Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kallgren, Sandin, Marner, Tavares & Ilya(s)

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, we’ll take a look at some of the news emerging from the team’s 4-0 shutout victory over the Dallas Stars. The Maple Leafs prepare to play the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at Scotiabank Arena. It should be a good game, and the excitement caused by the decision to start Erik Kallgren again could make this game special.

Player One: Eric Kallgren

Any conversation reviewing the Dallas Stars’ game has to start with Eric Kallgren. He became the fourth goaltender in Maple Leafs’ history to pitch a shutout in his first start. While we don’t want to make too much of that, it came at a time when the whole team needed a performance like that.  

Interestingly, the last Maple Leafs’ goalie to do that was Garret Sparks.

By the eye test, Kallgren didn’t make a lot of highlight-reel stops. That could have been a result of his reading the play and being ahead of where the puck was going to be. He did scramble at times; and, in truth, luck played a role in the shutout. Still, Kallgren definitely deserved the win. The team in front of him deserves a lot of credit as well.  

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kallgren, Tavares, Marner & Mrazek

On the topic of goaltending, if it weren’t for Jake Oettinger’s goaltending at the other end, the score could easily have been much higher. He made a number of fantastic saves. 

Sign up for our regular 'Maple Leafs Newsletter' for all the latest.

We are pleased that Sheldon Keefe came right back with Kallgren Thursday versus the Carolina Hurricanes. We would have also started Kallgren in the Outdoor Classic. While we understand Keefe’s reasoning for starting Mrazek in the game in Hamilton, Mrazek certainly didn’t earn it.  

Player Two: Rasmus Sandin

Rasmus Sandin played a big role in how the Maple Leafs started the Stars’ game. First, on the not-so-good-side (although it turned out well in the end), he helped get Kallgren into the game by allowing a two-on-one with a terrible pinch. He also nailed Alexander Radulov with a great hit behind the Kallgren’s net to start the play on the Maple Leafs’ first goal. He then sped up the ice in time to receive a pass from Mitch Marner before going forehand to backhand to score the opening goal. 

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sandin and Timothy Liljegren played extremely well together. The Sandin goal involved a nice bank pass out of the zone to Michael Bunting by Liljegren, even though he did not get an official assist on it. Liljegren did get an assist on the John Tavares deflection goal on a shot by William Nylander. 

Sandin finished the night with a goal and a rating of plus-2, two shots on net, three hits, two blocked shots, a takeaway, and the highest Expected Goals Percentage of any Maple Leafs’ defenseman at 75.1. Liljegren was also plus-2, with two hits, two blocked shots, and had 63.8% of the Expected Goals when he was on the ice. 

Players Three and Four: John Tavares and Mitch Marner

The new first line of John Tavares and Mitch Marner was by far the best line on the ice in this game. Tavares and Marner combined controlled 85% of the Expected five-on-five Goals while on the ice. Marner was on the ice for nine High Danger Chances For, and only one against. Tavares was on-ice for six High Danger Chances For and only one against. 

Related: Dino Ciccarelli: From Undrafted to Underrated Hall of Fame Legend

Tavares finished the night with a goal, an assist, plus-2, four shots on net, two hits, and won 68% of his draws. Marner had two assists, was plus-2, had three shots, a hit, and three takeaways in the game. Marner was everywhere on the ice, leading the rush on several plays. He was also managing to be the first forward back to help break up plays defensively as well. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Michael Bunting didn’t figure into the scoring, and his analytics weren’t on the same level as either Tavares’ or Marner’s, but he did have a strong game as well.

Players Five and Six: The Ilyas (Mikheyev and Lyubushkin)

Ilya Mikheyev led the team in shots on the net with eight. At five-on-five, he had an Expected Goals Percentage of 80% and was on-ice for six high danger chances for and only one against. It was nice to see him rewarded with the empty-net goal, as he definitely deserved to be on the scoresheet. 

The whole line of David Kampf, Ilya Mikheyev, and Pierre Engvall line was its usual dominant self, carrying the play to the Stars despite starting three-quarters of their shifts in their own zone. Kampf was only 33% on his draws tonight, but his line still gave up very little defensively. 

Related: Marie-Philip Poulin is Keeping the Spotlight on Women’s Hockey

Ilya Lyubushkin did what he does best. He had six hits and a blocked shot; however, more importantly, he kept the shooting lanes clear allowing Kallgren to see the puck. By taking care of business in his own end, he allowed Morgan Rielly to get more involved up ice. Rielly had two assists in the game and was much more noticeable jumping up into the play.  

Lyubushkin actually had the worst underlying numbers of any of the Maple Leafs’ defensemen, but a player who is tasked with heavy defensive duties doesn’t usually post great analytics.

Other Maple Leafs Notes 

The Justin Holl and T.J. Brodie pairing was strong defensively in the Stars’ game. They’ve been strong since they’ve been since paired together. The Alex Kerfoot, William Nylander, and Nick Robertson line, while not fairing great on the analytics side of things, had their moments. They were especially noticeable during the third period when they had some decent offensive zone time while protecting the lead. 

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The fourth line of Ondrej Kase, Jason Spezza, and Kyle Clifford played a similar game. They lost out on the analytics side of the ledger, but they played some key, energy shifts late in the game. Clifford was especially noticeable creating havoc in the offensive zone.  

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs announced yesterday that they would start Erik Kallgren in goal. Bravo. The team needs some good news about their goalie situation, and Kallgren has delivered.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Finally Stepping Into Leadership Role

Can he continue to deliver? Perhaps or perhaps not. If he doesn’t, it’s what was expected; however, should he be able to pull out another win? 

We’ll leave the question as rhetorical as that.

[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.]