Here’s the third edition of NHLTradeTalk’s Maple Leafs’ short shots, where I’m going to try to give Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans a collection of little “shots” of news and commentary about news emerging from the team.
As a writer who covers the Maple Leafs every day, these little “shots” just seem to get collected as notes. Here I share them with readers. In this post, I’m going to look at the line matches that were tweeted out of the Maple Leafs’ practice today and offer commentary about what I think this lineup might mean to the playoffs.
One note, however; with Frederik Andersen playing Wednesday, this twittered team lineup can’t happen until the playoffs. With Andersen in the lineup, someone has to sit; and, that someone is Zach Hyman. So what you see here is a glimpse – I believe – of the playoffs and not what will happen during the last two games of the regular season.
A Look at the Playoff Lineup?
I think the Maple Leafs gave us all a sense of what their playoff lineup might start to look like during practice today. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston tweeted that the healthier Maple Leafs’ roster came with some new looks during today’s practice. As he tweeted, this is what the roster might look like moving forward.
Top-Line: Zach Hyman-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Second-Line: Nick Foligno-John Tavares-William Nylander
Third-Line: Alex Kerfoot-Riley Nash-Ilya Mikheyev
Fourth-Line: Joe Thornton-Jason Spezza-Wayne Simmonds
Top-Pairing: Morgan Rielly-T.J. Brodie
Second-Pairing: Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl
Third-Pairing: Ben Hutton-Travis Dermott
Alex Galchenyuk, Pierre Engvall, Rasmus Sandin, Mac Hollowell, David Rittich
Six Thoughts about this Lineup
Thought One: No Surprise about Hyman
It’s no surprise that Hyman was moved back to his first-line position. He’s a perfect partner for Matthews and Marner. He digs; they score. And, Hyman scores as well – and not just secondary assists that he could rack up by moving the puck to Marner to – then – onto the stick of Matthews. Although Hyman would be great anywhere – especially running his own third line – I’m thinking Hyman keeps the top-line tough.
Thought Two: Foligno as “Hyman Lite”
Second, in a way, the low-hanging fruit was to leave Galchenyuk with Tavares and Nylander. But Foligno might be “Hyman Lite” with the second unit. He’s a steady presence for Nylander – who was really happy when Simmonds was lifted to the second line – that gave Nylander more space to float. I know lots of Maple Leafs’ fans are critical of Nylander for that reason, but it’s his strength and I think the team is better when they create space for Nylander to operate.
Thought Three: Line Three Is a Shutdown Line
Moving Nash to the center of the third line with Mikheyev and Kerfoot truly makes the third line a shutdown line. That’s something even prior to the season that Keefe had mentioned – the importance of a shutdown third line. I think that talk surprised some Maple Leafs’ fans then. Given the new players to the lineup, the expectation was that head coach Sheldon Keefe would speak about the glory – the high-scoring top six. Instead, he focused on the guts.
That focus has paid off this season. The Maple Leafs on the whole is playing such better defense than it’s played during the other seasons I’ve covered the team. I think Nash could prove himself to be a really valuable piece of the trade that brought Foligno the team. He’s a veteran defensive forward, and that matters.
Thought Four: A Bit of a Surprise about Galchenyuk
I think Galchenyuk has played well in a top-six role. Moving Galchenyuk and Engvall to the status of extras will be another test for these two players. I think it’s a move Keefe is likely to start with during the playoffs. However, I know both Galchenyuk and Engvall were “conversed with” about not letting up on the gas – and they responded.
It will be motivating for the young duo – Galchenyuk is 27 and Engvall is 24. Both are speedy and can add to the depth of the Maple Leafs forward position. They’ll play during the playoffs.
Thought Five: What’s the Story with Sandin?
Fifth, except for Zach Bogosian being out, everything seems as it should be on defense. But moving Hutton to the third-pairing instead of Sandin is interesting. It might be that this won’t be the young Swede’s season. Then again it will be interesting to see what kind of playoff game action Sandin gets.
Thought Six: I Love the Old Guys’ Line
I really love this fourth line. It allows the veterans to play their minutes and still contribute offensively. Spezza has shown he can drive the offense himself and win big faceoffs. Thornton can pass. Simmonds can disrupt. They can also be put on the power-play unit without disruption of their regular shifts. This is a line I’ll watch during the playoffs.
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