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Friday’s FTB: 3 things I liked from the Leafs 4-0 win over Pittsburgh

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Looking at the new lines and what this team can do with work ethic.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 20: Toronto Maple Leafs battle against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the crease during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on February 20, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Last night was fun, eh?

The Maple Leafs kicked off the game with an up-tempo, but disciplined start, and weathered a couple penalties to close out the first. Then the flood-gates opened in the second period and the Leafs walked all over the Penguins en-route to a 4-0 victory at home.

For more than 50 words about the game itself, check out Brigs’ recap below. He had a lot of fun making it.

As for me, I care about what this team is doing now and what they’re going to do moving forward. Lately, this team has been really difficult and depressing to watch. There was no drive, no fight-back, and frankly no talent or chemistry throughout half the roster. I think in this game, we saw the Leafs go back to some old and reliable strategies, while also trying some new pieces in new places. Let’s go through them.

Alex Kerfoot at 3C

This was the biggest and most welcoming change I saw between this game and the last one. Without some playmaking talent on the third line, the Leafs were fully a top-six, bottom-six team at forward. You could pretty quickly see through the ice time data that they had two first lines and two fourth lines.

With Kerfoot back at centre, he helped reinvigorate Kasperi Kapanen on the right wing and it seemed to also give Pierre Engvall something to work with. It seemed to finally give all three a purpose to strive for, which is great because all three were on massive goal droughts coming into this game.

Kapanen immediately came up with the goods, scoring the third goal in the game and getting into a fight to defend Rasmus Sandin. Kapanen’s speed seemed to finally be put to good use, while Engvall actually showed up a little bit on the forecheck and made a nifty pass to Kerfoot that resulted in a redirection that bounced off the post.

Malgin?

I’d like to say I called this line would be created when the trade first happened, but I didn’t think I’d be as impressed with Denis Malgin with John Tavares and William Nylander as I was. I thought at first that he was going to be a good soldier tag-along to the dynamic duo that’s helped carry the Leafs this year. That’s largely what we saw, but Malgin showed a lot of different characteristics of his game that make me optimistic for him moving forward.

First, he’s fast, which is almost mandatory for someone his size. Second, he’s not afraid to do all the jobs around the ice, including forechecking and covering defensively. I liked watching him lay a couple of hits and show off some skill while facilitating the puck between his teammates. He didn’t hog the puck and take shots for himself, nor feel overwhelmed and force himself to differ to the defense for shots. Tyson Barrie only had four shot attempts in this game!

I think the Leafs have been looking for someone they could use as a complimentary player all season. Ilya Mikheyev was that until he almost lost his hand. Kerfoot played the job okay, but he was needed more elsewhere. I think they tried a host of other players, most of whom are stuck on the Marlies right now, and couldn’t find anyone they liked. Lucky for them, the Florida Panthers gave them a gift.

Barried in the Sand

Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl would ideally be a second pair on this team, but they’ve had to be a first pair for a lot of time this season and they’ve done a good job. When they had Morgan Rielly, the Leafs were able to hide Travis Dermott and Tyson Barrie on a third pair, which allowed them to have fun offensively and not have to worry about defense as much. I thought that was a good spot for both players.

Barrie has since had to play a lot more minutes, and while he’s been somewhat passable, Dermott definitely didn’t float. I thought it was interesting that in these games with Pittsburgh that Dermott was given Martin Marincin as a babysitter. I think it says a lot about how much he’s being trusted right now.

So from one young left-handed defenseman to an even younger one, Rasmus Sandin is in the top-four now! He didn’t play much in this game, in fact, playing only 13:37 with Barrie at 5v5 while the 29-year-old ended up playing 17:27 at 5v5 after spot shifts with other players. In those 13 minutes with Barrie, however, Sandin had a 58% shot share, and a 71% expected goals share. This was all with five defensive zone faceoffs. For comparison, Dermott-Marincin had only two and Muzzin-Holl had to take on 12. Yeah, the Leafs really lean on their first pair.

The question I now have for this team is whether they can win more games like this, or if it was just a one-off with 20 games to go before the playoffs. It’s a hard way to play, but I really hope the Leafs just run the rest of the table down the stretch and carry their momentum into the playoffs. Because I could’ve run through a wall after watching this game.

Or, you know, Steve could do it instead.


Leafs and Branches

Katya addressed the idea that Tyson Barrie might be on the trade block.

The Marlies have rescheduled their game with the Texas Stars from mid-January. The game was initially called a forfeit, but after a vote by the AHL Governors, the decision was changed and a game was scheduled. The Marlies play in Binghamton the Saturday before and are in Belleville the Wednesday after their quick flight to Texas in early March.

ICYMI: the Marlies made a trade and it’s very telling of where this team expects to go this season.

Trades and Shenanigans

Louis Domingue was put on waivers yesterday. MacKenzie Blackwood has been red-hot for the New Jersey Devils recently and they simultaneously called up Cory Schneider. It looks like the Devils are going to move Domingue, conditional on him clearing, meaning the team acquiring him can use him in the AHL.

The Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins made a trade for some tweeners yesterday.

As did the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning. This traded ended up being 1-for-1.

Water Cooler Topics

Uh, ok, Paul.

B.D.E.