Anthony Petrielli joined Sportsnet Tonight on Sunday to discuss the state of the Leafs defense without Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott among other Leafs topics.
On the Leafs disposing of the Sabres on Saturday night:
It seems like the Leafs have kind of got into their groove a little bit at home recently. The win against Montreal in Toronto last weekend would be another good example. The Edmonton game was almost over at puck drop this week. It was just nice to see them playing well at home because home ice is still up for grabs and it’d be nice if the Leafs actually get it and make it a feared place to come play in the playoffs.
On the importance of home ice versus Boston:
I think it is pretty important just because I can’t imagine the series being a quick one. It looks like a six- or seven-gamer. I think we’ve seen this show before. You don’t want to go to Boston for Game 7. That is pretty much where home ice is coming into play. I don’t think it is be all, end all in the first four games of the series and potentially even Game 5, but how much confidence would really anybody have at this point with Toronto going into Boston in a Game 7. That is pretty much where I think home ice is at for that series.
On the injury bug striking the team with the losses of Gardiner and Dermott:
Nazem Kadri is also out, and that one seems to be in quietly concerning territory where it’s a concussion and now he’s starting to miss a bunch of time, although I know he is with the team and has been skating. You never know with those.
The defense… some of it is just unfortunate because Calle Rosen I believe at the time of injury was leading all AHL defensemen in scoring and he is also hurt right now. It would’ve been nice to get a look at him and just kind of see what they have. They signed him for next year. I think they’re plan is to play him next year. This would have been a great chance to kind of see what he is all about while his confidence is sky high — the best possible time to be playing hockey and making a name for yourself, kind of like what Andreas Johnsson did last year when he came up.
Their defense, by and large, is going to be just plugging guys in, as we’ve seen with Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov, and Martin Marincin and just sort of hoping they hold the fort. It is fine against teams like the Buffalo Sabres, but you kind of saw it against a team like the Islanders how they struggled. The Islanders forechecked them really well. I thought their whole defense, 1-6, looked really bad that game against a good team. We haven’t really gotten a great feel for it because, again, the Oilers also are not a good team. Once they start playing better teams down the stretch, I think it kind of exposes quite a few different things not only on the defense but the way the forwards are configured.
On the value of Gardiner in particular and the Leafs‘ defense without him:
Their top four is really not that good without him. It’s really not good, period, end of sentence. That makes their first pair Morgan Rielly – Ron Hainsey. Rielly is having a good year and Hainsey is a good vet but not a top pairing guy by any means. Their second pair is Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitsev, two guys who have strong aspects to both of their games — in particular, Muzzin — but neither one of those guys carries a pair in terms of puck movement and moving the puck up ice. Their kind of skill, passing, vision — neither of those guys do, and that’s their top four right now. I thought we saw that against the Islanders, in particular.
That shot in the arm that Travis Dermott kind of brings, and I know Gardiner had a really good Game 7 last year, but up until that point, he’s actually been a pretty strong player for him in the playoffs. When they had the double-overtime game against Washington, he and Rielly played 40 minutes each that game or something outrageous and he was really good for the Leafs they played against Boston in 2013. I think he had like five points in six games. He was having a pretty good series against Boston up until Game 7. It wasn’t him out there getting run over by the Bergeron line. It was the Rielly – Hainsey pairing. I get it — he has warts to his game, and there are quite of things that are visually unappealing with what he brings, but he eats minutes. He is easily a 40+ point defenseman and he moves the puck. Those are hard things to find and you’re seeing it against a team like the Islanders, who are a good playoff team right now and they can forecheck. The Leafs couldn’t move their puck out of their zone cleanly.