Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs’ depth scoring has officially entered the building
By Alex Hobson3 months ago
After a ghastly stretch that saw the Toronto Maple Leafs lose four games in a row and raise the annual questions of “is this team good enough?”, the team is 3-1-0 in their last four games. And, as it typically goes, the fanbase is breathing steadily again. While they’re still figuring out how to win games like normal teams instead of either blowing a lead or coming back from a deficit, they’re starting to add to the win column again.
So, why are the Leafs starting to look like themselves again? You can chalk it up to a number of different reasons, but to me, there’s only one – they actually have depth scoring now.
I’m going to pinpoint the recall of Nick Robertson as the moment that their depth finally started to show up. Up until that day, also the day the Leafs visited the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Leafs’ core four had scored a whopping 28 of the team’s 34 goals to that point. That’s 82 percent of the Leafs’ goals coming from their top four forwards, including a three-game stretch heading into that Tampa Bay game where the last goal to come from someone outside of the core four was October 26 against Dallas.
At that point of the season, they had enough issues offensively that it makes sense why they struggled to get anything from their depth. Tyler Bertuzzi was still trying to find his home, they had a third line of misfit toys with Matthew Knies, Max Domi, and David Kampf (three players with differing play styles and no goal scorers), and a fourth line that was essentially unplayable due to the presence of Ryan Reaves. You never want to pin a whole unit’s struggles on one guy, but it’s painfully obvious when you look at how the fourth line performed when he was a healthy scratch.
It was actually pretty comical how quickly the recall of Robertson fixed their issues on a depth front. The move allowed Matthew Knies to jump up to the top line (something that should have been done from the start), it allowed Bertuzzi to take some regular reps alongside John Tavares and William Nylander on the second line, and most importantly, it gave them a third line with an identity. Calle Jarnkrok was bumped back down to the line, removing him of the pressure to produce like a first liner, and Domi developed some instant chemistry with the shoot-first Robertson.
They still have some fourth line issues to overcome, but like I said earlier, all you had to do was look at how the line fared with Bobby McMann in Reaves’ place, and maybe the issues aren’t so hard to overcome after all.
Robertson has been regularly contributing every night since his recall, with two goals and a point in each of his four games since joining the team last Monday. And he’s not the only one. If you look at the Leafs’ intended supporting cast for the core four this season, they’ve all stepped it up since that game. Domi, although still looking for his first goal, has five assists in his last four games, bringing him to nine through 15 games on the year. The other leg of that line, Jarnkrok, has three goals and four points in those four games.
Bertuzzi has a goal and two assists in his last four games, including two assists on Saturday night against Vancouver, and Knies also has four points in his last four. Of course, the latter is on the top line now, but he’s still a member of the supporting cast. And like I said before, the one game the Leafs’ fourth line plays without Reaves, the fourth line combines for five points. A goal and an assist for Noah Gregor, two assists for McMann, and a goal for Kampf.
No matter how you slice it, it’s no secret that the Leafs are starting to win more games as their depth scoring shows up. And that’s the way it was supposed to be all along. You may have noticed that the Leafs seem to be giving up more goals than they have in years past. While obviously not ideal, it was always going to be the tradeoff for sacrificing defensively sound, low event players like Alex Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall for more dynamic players in Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi. When the dynamic part of that agreement doesn’t hold up, it shows on the ice, like we saw with the Leafs’ struggles all throughout October.
Now that the new depth players have started to contribute a little more frequently, the hopeful next step is a winning streak combined with some momentum.
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