The Maple Leafs missed William Nylander in more ways than one

Photo credit:James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
6 days ago
It’s been an interesting week in Leafs land. William Nylander was ruled out of Game 1 against the Boston Bruins. The undisclosed injury remains a mystery. It was his first game missed due to injury in seven and a half years and his team missed him dearly.
As Sheldon Keefe put it, something ‘popped up’ after the regular season and once Nylander didn’t skate during the team’s first postseason practice, the scramble ensued. The media was looking for details while the Leafs were searching for answers on how they would line up without their star. While there’s been a slew of injuries throughout the lineup this season, he didn’t miss one regular season game. His teammates aren’t used to having him unavailable and it showed during Game 1 against the Bruins.
Nylander has an uncanny ability to carry the puck. He retrieves it better than most in his own zone and is often carrying it through the neutral zone and setting up the play in the offensive zone. Without #88 in the lineup, the Maple Leafs struggled to carry the play. Oftentimes they were flicking the puck out, trying to win races to space and unfortunately for them. More times than not the Bruins won the race, and next thing you know they were in transition.
The Maple Leafs power play was ineffective in Game 1. Sheldon Keefe hated what he saw, he thought his team was slow with the man advantage and disconnected. While they had their chances, the execution wasn’t there. Not having Nylander available also meant someone needed to step up in his place on the man advantage, and that task was given to Calle Jarnkrok. The same Jarnkrok who had missed the past five weeks with a hand injury. The same one who normally sees just over a minute on the power-play, normally on the second unit. In game 1 against the Bruins, he saw 3:09 of ice-time with the man advantage, nothing to show for.
Nylander’s also become an effective penalty killer this season, playing more shorthanded than he ever has. While he’s not normally diving around to block shots, Nylander uses his smarts to get in passing lanes, and uses an active stick to retrieve pucks. The Bruins went 2-for-5 on the PP, with the second goal putting them up 4-0 and essentially taking the game out of reach late in the second period.
While Toronto has had a ‘next guy up’ mentality throughout the entire season and they have some reasonable depth up front, Nylander is very hard to replace. Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Keefe were all asked after the game about playing without one of the best players and as expected, and correctly so, weren’t pointing to it as the sole reason for the loss:
“He had nothing to do with us taking too many penalties or giving up a 2-on-1 (rush). Obviously, the power play, he makes an impact there, but like I said, we’ve handled that situation very well all season. Some of our best games have been when [our] best people are out. It’s tough to go into a playoff without him, but [it’s] not the storyline here for us tonight.” – Sheldon Keefe
“[Nylander] does a lot of things for us out there. Even strength, power play-wise, so he creates a lot of offense as well with his skill and speed through the neutral zone, and really just from picking up pucks in the [defensive] zone.” … “We’ve had some really big names go out and we’ve had a lot of guys step up. Unfortunately, tonight wasn’t one of those nights, but we have to regroup tonight, recover tomorrow, see what we can do better and get ready for Game 2.” – Mitch Marner
“[Nylander’s] obviously a great player and a big part of our team. We’ve been in situations where we had key players out throughout the season, so it’s just about other guys getting opportunities and stepping up and making the most of it.” – Auston Matthews
Jarnkrok was given the opportunity in Game 1 and unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, couldn’t answer the bell. Keefe needs to consider some other options when it comes to his power-play set up for Game 2. Bertuzzi should be given a look to stir things up in front of the net.
The Maple Leafs look to bounce back in Game 2, something they showed they’re capable of last season after getting thumped in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It remains to be seen if Nylander is an option. Hopefully whatever popped up, disappears quick.

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