7
Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Practice Shenanigans: Robertson promoted to the second line, Matthews and Nylander return, Sandin participates

Despite the Leafs not playing a game on Saturday night, they still made things interesting with what happened on the ice.

The key thing to notice here is that Nick Robertson will be getting a shot on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander, which is a well-deserved honour. Robertson has been very noticeable in his three games since getting brought up and is playing with intensity on each passing shift. Similar to how he managed to make the roster during the 2020 bubble, he has willed his way into a bigger role and has forced Sheldon Keefe into making a tough decision on who to take out so Robertson can play.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Judging by the pairings, it appears that Pierre Engvall is going to be a healthy scratch as a result of this move and I imagine this is Keefe’s way of sending the Swedish centre a message. Engvall has had a rough stretch of games predating Robertson’s promotion, resulting in instances where the former has been benched by his coach for long stretches. Hopefully, this motivates him to get his season back on track because Engvall could once again fall in danger of losing a spot in the lineup for good.

Of note, Joe Thornton was also demoted to the fourth line as a result of Robertson’s ascension which could work out well for Jumbo Joe. He hasn’t scored in over 20 games (only two assists during that stretch) and has been barely noticeable. Easing his minutes and, perhaps, giving him a game off could do wonders for his longevity in the playoffs. He plays a role in making the power play work so it is imperative Toronto gets the most out of the future Hall of Famer.

Nylander and Auston Matthews are back

Twenty-four hours after being removed from the COVID list, Nylander hit the ice with his teammates and returned to his normal position on the second line. Matthews, who missed Thursday’s game due to a wrist injury, practiced with the blue jersey which indicates he may be set to return.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Both player’s absences were sorely felt during their 5-2 loss to the Jets with the power-play (PP) continuing to struggle, capped off with a five-on-three that did not result in a goal. Perhaps if one or both of these players participated in the game, the outcome of that man advantage changes. While we are on the topic, Toronto decided to load up their top PP unit which has historically been the combination with the most success. Given that they have only scored once on 43 attempts during the last few weeks, anything that can snap the drought and get them back on track will go a long way.

Because it has been over a week since Nylander last played, it will be interesting to watch how he does in his first game. All we can hope is that he has little trouble getting back up to speed and can pick up where he left off.

Frederik Andersen skates, Rasmus Sandin participates

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

For the second straight practice, Andersen skated prior to the rest of his teammates and spent time working with the Leafs’ goalie coaches. He appears on track to make his return to the crease in the coming days, but it does not sound like that will be happening while the team is in Vancouver. In the meantime, Jack Campbell and David Rittich will man the crease for the first of two games against the Canucks. Who gets the nod remains up in the air, but I can imagine Campbell would like to redeem himself after allowing the last three shots he faced go past him.

Meanwhile, Rasmus Sandin has made the trip out west and took part in practice for the first time in a while. His only appearance this season was back in February against the Canucks where he only logged five minutes of ice time and recorded an assist. It has been a rough season for him due to a crowded lineup and injuries preventing him from playing, so hopefully, he gets a look in the final weeks of the regular season.

When Ben Hutton finishes his quarantine, Toronto will have 10 defencemen and only six spots available. The time seems ripe for Keefe and company to experiment with their blueline since the Leafs have essentially used the same three pairings all season long and have made minimal adjustments.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The extra day of practice has given the Leafs a chance to change up the lineups and better prepare to face a team that hasn’t played a game since late March. It will be interesting to see where things stand and who will be getting the start for a Sunday tilt against the Canucks.

All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.