Maple Leafs’ Commentary: Tavares, Kallgren, Lyubushkin & Giordano

In this edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Commentary, we’ll share our comments focusing on three of the team’s players as they prepare to match up against the Nashville Predators tonight. We’ll also look at the looming trade deadline and speculate about how the team’s recent play might impact any decisions Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas might make.

Player One: John Tavares

John Tavares has seemed more like his old self the last two games against the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s scored a goal and added two assists (for three points) in those games. He also registered five hits in those two games. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

By the eye test, it appears he’s generating more offense. A lot of that offense could be because he’s playing with such an elite playmaker as Mitch Marner. It could also be because of the role that Michael Bunting plays on that line.  

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Tavares has played the majority of his time with Nylander and Kerfoot. For that line to be effective, Tavares has to “live” in the opposing corners and behind the opposing net. He’s the digger on that line. But on the first line, that also happens to be where Bunting is so strong. With Bunting doing the “dirty work,” that allows Tavares a chance to play more around, and in front of, the net. 

 Player Two: Ilya Lyubushkin

Hockey teams seem to be all about nicknames. In case anyone is wondering, Sheldon Keefe referred to Ilya Lyubushkin as “Boosh” in his recent postgame comments. When questioned about his play in the game Keefe replied I thought he battled. 

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin, when he was with the Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“He did what he’s done here. I thought he was really good, really physical. I liked a lot about his game. We have come to expect “Boosh” to compete and battle every night. Guys are responding on the bench to it. It is great to see.”

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Lyubushkin played 19:25 against the Hurricanes, the most minutes he’s played for the Maple Leafs against the toughest team they’ve played since he joined the team. While it’s a small sample, we have to say that “Boosh” has matched and maybe exceeded expectations to this point. 

Player Three: Eric Kallgren 

Again with the nicknames, Marner referred to Kallgren as “Shall” in his postgame comments. That relates to the correct pronunciation of Kallgren’s last name. It was good once again to see a goalie not only stop the shots he should stop but stop a few you wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t. 

Interestingly, it might be a good thing that Kallgren isn’t stopping everything. If that were the case, we’d all know it could not be sustainable. There were moments in the Hurricanes’ game where the puck might have bounced either way: there was a missed tip here, a hit post there, and the game could have easily ended up in favor of the Hurricanes.  

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In the 150 minutes “Shall” has played since his call-up, he’s posted a 0.963 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.20. We also don’t think those are sustainable, but if he can stop the shots he expected to, it should bode well for the immediate future. 

Changes for the Predators’ Game

The Maple Leafs travel to Nashville tonight. We’re pleased that coach Keefe continues to ride Kallgren and give him his first road start. The team does have three days off after the Predators’ game, which would be plenty of time for Kallgren to rest.

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Matthews returns from his two-game suspension in tonight’s game. We hope he returns hungry and a little bit angry from his forced layoff. With the success that Tavares, Marner, and Bunting have had together, we wouldn’t have minded seeing coach Keefe leave that line intact, and partner Matthews with William Nylander and either Ondrej Kase or Alex Kerfoot. That might have balanced the scoring a little more.  

However, TSN’s Mark Masters reported the line combinations yesterday, and it looks as if Matthews is back with Bunting and Marner. Honestly, who can blame him for not messing with success?

The Trade Deadline Is Looming, And What About Giordano?

With the trade deadline coming on Monday, there have been some positive developments with the Maple Leafs that might lead to less “panic buying”  when it comes to possible deals to be made. 

First, Kallgren’s play has lowered the stress somewhat in regard to goaltending. Second, having Lyubushkin in the lineup does strengthen the defense, especially with Jake Muzzin due back soon. Third, the Maple Leafs seem to have three solid lines, plus a number of options for a competent fourth line.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Commentary: Kallgren, Andersen, Mikheyev & Playoffs

It would not surprise us if, rather than trying to make that “big deal,” Maple Leafs’ general manager Dubas just did some strengthening of the team’s depth and some tinkering around the edges. He might even be able to take advantage of some other teams – sellers – that might be in panic mode to move players before they lose them to unrestricted free agency in the summer.

Rumor has it that the Maple Leafs are honing in on the Seattle Kraken’s defenseman Mark Giordano. If that trade can be made without losing too much, it seems like a good one. The rumor is that the Maple Leafs are Giordano’s choice – Toronto is his hometown.

Mark Giordano Seattle Kraken
Mark Giordano, currently with the Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As most NHL fans know, Giordano and T.J. Brodie were defensive partners with the Calgary Flames when Giordano won the Norris Trophy after the 2018-19 season. Giordano also won the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award after the 2019-20 season, so he brings the kind of leadership this organization seeks.      

[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.]