In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the play (focussing on the successes) of Maple Leafs’ players over the past while. Should the team be able to put together games like they did against the Montreal Canadiens and the Florida Panthers over the weekend, they have a chance to do well during the remainder of the season and into the postseason.
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The team lost to the Canadiens, but they played really well. During the Panthers’ game, they seemed to put it all together. The team is strong, and the defensive unit has the potential be lead the team. The team’s offense is, no surprise, elite.
Can the team put it all together? Do they have the goalie play? Those are the big questions.
Item One: Where Does Timothy Liljegren Fit This Season?
Prior to being a healthy scratch against the Nashville Predators on March 19, Timothy Liljegren had registered six assists during his previous seven games. Since he’s returned from the press box, he hasn’t put up a point in three games.
To my eyes, Liljegren’s game has been improving this season. He and his new defensive partner Mark Giordano have played really well together as a pairing. The question is: “What happens to Liljegren when the entire defensive unit gets healthy?”
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Rasmus Sandin and Jake Muzzin are currently injured, but they’ll come back soon. Will that push Liljegren to the press box yet again? Does the team move him to the Toronto Marlies so he can play more? Or, will he stay on the team’s blue line after everyone is healthy? Currently, Liljegren is seeing 15-16 minutes of action each game and seems to be playing well.
Item Two: Ilya Lyubushkin Has Proven to Be a Physical Presence
Ilya Lyubushkin seems to be a bit of an on-ice bulldozer. He’s come as advertised – strong on defense, physical, but not much of an offensive threat. He’s generated 54 hits, but he’s only registered a single assist in his 16 games since joining the Maple Leafs.
Lyubushkin’s lack of offense isn’t surprising and it isn’t a deal-breaker. Maple Leafs’ general manager didn’t get him for secondary scoring. He’s a member of the team because he’s a big body, a solid and aggressive defender, and the kind of muscle the Maple Leafs will find helpful during the postseason.
Item Three: The Curious Fate of William Nylander
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was good to his word in demoting William Nylander. Against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, Nylander found himself on the third line with David Kampf and Pierre Engvall and skated just 14:10 during the game.
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Nylander didn’t score, and he finished the game with a rating of minus-1. He’s increasingly been a negative player this season, which is evident with his season’s rating of minus-14. It’s the worst on the team.
In addition, Nylander and John Tavares have struggled together five-on-five during the season. Given that there’s no way the coaching staff will break up the great production of the team’s first line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Micheal Bunting, there’s no movement up for Nylander. He’s got to find a space and chemistry someplace else.
Nylander seems to need a regular – perhaps once a season – wake-up call. This seems to be that call. How will he respond? He’s only had two multi-point games (and 12 points) over his last 17 games since February 21.
Item Four: David Kampf’s Offense Has Slowed Down
Similar to Lyubushkin, the fact that third-line center David Kampf isn’t generating offense is not a deal-breaker. He’s an amazing defensive player. Still, he’s now gone nine games without a point. That’s odd for his season.
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In addition, Kampf has only generated a single assist during his last 13 games. I’m looking for him to pounce on an opponent’s mistake or on a turnover for a quick score sooner or later. Because Kampf is used almost exclusively in a defensive role, it’s fun to see him contribute to the offense.
Item Five: Congratulations to Mitch Marner for His Scoring
Mitch Marner’s strong defensive play this season should place him in Selke Trophy conversation. However, there’s another aspect of his game that can go missing. Specifically, Marner was the NHL’s top point producer over the last 30 games. Given he’s riding shotgun for Matthews, he’s harder to notice; however, he’s put together a string of scoring that has literally not been topped by any other NHL player.
Over the last 30 games, Marner has produced 53 points. Those points include 21 goals and 32 assists. His 36 five-on-five points during those 30 games also make him the NHL leader in that category. His total of 27 goals this season is a new career-best for him, and he’s done it in only 54 games.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Jack Campbell traveled with the team to Boston. That means his rib injury is improved enough so he can be part of the team’s practice. He’s been out with his rib injury since March 8. Coach Keefe reported that Campbell had a good skate on Sunday and that his condition is improving.
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Might that mean Campbell could start a game later this week? If so, he’d face either the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday or the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Campbell’s a good goalie, for all his troubles since January 1. It would be good to see him backstopping the team once again.