O’Reilly to LTIR, Tavares needs a game off, and a strange new lineup: Leafs Practice Notes

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
We all knew some O’Reilly news was coming and there were going to be some roster implications, Monday’s practice had all the fallout.
So the LTIR means that at minimum 10 games and 24 days that the Leafs will be without Ryan O’Reilly. We can go into how the Leafs spent a lot to get him only to have his almost immediately get hurt, but while we kick rocks on that or we can acknowledge that injuries happen and by the Leafs timeline they’ll get him back when it matters the most. Ideally we’ll see him in a few games before the playoffs to find his place in the lineup, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Part of me thinks that the Leafs need to plan for Ryan O’Reilly being on the wing in the top six when he returns rather than putting him into a 3C role. Systems matter a lot in defensive play and if he’s put into more of an offensive situation it is better than overwhelming him on team defense concepts. No matter what he’ll make the Leafs better defensively anyway.
O’Reilly going on LTIR opened the door for callups of Steeves and Holmberg, and given that the Leafs are only allowed four callups between now and the end of the regular season, I would assume both are with the Leafs for the long haul. The two forwards combined cap hit is less than O’Reilly’s so there is still enough space for a Matthew Knies signing when his NCAA season is over.
John Tavares will also be out tomorrow night. According to Sheldon Keefe, Tavares wasn’t feeling like himself, but he ended up participating in the entire practice to the point of being the last skater out there. Keefe is saying that John Tavares will be held out tomorrow night anyway out of an “abundance of caution” and it’s hard to disagree with that logic when you have a five point lead over the Lightning in the standings and your opponent and playoff seat are essentially locked in.
This is the type of load management that makes sense. You don’t need to just outright scratch players just because, but giving them some extra time to heal up makes a world of sense.
As Mark noted in his follow up tweet, Luke Schenn is back in Vancouver as his wife is expecting. Given that the Leafs have an infinite supply on NHL defensemen at the moment, it seems reasonable to not tear him away from his family.
The lineup itself has a lot to unpack and we’ll go line by line through it.
The good news is I like two thirds of this line, the bad news is the other third is Alex Kerfoot. I can fully appreciate that Michael Bunting needs a bit of a kick in the ass at the moment, but I strongly disagree with Keefe’s premise that Kerfoot has been playing good hockey of late. I’m not sure what Toronto is hoping to accomplish by going back with this again, but we’ll see how it plays out. With Tavares and O’Reilly out tomorrow night the Leafs have to get creative anyway.
I wanted to see Nylander with Lafferty as his center at some point, but always thought it would be more interesting to have Bunting on the left side. Jarnkrok has been playing better and can offer a lot of 200 foot support to Lafferty, which may be needed though. This line is a fun experiment.
Aston-Reese- Kampf- Acciari:
We’re basically just calling the fourth line the third line tonight. That’s fine. Seeing what they can do with the icetime will be fun.
This could be a really fun sheltered scoring line and I expect Bunting will also get shifts all over the place based on what situations call for.
This top pairing is going to be willed into existence. I think a couple more games of it and it will be worth diving into the numbers of whether or not it is going well or not, but on the surface this is a pairing I’d feel most comfortable with matched against opponents top lines. The Devils should provide an interesting challenge in that regard, as will the Oilers on Saturday.
Having just done a deep dive into Rielly I can say that Liljegren is the best partner for Morgan if you don’t want to see the Leafs get scored on. They aren’t as good at opportunities going the other way and that speaks to them being a bit more sheltered.
The Leafs really want to roll three pairings consistently as demonstrated by their “Rielly and Brodie are hurt” de facto top pairing being the third pairing. Against the Devils having three pairings deep should help keep things in check.
As for the goalies, it’s back to Samsonov by the look of things. He’s had a rare pair of nights sitting on the Leafs bench and after the Oilers game he could probably use them. The Devils will be another strong test for him tonight, but the Leafs need to see Samsonov against their strongest opponents, especially with a depleted lineup. There is also a need to not overuse Matt Murray and this week is set up perfectly for giving Samsonov the workload.
The Leafs play tomorrow night in Newark against the Devils.

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