When Justin Holl was made a healthy scratch for the first time in a long time, that gave Timothy Liljegren a chance to play regularly. He took advantage of the opportunity. Both from the view of the eyes and by the advanced analytics, as long-time Maple Leafs’ fan and my sometimes hockey writing collaborator Stan Smith emailed me after the game, Liljegren played by far his best game as a Maple Leafs’ player.
Liljegren and Sandin Created More Scoring than They Allowed
And, as noted, the strength of that game stood up both by the eye test and the numbers. Both Liljegren and Sandin looked, and were, dominant when they were on the ice together. And, when they were together on the ice, it looked like they spent the whole time with the puck.
By the numbers (the advanced analytics) Liljegren was on the ice for 17 five-on-five scoring chances and only one scoring chance against. As far as high-danger chances, they were on the ice for 10 high-danger scoring chances and only one against.
Considering Liljegren’s and Sandin’s Shot Attempts
An article today posted on Maple Leafs Hot Stove by beat writer Ian Tulloch echoes the same numbers. Tulloch further noted that shot creation from the slot is generally considered a good thing. He further noted that, if there were thoughts that Liljegren might have been used in a sheltered way, that thought should be thrown right out the window. As Tulloch noted, “No amount of sheltered usage on the planet could inflate your numbers to that degree.”
There’s no doubt that we were watching the same game. Liljegren “earned those results by making great plays with the puck on his stick, especially in the offensive zone. He and Rasmus Sandin did an excellent job of using motion and quick passing to maintain possession for long stretches in the Red Wings’ end.”
Tulloch went on to say that “Liljegren worked the high 3-on-2s really well in this game, interchanging roles with the high forward and connecting on a few quick passing sequences.”
It’s Hard for the Other Team to Score If They Don’t Have the Puck
What Liljegren does so well is to NOT play defense, but to be on the offense. There is great value in having the puck on your stick as opposed to trying to get it off your opponent’s stick. And, the upside of being an offensive defenseman is not having to play defense all the time. Sandin’s a master at that.
So far, Sandin has proven that he’s strong at playing offense as a defenseman. According to some numbers, Sandin has really only spent 40 percent of his entire ice-time actually playing in the defensive zone this season. Sandin’s also proved that he can generate offensive chances by knowing when to jump into the play at just the right time and hit a teammate with a pass when that teammate is on a dangerous – for the opposition – spot on the ice.
The Jury’s Still Out on Liljegren and Sandin, But the Verdict Is Getting Closer
Obviously, playing only one game together is a very small “N.” However, it’s really only Liljegren that’s the unknown factor. As Tulloch noted, “Sandin’s consistently been tilting the ice every time he’s out there.”
Tulloch added that, “considering most of Toronto’s veteran defensemen have been on the wrong side of the ledger this season, it might be time to consider giving some of these talented young puck-movers a longer leash.”
I couldn’t agree more.
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