In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ Quick Hits, I’ll take a look at a couple of areas on the team to discuss how they are coming together to make the team more improved as it gets ready for engaging the postseason.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS SHOULD TRY MATTHEWS & NYLANDER ON THE PENALTY KILL
Quick Hit One: Maple Leafs Defense Is a Good Work in Progress
With all the newcomers brought in to strengthen the Maple Leafs’ defence, the team will have to undergo some adjustments to get their defence flowing smoothly. That will take some time. The recent acquisitions of Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe, and Erik Gustafsson before the trade deadline are excellent additions. However, it will be a bit of a challenge just seeing who plays well with whom.
But it’s a good challenge. According to Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, the team’s defence is now deeper than before. And, who’s to argue? That said, the standard for staying in a long postseason journey toward the Stanley Cup – and that’s the ultimate destination – is tough. The competition will get better and the stakes will be higher in every postseason series.
As I said, the new additions to the team have also been playing well. They give the team a lot of options. They also offer the coaching staff a number of decisions. The process is to work all of these out.
That’s a problem, but if I read coach Keefe correctly, it’s one I think he relishes. He seems quite willing (and I would guess excited – it’s fun) to piece together a bunch of moving parts.
However, it seems that there might be challenges in adjusting to the new roster. Defenseman Timothy Liljegren notes that the team will need to build chemistry with the new players. However, he’s confident that the team will figure it out. Liljegren is also confident these new players will fit into the group well.
Luke Schenn was absent from the team’s recent game because he is in Vancouver where his wife is expected to give birth. So far, in the small sample size he’s put up with the Maple Leafs, he’s been physical and has – as he’s been called before – been “the human eraser” because he clears the opposition away from the front of his own goalie.
Related: Maple Leafs’ Jarnkrok & Kampf Are Underappreciated
Quick Hit Two: Michael Bunting Shines in His Demotion
Michael Bunting scored his 20th goal of the season against the New Jersey Devils. He’s strong as a first-line partner with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but he’s far from a one-trick pony. Against New Jersey, he showed perseverance and the ability to make a positive impact on the game despite being demoted to the fourth line.
Bunting is a dedicated team player. And, he has the ability to stay focused on his role, which is unique to this team. During the Devils’ game especially, he showed his high hockey IQ when he was able to recognize the strengths of his teammates and make a smart play that led to the winning goal.
What makes Bunting such a good fit with this team is that he understands his role on the team and plays to his strengths. At the same time, he’s also aware of the strengths of others.
Quick Hit Three: No Question, Ilya Samsonov Is the Number One Goalie in Toronto
After starting the season 2-4-1 on the road Ilya Samsonov had a solid game in his win against the New Jersey Devils. That now makes four wins in his last six road starts. His road record is not 6-6-1.
Samsonov not only played a critical role in the road win against the Devils, but he’s also playing a critical role in a number of Maple Leafs’ recent wins. Against the Devils, during the first half of the game when the team was struggling in front of him, he shut the door tightly.
Although he did give up some goals later in the game, his strong performance early on helped keep the game from getting out of hand. His improving road record after a slow start to the season bodes well for the team’s postseason goals.
Overall, Samsonov’s contributions have been crucial to the Maple Leafs’ success in recent games. They will be crucial for the remainder of the season as well. He’s the number-one goalie until anyone does better.
Related: Maple Leafs Meet Oilers in Revenge Game: Who Will Win?