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Leafs Pregame: I’m sure they’ll do just fine against Tampa

Pick the story line you are most comfortable with. There’s the story that has the Leafs getting crushed three separate times last week, include once to a team icing one of their own employee’s as an emergency backup goaltender. In that story the Leafs also saw the trade deadline come and go without upgrade, or without a commitment to changing what looks to be broken. This team has 8 wins in their last 20 games.

The other story is the Leafs are a team that has 23 wins in their last 40 games, and has one of the best records over that stretch. They’ve got a young core that should be the envy of the league, and while they’ve struggled of late, their GM gave them a vote of confidence that this team can be a roster that accomplishes a lot, but it’s up to them to figure out how they get there. They are currently sitting in a playoff spot, and the team chasing them made some moves that could take them further out of the race, and the Leafs are expecting two defensemen back in the coming weeks which could help them down the stretch and into the playoffs.

I’m not telling you which one is the right one to believe, and the truth probably falls somewhere in between, but no matter which one you lean towards, the Leafs face Tampa tonight and that’s not easy. The Lightning do have the best record in hockey over those last 40 games, and have been loading up so they don’t have a repeat of their first round failure in last year’s playoffs. The one game these two teams have played against each other was a 7-3 pounding of the Leafs, that saw Andersen replaced in the 3rd. And this is the first of three remaining games against the Lightning this season. Ugh.

LW C RW Forwards
Zach Hyman
ZACH HYMAN

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Rating: 74.8#31 LW

Auston Matthews
AUSTON MATTHEWS

Rating: 82.5#5 C

Mitch Marner
MITCH MARNER

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Rating: 77.5#8 RW

FL1 Rating
Rating: 78.27#5 FL1
William Nylander
WILLIAM NYLANDER

Rating: 76.8#13 LW

John Tavares
JOHN TAVARES

Rating: 78.7#13 C

Denis Malgin
DENIS MALGIN

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Rating: 70.2#115 RW

FL2 Rating
Rating: 75.22#8 FL2
Pierre Engvall
PIERRE ENGVALL

Rating: 71.4#91 LW

Alexander Kerfoot
ALEXANDER KERFOOT

Rating: 71.6#95 C

Kasperi Kapanen
KASPERI KAPANEN

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Rating: 71.6#87 RW

FL3 Rating
Rating: 71.55#18 FL3
Kyle Clifford
KYLE CLIFFORD

Rating: 70.6#116 LW

Frederik Gauthier
FREDERIK GAUTHIER

Rating: 68.3#162 C

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Jason Spezza
JASON SPEZZA

Rating: 70.6#108 RW

FL4 Rating
Rating: 69.85#23 FL4
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS Defense
Jake Muzzin
JAKE MUZZIN

Rating: 75.1#18 LD

Justin Holl
JUSTIN HOLL

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Rating: 72.1#67 RD

DL1 Rating
Rating: 73.61#18 DL1
Travis Dermott
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Rating: 71.6#83 LD

Tyson Barrie
TYSON BARRIE

Rating: 75.3#20 RD

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DL2 Rating
Rating: 73.45#14 DL2
Rasmus Sandin
RASMUS SANDIN

Rating: 72.8#65 LD

Timothy Liljegren
TIMOTHY LILJEGREN

Rating: 72.9#45 RD

DL3 Rating
Rating: 72.82#7 DL3

The return of Timothy Liljegren to the lineup is a welcome one, not that Marincin was any worse than any of the other Leafs defensemen on Saturday night, but given the choice between the team’s whipping boy and a highly touted first round pick, I think we want to see the prospect.

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The addition of Liljegren to the lineup comes at the cost of reuniting Dermott and Barrie, which is probably a product of Sandin and Barrie not really working all that well, and team being so short on options, what else are you going to do? I’d suggest Muzzin and Liljegren, and Sandin with Holl, but that is 100% throwing the rookie defensemen out into some tough minutes, and that’s not going to happen, so I’ll park that one for now. The defense is truly about waiting for the return of Morgan Rielly.

As for the forwards, I think the one thing that hasn’t really been tried yet is reuniting Kapanen with Tavares. Now that the Leafs are experimenting with Nylander on the left side, that opens up an opportunity for Kapanen to try and play in the top six again. He might not have earned that opportunity, but it’s the best bet for the Leafs going forward.

I’m also curious what the Leafs do with the roster spot created by the Timashov waivers claim, and do we see the return of Nic Petan or Egor Korshkov or does Agostino finally get his shot with the Leafs? That doesn’t really matter tonight, so we’ll part that for now.

Game time is 7PM ET and can be seen on Sportsnet Ontario.