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Rasmus Sandin makes some noise in a 7-4 win over Blake Coleman

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We’re keeping him.

New Jersey Devils v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

The Devils are a team that’s in a weird place. They’re an early adopter of futility this season, in that they aren’t making the playoffs, they’ve fired their coach and their GM, and so they should just tank. But then too, the interim coach likely wants a real job, some of the players want to be traded to contenders, and the good players are too young to be jaded.

So what kind of team are they? We’ll find out.

First Period

The Maple Leafs open the period with a lot of puck-handling, but not much shooting. Frederik Andersen makes the only meaningful save, but the Devils already seem to be a step late and a little skill short.

The Matthews line is buzzing the net some, but of course, it’s the defenceman who shoots from the good locations.

A stretch pass goes horribly wrong, but Freddie has the answer.

Whooo!

How’s that for some razzle dazzle? Sandin with his patented blueline blast that gets tipped by John Tavares. Let’s keep this kid, and yes, it’s totally fine when he shoots, why do you ask? (Seriously, that’s a gorgeous, smart defenceman’s blueline shot. That’s a Rielly shot.)

1-0 Leafs

And we all saw this coming, right? Frederik Gauthier with the puck, spins and scores. Spezza made this happen, and it’s good to see him playing well after he very much didn’t in Florida.

2-0 Leafs

The official policy of PPP is that if Gauthier scores on you, you should be instantly warped to the AHL. So bye Louis Domingue, enjoy the B-Devils.

Pierre Engvall gets called for hugging P.K. Subban, and it’s to the PK we go. I don’t know what I’d call this Devils PP. Chaos theory? The Leafs kill it, but allow a few shots. Freddie seems fine in this game.

Wheee. William Nylander on a breakaway. It comes up empty, but he draws a penalty, so it’s instant PP time.

Barrie with a standstill blueline shot on the power play. This is not a smart defenceman’s shot; it’s not a Rielly-type walk the line shot.

And suddenly, with Andreas Johnsson back, the Leafs have a real second unit, and Johnsson gets a great shot. Sandin is fine on this unit. Let’s keep him.

Subban goes off for interference, a possible makeup call on the weak-ish one on Engvall. The power play sees us out of the first period with only a little bit of the second unit. Which is the one that matters tonight.

But it’s enough, because a certain young defenceman gets off a shot that is tipped here, and say it with me, everyone: LET’S KEEP HIM!

3-0 Leafs

Zach Hyman with the sick, sick hands here. Like usual.

Thoughts

  • So about this Sandin, guy...
  • The score says otherwise, but the Leafs started with a very controlled, yet tepid offence, and didn’t really heat up until after it was 2-0.
  • The possession over all else strategy works very well against a team like the Devils where the Leafs will never struggle to get the puck back and out of their own zone.
  • The Devils are really bad, and I’m happy Louis Domingue turned into a pumpkin in time for us, and that Freddie is just himself.

Second Period

Mååååål! Det är svensk natt as Engvall helps Nylander get goal number 20.

4-0 Leafs

Hands up if you’ve seen Domingue go awandering in the AHL. He hasn’t magically changed.

The Leafs take a careless stick penalty, and this Devils PP is just too easy to disrupt for the Leafs.

Boooooo. This Blake Coleman guy. He’s a guy who some team like the Penguins or the Capitals will snap up for a cup run, and they’ll be glad they did. He is a player, and he outplayed the Leafs fourth line by himself.

4-1 Leafs

Just like when the Leafs got some back in Florida, the Devils are the most likely team to score from now on, skill difference notwithstanding, and they have half the game to chip away at this lead. The Leafs need to show they can play a disciplined closeout game.

Coleman takes one of those lazy stick penalties, giving the Leafs the gift of a PP, and us a chance to see Sandin again.

La, la, la, first unit. No one cares. (Okay, the Barrie changing hands is cool, but not as good as J.G. Pageau doing it on faceoffs.)

Booo, I mean, yay!!! The first unit scores, so no Sandin PP, so boo on that.

5-1 Leafs

Great little play from Marner there. Lovely shot in tight from Matthews.

And Mr Cory Schneider returns to the NHL in the middle of this mess for his team. Waves fondly at Louis Domingue, see you in the A. (Why yes, I do find his obnoxious look at me stuff annoying. He’s French Garret Sparks.)

Some pushing and shoving involving Miles Wood, who always features in Devils recaps, gives us a set of four-on-four until Travis Zajac makes it a Leafs PP.

Come oooooon, enough of this first unit crap. No. One. Cares.

Okay, finally the important PP starts. Damn it. Damn near a goal with Hyman at the net.

And the Devils play out the period with a demonstration of score effects shooting, and the Leafs seem to have lost the desire to keep the puck for very long.

Thoughts

  • This game is hilarious fun, but it really isn’t proof of concept that the Florida game (or the two [or is it three?] before it) was a fluke.
  • Some serious critique of Sandin on the PP. Not on this PP, but on the Marlies last weekend. Their entire strategy has moved away from “pass it to Bracco who passes it for a shot” to “pass it to Sandin”, who shoots. This is not an improvement. And while point shots, particularly well-placed ones, not Barrie’s insta-bomb one-timers, are a nice spice to the power play, too much spice spoils the soup.
  • I have really enjoyed Spezza on balance in the last several games. He’s useful, and he makes the second unit PP into a real thing. But his wingers are shite, and the fourth line is utterly useless against even mediocre competition. There’s not a good reason for this to continue.
  • Sandin, though, eh? Let’s keep him.

Third Period

Sandin does a Stupid Rookie Trick and Kasperi Kapanen has his back.

Okay, never mind on any concerns that the Leafs can’t put this away:

6-1 Leafs

Sweeeeeeeeeeet play.

Blake Coleman. He leads the Devils in Expected Goals, passes the eyetest with flying colours, and the phone will be ringing on this guy. Watch him end up on the Lightning or something irritating like that.

6-2 Leafs

Tyson Barrie with the Activated D classic by which he is known. He doesn’t seem to mind jumping up when the three forwards are already in deep. And oh, well, so he left Marincin alone to be the defence.

So, the Devils scored, and guess who...

6-3 Leafs

This was the whole, don’t close out wins well thing, the Leafs have going on. You can’t do that in the playoffs. You wanna do it now? Go for it.

Ceci take a penalty because this is the Leafs.

And then the Leafs take a hooking penalty while shorthanded, and that guilty party is... Martin Marincin, a man with not one once of sense of what the game state is.

And another Devils goal, this time Subban. This ain’t finishing on time, guys.

6-4 Leafs

And then to make this game totally surreal, Auston Matthews finally gets a hat trick.

7-4 Leafs

Thoughts

  • Every Leafs D did his karaoke classic tonight: Ceci with a dumb penalty, MarMar with a dumber one. Barrie with an irresponsible pinch, and Sandin with his classic PP moves. Dermott and Holl were just kind of dull.
  • The problem with the Leafs defence is that on any given night, 4-6 of them are playing too high up the depth chart. Against the Devils, that doesn’t matter.
  • Goals are a lot of fun, and how about that Sandin, eh... now do Liljegren, Leafs, we want to see him.