O’Reilly second line centre, Lafferty returns, Knies in extras grey: Leafs Practice Notes
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Nick Barden1 month ago
The Maple Leafs showed their hand on Sunday with just two days remaining until their first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Saturday was a skills day for Toronto, allowing players to partake in the on-ice sessions, if they choose to. Among the players on the ice was Mark Giordano, per Sports Illustrated’s David Alter. The 39-year-old has been nursing a minor injury.
Sunday, though, is when the real work began for Toronto as we got to see some line combinations and defence pairings.
Starting on defence, we see a number of different pairings. Mark Giordano paired alongside Justin Holl is something we saw in last year’s playoffs vs. Tampa. They’ll be a strong third pair for the Maple Leafs.
Jake McCabe skates with TJ Brodie in what is likely to be Toronto’s shutdown pairing. Both players are very good defensively and they will make it tough on the Lightning’s top players to generate scoring chances.
Finally, we have Morgan Rielly paired up with Luke Schenn. This is a pairing that has had a few games together and they’ve been pretty strong. I’d assume that Rielly will still play nearly 20 minutes each night even though Toronto’s first pairing will get the toughest assignments.
The odd man out — similar to their last playoff — is Timothy Liljegren. The 23-year-old hasn’t had the best of final stretches, but I don’t think it was bad enough to have him sit out game one. I think it’s just a matter of Holl playing some good hockey at the moment.
As for Erik Gustafsson, I’d say he’s Toronto’s eighth defender at this point in time.
Going to the forward lines now, I’d like to begin with saying the Maple Leafs’ top-six is what you’d expect heading into the series. Although Michael Bunting’s game has teetered a bit, he’s still very good alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Keefe has elected to go with Ryan O’Reilly as the second line centre while also having John Tavares and William Nylander on his wings. Loading up the top six doesn’t hurt, especially against an opponent like the Lightning.
It’s safe to say, too, that things will get changed during different situations throughout the games.
The third line consists of Alex Kerfoot, Noel Acciari, and Calle Jarnkrok. I really like this line as it has three players who are good defensively but can also be effective in the offensive zone too. I’d look to this line to score some big goals in this series.
I’d say the same with this fourth line. Zach Aston-Reese has been on fire as of late, and when you put him with David Kampf (who scored a big goal last year) and Sam Lafferty, I think there’s a lot of potential for some really good play.
Lafferty has returned to the lineup after welcoming his first child on Friday, per Sports Illustrated’s David Alter.
Matthew Knies is on the outside looking in, and to me, it makes sense given he’s only played three NHL games. The 20-year-old will probably find himself in a game eventually, but it’s probably best to see how this forward group works out before throwing an NHL rookie into the lineup.
The Maple Leafs’ power play is also looking pretty similar to their last stretch of games. Nylander on the second power play will make both units a threat against Tampa Bay. I believe both can do damage when the opportunity arises.
Conor Timmins and Wayne Simmonds skated on another pad with Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll. There should be no question as to who Toronto’s starter is for this series — it’s Samsonov.
Game one between the Maple Leafs and Lightning is on Tuesday with puck drop at 7:30PM. It’s going to be a hell of the series with Toronto pushing for something they haven’t done in 19 years.
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