With the Toronto Maple Leafs clinching the 2020-21 playoffs earlier this week by posting a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, what might Maple Leafs fans expect for the remainder of the season? If the team’s 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks last night offers fans a hint at the immediate six-game future, they will likely see a new-look Maple Leafs’ team every game.
Last night, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe made sweeping roster changes that offered fans a very different look at the depth of this season’s team. A large number of regulars didn’t dress for the game, some prospects made their season’s debuts, and a variety of new line combinations popped up.
The result was a pretty easy victory over a desperate Canucks’ team that only a week or so ago surprisingly beat the Maple Leafs two games in a row coming out of a very invasive COVID-19 battle. In fact, this new-look Maple Leafs’ team set a season’s record by only giving up 16 shots to the Canucks on the night. The previous fewest allowed this season was 18, which the team gave up to the Calgary Flames in a 4-3 loss on March 19.
In this post, I want to look at who didn’t play for the Maple Leafs, who did play for the Maple Leafs, and what might happen with the Maple Leafs over the team’s final six games of the season.
Who Didn’t Play for the Maple Leafs?
Sadly, Zach Bogosian’s missing the line-up is not a coaching choice. He was placed on long-term injured reserve Thursday with a shoulder injury. Bogosian’s prognosis on April 23 was that he’d likely miss four weeks, so a week of that has elapsed. The move to the LTIR opens up a bit more salary-cap space for the team.
Altough the prognosis means that the 30-year-old defenseman won’t play at the start of the playoffs, he could return if the Maple Leafs make a deep-enough run. The question now is whether the injury might have cost Bogosian his job. With Rasmus Sandin’s emergence on the roster, is there a chance Bogosian has played his last game in a Blue and White uniform?
Defacto starting goalie Jack Campbell didn’t even dress against the Canucks last night. Instead, David Rittich got the start and Michael Hutchinson served as the back-up and Campbell took a complete night off Thursday. Campbell will probably be in net on Saturday for the Canucks’ rematch.
Nick Foligno was one of several veteran players who were given the night off against the Canucks; however, the veteran newcomer is likely to draw into the lineup for the rematch on Saturday. According to coach Keefe, he was given a “maintenance day” off. However, there’s some speculation that Foligno might still be nursing a bit of an injury that occurred while he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
That said, he’s been a point-a-game player since he’s come to Toronto, with three assists in three games. He seems to fit in well with his new team and has looked good as a top-line partner with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Of course, playing with that duo will jump anyone’s production.
Jake Muzzin also got a maintenance game off against the Canucks. He’s likely to be back in the line-up on Saturday; however, given the success the new-look Maple Leafs’ defense had, I wonder if coach Keefe might double up on Muzzin’s maintenance.
Morgan Rielly, similar to Muzzin, Campbell, and Foligno, also had a rare night off. Instead, coach Keefe gave Ben Hutton and Timothy Liljegren their debuts with the team this season. Rielly will likely return to the lineup for the Canucks’ rematch.
Who Did Play for the Maple Leafs?
With Rielly, Muzzin, Foligno, and Campbell getting maintenance days from coach Keefe, the Maple Leafs made a number of line-up changes. As noted, Hutton and Liljegren assumed spots on the blue line; Pierre Engvall took a forward spot; and, Hutchinson dressed as David Rittich’s backup.
Pierre Engvall filled in for Foligno after having been a healthy scratch for the last two games. Engvall responded by scoring his first goal (on a feed from Jason Spezza) in 13 games and his first point in eight games.
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Rasmus Sandin has been the topic of many fans’ conversations recently and gave further reason for more conversation. He looked great on the team’s top defensive pairing with partner T.J. Brodie last night and added an assist to the team’s effort.
Sandin’s emergence, and especially his ability to look completely comfortable on the team’s top-pairing with Brodie, might speculate further conversation. Specifically, who would have thought mentioning Rielly as “trade bait” or a “salary-cap dump?” That’s a radical thought and probably too early to even mention. Or, is it? Credit my THW’s Maple Leafs’ colleague Alex Hobson for that thought early.
Earlier during the week, coach Keefe announced that Sandin would probably cover for Bogosian’s injury by playing every remaining game of the season. He hasn’t missed that opportunity to shine. At this point, I can’t imagine that Sandin hasn’t already passed his audition for a full-time blue-line job. He’s been both strong on defense and offense.
Speaking of defensive additions, Timothy Liljegren made his season’s debut last night. In his 14 AHL games this season, Liljegren’s scored two goals and seven assists (for nine points). He played 11 games with the Maple Leafs last season. He played 15:35 and didn’t look out of place at all.
Also on defense, Ben Hutton made his Maple Leafs’ debut. Hutton just completed the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and joined the line-up. Coach Keefe must have liked what Hutton gave him on the ice or wanted to see an extended audition because he logged more than 22 minutes of ice time, second only to Brodie’s 23+ minutes.
Hutton was brought in from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline. He had scored one goal and four assists (for five points) in 34 games with the Ducks on the season.
David Rittich manned the net in the back-to-back and recorded his first win for the Maple Leafs. The victory evened his record with his new team at 1-1-1. He now has recorded a 5-8-2 record with a goals-against-average of 2.86 and a save percentage of .901 on the season.
The game was a bit of redemption for Rittich, who had struggled against these same Canucks in his last start on April 20 in Vancouver. During that game, pucks seemed to be going through him from all angles and, by game’s end, he had given up five goals on only 28 shots in a tough 6-3 loss.
Fortunately, Rittich shook off that sub-par performance on Thursday and saved all but one of 16 shots in the 4-1 win. It was only Rittich’s third win in almost two months. It wasn’t the busiest game for a goalie, but he stopped everything except a puck that he accidentally knocked off his leg into his own net. Other than that accidental goal, he was perfect.
Michael Hutchinson dressed as Rittich’s back-up so that Campbell could take the night completely off.
What Will Happen Over the Next Six Games?
During last night’s game, coach Keefe made a large number of roster changes for the game, especially on the defensive end. Not only did new players find their ways into the lineup, but other players jumped up in positions. Sandin, Liljegren, and Hutton all logged considerable time for the team.
What can Maple Leafs’ fans expect over the next six games? Likely, coach Keefe will see this as an opportunity to find ice time for a number of depth players. I see him making regular changes to allow his top players to take more maintenance days off.
The upside to that decision is that it gives depth players time on ice to keep their game sharp and also needed rest for the team’s regulars during this short and then condensed season. It’s a smart move, because it allows the team to hit into the playoffs as well rested as possible.
I’m particularly interested to see what happens to two players I haven’t mentioned in this post. Starting goaltender Fredrik Andersen is one, and young prospect Nick Robertson is the other.
I’d be surprised if Robertson didn’t get a few starts over the next six games. I see the team wanting him ready to be a working part of this Maple Leafs roster going into the playoffs. At the same time, I would think Andersen could benefit from some game action – somewhere. Whether he gets that with the AHL Toronto Marlies or with the Maple Leafs, I can’t know. However, is the team willing to let him head into the playoffs having sat for two months? It looks like he’s getting healthy enough to resume more serious on-ice activity.
The next six games will give Maple Leafs fan a regular opportunity to see the depth of this team in action. If what’s happened with Sandin is any indication, it should be interesting.
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