Maple Leafs Need Wayne Simmonds Back in the Lineup

The Toronto Maple Leafs, coming off of a tough 3-2 start to the season, head out on a 10-day, five-game road trip that takes them to Winnipeg, Las Vegas, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim. 

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If the Dallas Stars’ game is any indication of the types of games the Maple Leafs can expect, they will need to have someone on the ice who can stand up for the team’s star players. 

Maple Leafs’ Players Are Getting Regularly Roughed Up

There were a number of plays in the Dallas game where Auston Matthews got roughed up. He was cross-checked late in the second period with no call. He got high-sticked in the face with no call. He was tackled in the third period. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nick Robertson also suffered abuse. He got rag-dolled a couple of times in the game, and Mark Giordano left late in the third period after taking a questionable hit into the boards.

The Dallas Stars Knew Who Was on the Ice

In none of those incidences did the Maple Leafs have a player dressed that would stand for his teammates, and the Stars knew that. They felt they could take liberties without any repercussions. 

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Two of the players that the Maple Leafs are depending on to help spark the second line are smaller players. Denis Malgin (5-foot-9 and 175 pounds) and Nick Robertson (5-foot-9 and 185 pounds) have played well enough to earn a spot in the lineup. With Jake Muzzin out, 5-foot-9 Victor Mete is getting his chance to play in the top six of the Maple Leafs’ defense.

Mete had a decent game last night. In fact, all three of these players have the potential to contribute to the lineup. 

The Team’s Fourth Line Isn’t Stepping Up

The team has players in the bottom six of the lineup who are, or can be, physical. Players like Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Zach Aston-Reese are usually not shy about throwing their weight around. David Kampf and Pierre Engvall can be physical at times. But none of those players thus far have instilled fear into opposing players. 

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Wayne Simmonds can do that.

As we wrote in an earlier post, the underlying numbers for the fourth line, particularly for Aube-Kubel and Aston-Reese, have been terrible. The pair are running in the area of 30 percent for Shot Attempts, 33 percent for Shots, 22 percent for Expected Goals, 30 percent for Scoring Chances, and a dismal 15 percent for High-Danger Chances.

Related: Maple Leafs Prospects: Woll, Knies, Villeneuve, & More

Aube-Kubel and Aston-Reese have been on ice for a combined five High-Danger Scoring Chances For and a whopping 29 High-Danger Chances Against. Their acquisitions were intended to make the fourth line better and tougher to play against. That has yet to happen. 

Simmonds Isn’t the Player He Used to Be, But …

Although we realize Simmonds is far from the player he used to be, he’s still extremely physical. He also has absolutely no hesitation in standing up for his teammates or dropping the gloves. 

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If we look at his underlying stats for last season we see the following: Shot Attempts at 49.4 percent, Shots at 48.1 percent, Scoring Chances at 49.4 percent, High-Danger Chances at 48.8 percent, and Expected Goals at 49.6 percent. While he was still a negative and below 50 percent in each category, he was still much better than either Aube-Kubel or Aston-Reese have been thus far. 

Playing on the Road Is Disadvantageous for Line Matching

With the Maple Leafs on the road for the next five games, the opposing teams will be able to put out whoever they desire against the Maple Leafs’ top players. You can be sure that liberties will be taken. The Maple Leafs need someone that sends a message to opposing teams that these liberties will not go unanswered.  

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kallgren, Muzzin, Steeves & Simmonds

It’s time for Wayne Simmonds to do what he does best.  

[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.]

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