Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Excuses, Keefe’s Moves, Dermott & Goalies

Last night’s Toronto Maple Leafs’ victory over the Vegas Golden Knights was more like it. The Core Four led the way. Auston Matthews scored two goals, and Mitch Marner added both a great Spin-o-Rama goal and then assisted on both of Matthews’ goals. 

Related: Mitch Marner Running Out of Leash with Maple Leaf Fans

Finally, because the Maple Leafs were on the offense most of the night, goalie Jack Campbell had one of the most boring 26-save shutouts in his history. The result was a 4-0 victory by the Maple Leafs over the shorthanded Golden Knights in Tuesday’s game. The win was Toronto’s third straight and the loss stopped the Vegas’ winning streak at three.

Item One: No Excuses for the Maple Leafs Are Necessary

Maple Leafs’ fans have their own special way of being in the world. Some followers seem to complain that the Maple Leafs always have an excuse for losing. Other Maple Leafs’ fans seem to always come up with excuses when they win.

As I noted in my post yesterday, the Golden Knights were playing shorthanded. Indeed they were, and the team was missing a number of good forwards. Still, the Golden Knights had been playing well for a team that was so shorthanded. They came into Toronto having won three in a row, including a 3-1 win over the Avalanche on the road in Colorado. 

Maple Leafs’ fans will also recall that not too long ago, the Maple Leafs played a shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins team. That night the result was completely different. 

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Shorthanded or not, the Maple Leafs needed no excuses last night against the Golden Knights. They flat out beat on them all night long. They deserved to win and did.

Item Two: Is Keefe Using His Players Differently This Season?

It’s early in the regular season, but Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe used his players differently last night. And, it’s been a trend over the past few games. In short, the Maple Leafs are playing their top-line forwards fewer minutes this season than they have since Keefe became the coach.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Charting each Maple Leafs’ player’s ice time by period, it looks like this.

Forwards’ Ice Time By Period

PlayerFirst PeriodSecond PeriodThird Period
Alex Kerfoot5:224:404:21
Mitch Marner5:135:555:13
Jason Spezza3:293:064:49
Nick Ritchie3:202:454:57
Wayne Simmonds3:283:224:54
Ondrej Kase4:315:274:47
Auston Matthews6:287:194:13
Pierre Engvall4:443:365:56
Michael Bunting6:343:374:03
David Kampf4:264:565:53
William Nylander6:487:104:08
John Tavares5:375:044:46

Defensemen’s Ice Time By Period

PlayerFirst PeriodSecond PeriodThird Period
Jake Muzzin7:438:227:24
Travis Dermott6:211:08 (injured)6:30
Timothy Liljegren5:206:226:07
Rasmus Sandin6:506:247:01
Morgan Rielly6:349:327:03
T.J. Brodie7:127:155:55

In looking at the overall ice time, the top-six forwards saw their minutes drop in the third period and the bottom-six forwards saw their minutes increase. In the past, we believe Keefe would have played the top-six forwards just as hard in the third period as he did in the first two periods because he’d be as eager to protect the lead as he was to get it. 

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This season, it seems that Keefe’s counting on the bottom-six units more than he has in the past. Whether the change is because he trusts the depth forwards more this season than last season or whether he found out during the playoffs that the forwards were gassed matters to us less than the fact that he’s doing it. We believe it’s a good strategy for many reasons.

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Head Coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

Looking at the defensive units, only 1:29 separated the defenseman with the most ice time and the defenseman with the least ice time in the third period. Obviously, game situations play a strong role in the ice time; however, this change will bode well for the team as the season unfolds.

Item Three: Travis Dermott Is Working Well with Morgan Rielly

We don’t understand the criticism Travis Dermott is getting playing alongside Morgan Rielly. We believe he’s done a great job, mostly because he hasn’t been really noticeable. That’s the kind of game one should expect from a defensive partner who’s providing defense to Rielly’s offense.  From our position, the best way to rate a partner for Rielly is to measure how well Rielly’s playing. The bottom line is that Rielly’s played great with Dermott.

During last night’s second period, Dermott was injured. What will happen if Dermott can’t play and Justin Holl draws into the lineup on Thursday against the Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning? Although Dermott did return to the game last night, he could still have an issue that keeps him out of the next game. 

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If Holl plays, we would expect it would be alongside Rielly. Both the Jake Muzzin and T.J. Brodie and the Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren pairings have been too good to split up.

Item Four: Jack Campbell or Petr Mrazek Against the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Who starts in goal on Thursday?  We’re guessing Petr Mrazek gets a game sometime this week. Even given the history between the Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins, who come into town on Saturday, the Lightning are the better team. That’s true even without Nikita Kucherov in the lineup. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Do the Maple Leafs start Mrazek and give Campbell three days off between starts? Or will Campbell start on Thursday, with Mrazek starting on Saturday?  If both are healthy, we’d rather see Campbell start tomorrow night and Mrazek play on Saturday against the Bruins.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Although we’re still a few weeks away, these talks of changes remind us that Ilya Mikheyev will be returning to the team when he’s healthy. Now, the long-term question becomes who comes out of the lineup once Mikheyev is ready to step back in?

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Who knows, the team might be in a completely different place in three weeks than it is now. That will be interesting to see.

[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.]