Tampa is skating rings around the NHL, and tonight it’s Toronto’s turn to face the top team in the league. To gird our loins for this battle we have called up a centre in Frederik Gauthier who is, in my opinion, on a par with Ben Smith in value on an NHL roster.

Usually when Mike Babcock talks, it’s his own team he wants listening, so maybe this is a message to William Nylander about where he plays, but to me it’s a finger pointed right at the team’s biggest weakness: centre depth. We’ll see how tonight goes, with Gauthier facing the man who took him out last spring in Jake Dotchin.

But before we get to that, you get bonus content, because Timothy Liljegren and Team Sweden are playing Slovakia in the WJC quarterfinals. The Leafs drafted Liljegren, in part, because their defence depth was as horrible as their centre depth, and he’s been doing very well as one of only a few AHLers his age this season. He’s making his coach happy at the WJC too, even if he’s not the offensive dynamo some of his teammates are.

Scroll down to the Leafs game if you’re not into teenagers playing. They’re all at least 20 now.

Sweden vs Slovakia

Period One

Liljegren should be on the top unit tonight with the three best offensive forwards and Jacob Moverare, who plays in the OHL, as his D partner.

Liljegren spends his first shift doing a lot of puck handling. This is his thing, he wants to open the play in the offensive zone.

Sweden gets a power play right away as Slovakia tries to out-muscle the Swedes to predictable result. Liljegren should be on the second unit.

Well. Rasmus Dahlin lets the puck get past him, and he’s been very good on the PP up to now, but the Slovaks get a short-handed breakaway and a ping off the post. Lucky for the Swedes.

Liljegren does a good job on the blueline keeping the puck moving, and the Swedes get a good chance. I like his PP work a lot. And then as the PP expires, he lets the puck get by him, but he gets it, takes it deep behind the Slovak net and centres it out. Such a good skater with the puck.

I’ve mostly forgotten what the Swedish goalie looks like at six minutes in.

Man, Dahlin just took the puck from a guy like he was just entitled to it. His “without the puck” game might come and go, but it’s great when it drops by.

Liljegren sure gets this ice. He and Moverare are not hampered by expecting space in the neutral zone that isn’t there. It helps that they play with Alex Nylander too.

Liljegren gets smushed a bit in the defensive zone corner. He’s not a big guy for all people like to shout out his height as somehow meaningful because it starts with a six.

He also likes to show up playing as a forward a lot deep in the zone. I think Sheldon Keefe has him on a tighter leash than the Swedish coach does.

Sweden is playing super aggressive with active D against the slower Slovaks. If they get more frustrated, the PP time should mount for Sweden.

Sweden takes a tripping penalty, so to the PK they go. Wow. That’s a super aggressive PK unit too. They have three guys deep against the Slovaks, and count on speed to get back into position.

I keep noticing undrafted Glenn Gustafsson, the guy the Leafs invited to development camp. I’ll be interested to see if they have another look. He’s a fast, hard-charging depth guy, and he could walk into the Marlies straight away.

The first period is over, and the Swedes spent most of that last few minutes running the Slovaks ragged, but the score is 0-0. Shots on Goal are 12-4 for Sweden.

Period Two

The second period starts, and the crowd has not even filled half the seats in the smaller arena for this event. The medal rounds coinciding with the work week starting up doesn’t help.

Right off the faceoff, the Swedish checking line walk in and Isac Lundestrom splits three defenders and shovels it past the goalie. He made it look easy.

Liljegren really does like to cross the blueline and shoot at the net, and he’s allowed to do that easily a lot of the time.

The officials have slowed the game down with some long discussions about post-whistle scrums and tossing guys from the faceoff.

Liljegren pinches up and Nylander has to bail him out a little, it didn’t look smooth.  I swear Liljegren always has the puck when he’s on the ice in this game, and I’m not sure that’s always good.

The Swedes look like they’re on a permanent PP, but they can’t score. They might want to pass a tiny bit less, says the Canadian.

Okay, weird goal. Fabian Zetterlund carries the puck up from the defensive zone,  dekes and dangles the whole of Slovakia, and knocks it home, but the goalie and the goal judge both seem to not know he scored, and then they all realize at once.

Dahlin makes a classic teenager D pass across the defensive zone that actually bounces off of a Slovak stick and ends up right where it was meant to go. He’s got an angel on his shoulder tonight.

Liljegren gets in a shoving match at the goalmouth like a proper AHL defenceman.

Eleven minutes in to the second, and the score 2-0, but I’m abandoning the Swedes for now to watch the Leafs. I’ll come back and update the game with anything exciting.

The Slovaks score on the PP in the second to make it 2-1 Sweden, as they manage a few more shots on goal.

Third Period

The Slovaks are hanging very tough in the third, and Sweden really needs an insurance goal.

That really good checking line is at it again and Tim Soderlund sets up Lundestrom for his second goal, and it’s 3-1 Sweden.

Slovakia makes it 3-2, but that’s all they can manage and Sweden is rolling to the seimfinals where they will face the winner of the USA-Russia.

Leafs vs Lightning

Period One

And it’s the other Nylander who takes the opening faceoff.

Nazem Kadri’s line roars out with some time on the right side of the ice vs the Tampa line of doom.

Ah, Mr Dotchin is on the ice, isn’t that lovely.

Mitch Marner with a deeply bad attempt to move the puck against the Tampa third line, and Frederik Andersen bails him out.

The Tampa fourth line, a very, very good one, hems in the Leafs fourth line with Frederik Gauthier at centre.

Kadri with a wild offensive shift, and he’s getting chances.

Auston Matthews takes the puck from Point, and again with some offensive pressure. I like when the Leafs are taking the puck at their own blueline, not giving.

Hainsey makes the puck offside trying to shoot under almost no pressure, and I worry that he’s playing too  much.

The Matthews line are rolling with the puck and they’re offside.  Come on guys. You can’t do this against a top team that is opening the door for you.

Make it stoooop.  The fourth line gets stuck out versus the Stamkos line and Andersen gets to save the day.

Hyman gets a shot off on a nice rush. The Leafs seem to be on the puck well, but not a lot of shots are resulting so far.

The Lightning are turning the tide a little, getting some time against the Bozak line.

Rielly with a good chance, and which forward line is out there? Kadri’s, of course.

Matthews with a lovely chance, and the best goalie in the NHL has the save. Leafs are making Andreai Vasilevskiy work.

This is frustrating. Point tries to check Roman Polak, which, just no, and Polak slips the puck right over to Borgman while Point bounces off him harmlessly, but Borgman fails to do anything good with it. We end up hemmed in some more.

Matt Martin takes a penalty under pressure, and have I said the fourth line can’t handle the Lightning? Well, they can’t.

Off to try the PK for two minutes or less.

Hyman almost gets a breakaway.

Lightning only get setup for the last 20 seconds, but Andersen has to make some saves.

The Stamkos line comes back post power play and gets a chance or two.

The Bozak line makes Dan Girardi defend, and a scoring chance ensues.

If you order a cupcake at the ACC tonight, it will come with the icing waved off. This period feels like it’s taken ten minutes to play because there are no whistles.

Toronto on the power play, and it’s the Lightning’s grinder defender, Braydon Coburn controlling the puck and keeping it deep. This is not a good look here.

James Van Riemsdyk finally retrieves the puck and they actually look less foolish for a few seconds.

William Nylander does the coast to coast thing, and eventually they get something going at the end of the power play.

Oh, jeez. Polak and Vlad Namestnikov in a fight? That’s a mismatch, and Cory Conacher jumped in? All of this stems from Namestnikov shoving over Andersen, so, fair enough, I guess. You know why this all happened? Because the refs were “letting them play”.

The result with less than seven seconds to go is making Babcock outraged, so that means a Tampa power play ensues. Lovely.

  • Matthews and company looked very good.
  • Kadri came out flying, so very good to see.
  • The CF% at five-on-five was 66 in favour of Tampa, but it didn’t feel like that watching, unless the fourth line were out there.
  • The fourth line of the Leafs is barely playing and has a CF% of 0 with 4-6 shots against them each./

Period Two

We open on the power play, and the question is, can the Lightning get set up this time?

The answer is mostly no, even though Mikhail Sergachev looks good out there. The Habs could use a guy like that, maybe they can trade Pacioretty for a puck moving D like him.

Just post power play, Andersen makes two great saves on a rush chance and the follow up. And he fell on his ass in between them.

Kadri is just feasting here. Whatever they’re doing, never stop. Man, I love him. Leo Komarov has been good, and Rielly is working as the extra winger with them.

Marner! No, dammit. Vasilevskiy again.

Marner! No, dammit. The Lightning have checked him.

Marner! No, dammit, he did that thing where he dekes one too many times.

The speed of this game. A playoff series between these two teams would be exhausting just to watch.

Marner! Vasilevskiy again. Can I complain here? He’s on fire, he’s moving, he’s not getting a single good shot off on these rush chances.

Kadri with a chance, the Leafs are just rolling, but the Lightning get some chances in between.

The puck comes loose with the fourth line taking a rare shift, and Brown damn near outskates Sergachev for it as it rolls up to Tampa’s end.  He digs it out and the pass goes to Gauthier, and no, it’s not a movie, and my reverse jinx isn’t working. The shot isn’t anything much.

Oh, Leafs.

Cedric Paquette? He scores for the Bolts? This is worse than giving up a Matt Martin goal. Kunitz made a nice play, but Andersen did this to himself, and it’s 1-0 Tampa.

Leafs take a slashing call when Komarov goes for a stick-check, and Kucherov’s stick breaks, but the slo-mo says it wasn’t a slash.

Oh, well, it’s not like Tampa’s power play is anything but anemic, so off we go to see them try again and nothing comes of it.

Bolts with a point blank chance, and then the Leafs with one up the other end.

And, no. Really? Was that a goal for Tampa?

This is worse than in the Sweden game. It’s 2-0 Tampa on the review.

On the bright side, they set the clock back. On a less bright side, the Leafs look caved in, and can’t get out of their zone.

It’s the Kadri line that gets the zone time, but when you let the Tampa depth score on you, who cares if you dominate their top line?

  • The Kadri line is playing the Stamkos line close to even which is their job and it should allow the other lines to get chances.
  • The Kadri line and Mitch Marner are the only one’s getting chances.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy is having one hell of a year, and is very tough to beat.
  • The Matthews line is getting zone time that the stats don’t show because they aren’t getting shots off.
  • The fourth line has moved up to 36% CF which is good compared to everyone else but Kadri who owns the ice tonight./

Period Three

Matthews opens the period with a decent shot. If his line can get really properly rolling then something good might happen here.

Gauthier does his steamroller move through the offensive zone, and a couple of shots result.  Good fourth line shift, since I picked on them early when they were not good. They aren’t going to score on Vasilevskiy, though.

Carrick fires it from the point, and Nylander nearly tips it in. Carrick is okay in this game. He looks ineffectual in the defensive zone, but he’s not doing anything terrible.

The once speedy game is desultory and slow now, with the Leafs hacking at the puck like a pass is something other people do.

A very long fourth line shift gives the fans of corner work something to watch, and Andersen makes a couple of saves. You didn’t think that one offensive chance was really their true nature did you? They’re working hard, though, so let’s play them some more. (I’d be fine with that if the game was truly out of reach.)

Matthews and Nylander get a passing play going, and they pass it. Yup. There was passing. No shooting, but those passes were neat.

Rielly with an unscreened rush chance, and guess what Vasilevskiy does?

Big flurry around Vasilevskiy by the Matthews line provides a sliver of excitement. Vasy kills it dead.

Marner is playing with Gauthier now. And cool, great. That gives that line someone who can score. You can’t argue that Gauthier has all that size to plow through guys and it worked once, it could again. It does in the AHL.

Don’t get me wrong, this game makes obvious that the Leafs would benefit from a power forward on the top nine, but you can’t make Gauthier into an NHLer of value because he’s got the power you need. If he’s an object lesson, well, you can’t demand your cadre of agile wingers suddenly develop power anymore than you can that Gauthier play well.

The Leafs draw a penalty, finally.  Let’s see if the power play can do something.

They do all sorts of things, but nothing that will get past this goalie, not even a good play set up by Marner.

Victor Hedman with a point blank chance and Andersen has it.

The Leafs have lost the ability to even get near the opposing net with real chances. This game is over with five minutes to go at this rate.

Andersen is out of the net early.

An offensive zone faceoff, and Carrick lets it out of the zone.

The Leafs with a scramble at the net with 12 seconds to go, and the call on the ice is no goal. It’s no goal.

And that’s the ballgame, 2-0 for Tampa, a well deserved win for them.

  • Much like the Vegas game, parts of this one were good for the Leafs.
  • Kadri versus the Bolts was great, but the Leafs were terrible.
  • Marner and Rielly were the best non-Kadri-line players, and Andersen gave them a chance.
  • As much as Jared hates Roman Polak, I get annoyed at the idea that a guy like Gauthier has any purpose on a team like the Leafs. And playing his line in the third because they worked hard was dumb. That said, Gauthier played just over 6 minutes. So maybe that was the point, play the “kid” in a game where the bench was going to be short anyway./

Bonus, bonus content: The USA is up 2-1 after two periods over the Russians with Joseph Woll in net.

The USA won this one 4-2, in a very close game. Woll had to make a tough save on a screened shot with the Russian goalie pulled, so stick tap to him.  They play Sweden on Thursday.