Too much D to handle, O’Reilly at 3C, and some goalie appreciation: Leaflets

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
We’re back to the business of hockey. Man it’s gonna suck actually having to rely on watching games and analyzing performance to generate content. Can’t we jump forward to the offseason and start pumping out “top 5 bargain UFA targets” articles?
No. No one wants that. At least not yet. Cool.
Well, as I often do on Saturdays, here is the catchall post of my random thoughts on the Leafs.

Defensive Pairings will be the story for the rest of the season

The Leafs having nine NHL defensemen on their roster is something that hasn’t been lost on anyone. Who plays with who, who are three odd men out on any given night, and all of that will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on. I’m going to try and work through this logically or at least using my broken logic to determine what we could see.
#1. Conor Timmins is very much the odd man out in the greatest sense. I don’t think he’s in the playoff picture at all and is going to only start finding his way back into the lineup towards the end of the season if the Leafs are wanting to rest any in their top eight. It sucks, but it’s the situation that Timmins signed up for. It’s on him to make it look like a bad strategy.
#2. The Leafs clearly want a physical partner alongside both Rielly and Brodie.
Putting Schenn with Rielly might upset a lot of people, but if you look at the history of Rielly’s time in the league he’s often played his best with a stay at home partner, the one exception being Brodie, but the two of them together don’t fit the playoff hockey brand, and experimenting with tougher partners in the meantime makes a lot of sense. In Rielly’s case, I wouldn’t doubt we see Schenn’s time with Rielly disappear depending on the situation as well, and we could see Rielly and Brodie reunited when situations or certain opponents call for it.
McCabe with Brodie seems to be by default and until there are a few more games of it, I’d say let it ride.
#3. Giordano with either Holl or Liljegren has always worked out just fine. Giordano and Holl did the work of a top pairing for a fairly long stretch and Liljegren is just as sneaky versatile as Giordano is. There’s nothing not to like with this group. I just really don’t like the idea of Liljegren not being an every night player, but if he’s bought into what they are doing, who am I to judge?
#4. Erik Gustafsson is an absolute safety net, but it’s hard to find where he lands in the Leafs lineup. I wouldn’t doubt we see him come in a bit more frequently for Giordano down the stretch, and he will be the first swap out option for absolutely everyone.
So, yeah, nine capable defensemen in the NHL plus a decent option of Jordie Benn ready and waiting in the AHL. As much as we are about to embark on an adventure of constantly complaining about who has been scratched, this is a wonderful problem to have.

Do we see more of O’Reilly at 3C?

We got a small taste of O’Reilly centering the third line this week and it will be interesting to see if there is more to come. It seems very clear the Leafs want to have comfort with both options, a top heavy top six that allows the Leafs to overload their opponents with two world class lines, but also having the option of going three lines deep in talent, and potentially keeping a world class center on the ice at all times.
It seems that Alex Kerfoot, especially now with Engvall’s departure, is the key to pulling off a capable third line with O’Reilly. With Jarnkrok likely being the second player, it would possibly be Kerfoot and whichever one of Lafferty or Acciari is showing the best offensive aptitude at that time. I’d like to offer up the additional name of Pontus Holmberg on that line, as the Leafs can easily afford him until Matthew Knies comes up. It also lets the fourth line of Lafferty, Acciari, and Kampf some additional time to find their groove, with Aston-Reese still rotating in frequently as well.

The goaltending situation isn’t a source of confidence or fear

Here’s the thing. At times the Leafs seemed to get some really great goaltending. I’m not sure if I’d say there are too many games stolen by their goaltender, but for long stretches and frequently enough at other times, they’ve provided the Leafs what is needed to win. I bet there were a lot of Legion of Doom era Flyers fans who felt the same way about Roman Cechmanek, but I digress.
The thing is Ilya Samsonov has shown that he can be that goaltender who will show up for the Leafs more nights than not and that’s really about as good as it gets in Toronto since the first couple of seasons from Frederik Andersen.
Matt Murray’s hot streaks are read hot, so there’s a fun wild card element there, if not he’s at least a better than not backup who you don’t feel like you are throwing in the towel by having to play him.
And that brings us Joseph Woll, who makes me say, why can’t it be him? We’ve seen Cam Ward, Matt Murray, Matt Murray again, Jordan Binnington, and countless others before them go on inexplicable hot streaks largely benefiting from shooters not having seen them before. Woll is probably the best third string goaltending option the Leafs can hope for since the book has already been written on most of the goaltenders who were available at the deadline.
It seems like I’m gearing myself up to be hurt again, but it is also hard not to appreciate the state of the Leafs roster and the lack of glaring holes in it.

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