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Tyler Bertuzzi delivering on promise during final stretch of regular season

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Photo credit:Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
27 days ago
Tyler Bertuzzi has often functioned as a stand-in for the criticism of the Toronto Maple Leafs writ large during his first season with the club. Bertuzzi, signed to a one-year, $5.5 million pact last summer, has often underwhelmed as a scoring presence, failing to generate real chemistry with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner during the first quarter of the year. From Nov. 8 onwards, Bertuzzi saw an uptick in form and his analytical profile through November-January suggested an offensive explosion.
It hasn’t quite been an explosion but Bertuzzi is finally living up to his value proposition as the regular season winds down. Bertuzzi is doing the simple things well, crashing the net and making himself available for high-danger passes. The expected goals are finally turning into actual goals, which bodes well for a Maple Leafs team that’s been without Mitch Marner due to a high-ankle sprain suffered during a March 7 loss to the Boston Bruins.
We wrote about Bertuzzi’s analytical profile on Jan. 5, so we’re using this date as a starting point to evaluate the 29-year-old over the past two months. Bertuzzi has recorded 14 points during 31 games during this span at 5-on-5 — those numbers may seem unimpressive at first but he’s tied for 82nd league-wide alongside Alex Ovechkin, Charlie Coyle, Vincent Trocheck and Chandler Stephenson among others. He ranks 67th in individual expected goals at 5-on-5 via Natural Stat Trick during this span and it’s a function of what Bertuzzi does best, getting to the dirty areas and creating chaos. It’s also worth mentioning he’s drawn a team-best nine penalties since Jan. 5 and he’s replicating some of Michael Bunting’s best qualities from the past two seasons.
We’ll spell out an easy reason: Bertuzzi has become the beneficiary of Auston Matthews’ playmaking, especially when the Maple Leafs have reshuffled their lines due to Marner’s absence. He’s come alive as a scorer this month and it’s often because he’s making himself available to Matthews whenever possible.
Matthews understands better than anyone that if you throw pucks at the net, good things usually happen and Bertuzzi is getting better at slipping his defenders in open space. No one is going to mistake Bertuzzi for a burner but there’s real value in ensuring that you get quality looks net-front.
Here’s another angle of Bertuzzi’s goal against the Washington Capitals on March 20. He knows John Carlson is distracted by the imminent threat of Matthews’ shot and is completely free. Ovechkin tracks back way too late and Bertuzzi finishes the layup here.
It’s worth noting that Bertuzzi fought through an undisclosed illness during Wednesday’s victory against Washington and may be ruled out of Toronto’s marquee matchup against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Toronto controlled 68 percent of the expected goals when Bertuzzi was on the ice in a dominant performance from his new line overall, as he combined with Matthews and Max Domi for the Demolition of the District of Columbia.
Bertuzzi is turning his game around at the right time by making simple reads and smart plays, while scoring the type of goals that are needed during the playoffs. The ice shrinks, penalties are called more often and Bertuzzi is both adept at drawing penalties, winning in small spaces and generating strong outcomes for his more talented teammates. It stands to reason that Bertuzzi is better acclimated with the Maple Leafs’ systems now and is ready to unleash hell as an impending free agent.
It was reasoned that Bertuzzi provided something the Maple Leafs lacked: a top-six forward who doesn’t shy away from physicality, who gets to the tough areas of the ice and knows his role innately. It took a while for Bertuzzi to deliver on his promise of snot and secondary scoring, but the Maple Leafs have to be encouraged by his mid-March ascension.

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