 3 was an indication this team has what it takes to provide secondary scoring – at least thus far.

David Kampf Toronto Maple Leafs
David Kampf, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs’ third line of Kampf, Engvall, and Mikheyev is a strong line. In fact, the Maple Leafs’ lineup last night was as good a lineup as I recall the team being able to ice in years. There’s balance and skill throughout the entire lineup. 

That’s a very good thing for the Maple Leafs’ chances to move onward.