The Blues can often be counted on to combine with the Maple Leafs to lay down some really boring hockey. Not always, but sometimes their style of defence and the Leafs’ style of offence turns into an endless trip from the circles through the neutral zone as far as the circles and back again.
Will we get that? Or something much more fun instead?
So, the Maple Leafs are clearly in need of a defenceman. We all know that. Liljegren and Sandin together can make a good third pair. Liljegren and Dermott can’t, and Sandin playing the right side on the second pair is not quite it.
Today’s experiment is to have two second pairs, a kind of 2B and 2C with Liljegren with Muzzin and Sandin with Holl. Which is interesting. But when forced to rapidly transition to defence, Liljegren doesn’t seem to know what to do, so he watches, and Campbell doesn’t know there’s a guy coming up on his right hand.
One play should not disprove this experiment. But it’s hard not to see this arrangement as Liljegren as a placeholder, like when the UofT guys show up at practice.
And then what happened?
Well, Jake Muzzin gets a shot on net, and when the play goes the other way he’s out there with Morgan Rielly. And this time it’s Muzzin who can’t very quickly transition to defending. He’s caught looking, more or less, while Tyler Bozak does exactly what everyone should expect him to do: make a sweet pass to a goal scorer. Who Muzzin has essentially ignored.
Maybe he is the right guy to play with Liljegren.
Klim Kostin makes it 2-0— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
What a pass from Bozak pic.twitter.com/CP5jRY0e1f
Next up is an set of “in their corner, then they get in our corner” plays. Everyone practices board battles. And this is where it’s really obvious that in this sort of play, the Leafs are fine in their own end, and gain possession quickly and exit the zone on the first try. Something they didn’t do back when Bozie was a Leaf.
The Leafs can’t handle rush chances against. Those are hard to deal with, though, just ask Willy:
WILLIAM NYLANDER— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
WILLY STYLES IS BACK pic.twitter.com/3pSLDvIgRs
Whoops, Willy gives, and Willy takes. He does a big dumb to create a power play for the Blues by playing the puck as he comes over the boards a little too quick. Leafs kill it with a little extra from Jack Campbell.
- St. Louis is not defending in a way the Leafs can’t handle
- Ville Husso can handle them for the most part
- Self-inflicted score so far
So about that Willy gives/Willy takes business. Alex Kerfoot starts an “all of us are going” rush that is impressive to see, and Willy gets to do the fun part:
Kerfoot gets the play going— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
Nylander finishes it with another sick shot pic.twitter.com/LtOT4cWI2f
The knot in the tie is too loose, though, because in a very few seconds the Blues get another cross-crease pass on what is too slow to call a rush, but no one has an answer for it.
Brayden Schenn restores the lead for St. Louis pic.twitter.com/wpXbDZbrrP— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
Michael Bunting induces Torey Krug to see red, and somehow the linesman ends up in the middle. He’s likely got tinnitus in the ear that was closest to Bunting now. Somehow, the Leafs get a PP out of that.
Torey Krug punches Michael Bunting in the head— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
Gets the extra two minutes pic.twitter.com/gGxWklC9U9
Sandin drops the puck back AHL sty-lee without looking, and the Blues get the best scoring chance on the PP. No one wants this seemingly open second pairing job on the Leafs.
Okay, this was better:
Matthews waits for Marner to step into the lane and sets him up for a re-direct pic.twitter.com/7ta0zqmQl8— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
Oh, yeah, okay, we’ll keep T.J. for more than just his electric slide:
Mikheyev with a solid screen on Husso pic.twitter.com/N8CG2nn2Mt— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
With a nice screen from Mikheyev, there.
- Are the Leafs outplaying the Blues overall? You bet, that’s why they have three goals.
- Are the Leafs staying with the Blues physically? I think so, which is very encouraging.
- Why aren’t they winning? Because they don’t think fast defensively like they do offensively.
Essentially, if the Leafs can go 20 minutes without doing something blindingly stupid, they should win this.
sad.— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 20, 2022
And yes, the Blues did a too many men, same as Willy, and yes, the ref didn’t call it, and no, that’s not why the score is the score. You play the game in front of you, refs and all.
Matthews line makes it easy to believe again this game will end with a Leafs win, but they don’t tie it back up. Not yet.
Bunting comes within a hair of setting up the tying goal. It seems like it should happen.
Okay, this is the first goal against that wasn’t a cross-crease pass, and this might be the game:
Lovely tip, Campbell had no chance.
The Blues top it off with and ENG on an early goalie pull.
- Blues played a much better third, and the Leafs didn’t
- By the time it was 5-3, the Blues owned the xG advantage, Matthews line heroics aside
- Holl was back with Muzzin and Liljegren was with Sandin on the the third pair after it became 4-3.
- So about that trade rumour...
Next games are Monday and Tuesday on the road in Montréal and Columbus, so there’s no rest for the Leafs.