Leafs +/- : Star players doing star player things and avoiding nonsense

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
What a difference a game makes. A 7-2 win can easily erase the negativity of a 7-3 loss. Ilya Samsonov showed that he is the guy at the same time Vasilevskiy showed that he is in fact human. Where last game it was an easy exercise to find the negative, this game made finding the positives a breeze and I’ll start with that.

+ : The Tavares and Rielly show

Okay, so it wasn’t entirely limited to Tavares and Rielly. Marner had three points and both Matthews and Nylander had 2. Ryan O’Reilly and TJ Brodie also got on the scoresheet so that seems like an all accounted for star power night for the Leafs. It should go without saying that the Leafs needed that and is a great step in destroying some of the narrative around Matthews and Marner coming out of previous playoff appearances.
This was also a giant step forward for Sheldon Keefe as he found comfort in dictating the pace at home rather than doing himself and the Leafs a disservice by trying to excessively line match. One of the joys of putting Kerfoot up with Tavares and Nylander is that it seems to equate to four lines that you can trust at least a little in the defensive zone and with O’Reilly on the third line, that gave the Leafs three lines you’d want to see in the offensive zone and even the one you don’t expect much from got a goal last night, so things are going good.
It should be easy for the Leafs to stick with the pacesetting approach as having the first change almost demands it on the road. And when Keefe isn’t overthinking he is a better coach, so this is one thing off his mind. The concern is that Jon Cooper is much more of an in game strategy guy and can be a difference maker in that regard. How he adjusts his lineup card and how he deploys his players at home could give the Leafs something new to look at and make life more difficult. I think in the same way we saw the Leafs get less complicated in Game 2, we’ll see the Lightning get more complicated in Game 3.
Last game I mentioned the Leafs needed to play their stars more and for the first couple of periods Toronto did. Overall the TOI for Matthews and Marner will show as down, and there weren’t really dramatic increases in Nylander, O’Reilly, or Tavares either, but that’s what you get when you can start taking the foot off the gas in the third. TJ Brodie was the only Leaf significantly above the 20 minute mark and Rielly and McCabe just barely crossed it. Keefe managed the game well and the bottom six definitely stepped up to make sure Tampa wouldn’t be allowed back into the game.

– : Letting it be about Perry and Maroon

Part of the plus of the Leafs dictating the lines more meant that Jon Cooper had to be more strategic around how he deployed his sideshows earlier in the game. If Perry and/or Maroon were on the ice, Keefe was simply saying “thank you” and putting players with wheels out against them. It’s not really a secret that making them have to skate eliminates their effectiveness.
That said, later in the game as things were put away the expected nonsense of agitating after the whistle and instigating fights did come from the Perry and Maroon and in some ways, this allowed them to be relevant even if not immediately impactful. Their behaviours will have a bit of a carryover effect to the next game if the Leafs allow it to and although the Leafs are better situated for this than ever before, this is not the type of game Toronto should want to get pulled into.
Fights are fun (maybe not Justin Holl fights) but aren’t really where the Leafs attention should be either late in a game where they are blowing out an opponent or to start the next game. Focusing on out skating and out skilling the Lightning’s bottom six is the best path forward for Toronto and hopefully we see that next game.
I’m not even sure I’d consider this a true minus though as that Schenn/Jeannot fight was a classic, but you try to find something to be negative about in a 7-2 win.

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