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Knee Jerk Reaction: McMann of the hour lifts the Marlie Leafs over the Blues

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
2 months ago
The Leafs came into this game with seven players in their lineup who started the year in the AHL. The Leafs were without John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly to go along with the already absent Calle Jarnkrok (now on LTIR) and Joseph Woll. If the Leafs were playing a team with this kind of depleted roster, we’d mark them down for an easy loss. In a predictable only to people who follow the Leafs, somehow the Leafs benefited from a St. Louis no-show and picked up the win in their first game of what will be a tough five game stretch.
The first thing that comes to mind when seeing this kind of outcome is there is a real benefit to having players playing like they have something to prove. This was the big opportunity to step up for absolutely everyone not named Auston Matthews or William Nylander, and while the competition might not have been the toughest, they managed to deliver.
If there is someone out there who predicted a Bobby McMann hat trick tonight or any night, you are likely more crazy than genius anyway. When you look at a score sheet and see it littered with assists from Mark Giordano, Simon Benoit, Noah Gregor and David Kampf, you can see the Leafs finally benefiting from a bottom six that showed up. Given that this is the same line that has existed as the fourth line since McMann’s recall from the Marlies, it will be interesting to see how much the Leafs study the tape on who they were being matched against and deployment changes that worked in their favour. Of course, a bad night from the Blues might also mean that there isn’t much to learn, and hopes shouldn’t be up too much, but nevertheless the line has earned itself a bit of a run together and Keefe will have to find other ways to deploy Pontus Holmberg. Asking Holmberg to carry a line with Ryan Reaves and Alex Steeves, who made his season debut for the Leafs was a little much. (I’d like to see Steeves get a fair shake with some veterans as well at some point, but tonight was about icing a complete roster.)
The defence holding the Blues to 15 shots again looks wonderful on paper but the Blues also deserve a lot of credit for holding themselves to 15 shots. The workload was a nice way of easing the Leafs blueline into a tough five game stretch and seeing Samsonov make the most of a light night is good sign for the next week. Having Giordano play a more physical game is a sign that he is once again ready to be the guy who steps up when Rielly is out and as much as he has struggled this season, now is the window Toronto needs the best hockey he has left in him.

Some other stray thoughts…

  • Timothy Liljegren was a bit underwhelming considering that this five game stretch is an opportunity to make his case for being a top four defenceman. Keefe still doesn’t seem to have confidence in Liljegren and I’m curious if we see a different deployment next game? Do we see the Flames reunion of Giordano-Brodie?
  • Max Domi wasn’t really pushed back much against in his role but the world didn’t end by playing him 18 minutes a night at centre. I wonder if we start seeing a bit more balanced 5v5 icetime based on both Domi and Kampf looking better tonight.
  • Alex Steeves had six hits tonight. That’s a guy showing that he wants to do what it takes to stay in the NHL. There is something to be said for guys like McMann, Holmberg, Steeves, and Robertson all coming up and pushing Kampf, Gregor, and Reaves out the door. Energy and coachability might end up being more valuable than experience come playoff time.
  • Both Nylander and Matthews played under 20 minutes tonight. Again, that’s a sign that the Blues gave the Leafs a bit of a gift considering most were penciling them in for 30 minutes tonight.
This was a win the Leafs needed, a reminder that they can get through stretches with a depleted roster. It will be interesting to see who plays Thursday night against Philadelphia and where in the lineup.

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