Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Ian Tulloch joined Game Day on TSN1050 to discuss the team’s low-scoring loss to Edmonton.
On the team’s play in their loss to the Oilers:
How long have we been begging the Leafs to play good defense? They’ve finally done it in the last couple of games. Part of me wants to feel good because McDavid didn’t create anything off of the rush against the Leafs. At the same time, you look at the Leafs‘ performance in the offensive zone, and they won’t able to create anything. It felt like they were living on the perimeter, circling the wagon again and again. Last night wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from the Leafs, but they might be better defensively than they have been in previous years.
Some of the takeaways we can get from last night: If you look at the Leafs roster right now, it is kind of top heavy. You look at the top two lines, especially now that Joe Thornton is injured, and I imagine Zach Hyman comes into the top six. The top six is super strong. You have your top players and some complementary wingers there. On defense, all of sudden, you’ve got two defense pairs you can trust. I can’t remember the last time I’ve said that as a Leaf fan. You have the Rielly-Brodie pairing that you like, and the Muzzin-Holl pairing that you like.
It’s the bottom half of the lineup that is a bit of a concern. The team seems to be built a bit more defensively. They’ve allocated the resources from the third line to the blue line to add TJ Brodie. The depth scoring might be a bit of an issue this year. They’re really going to have to lean on their top six to get some offense.
Now that they’re going to top load the lineup, we should see a lot more Tavares and Nylander at even strength. They haven’t been top loading the power play — one with Thornton and Simmonds on it — and I am not loving it. Last year, they top-loaded the top unit with their four superstar forwards on offense and Rielly on defense, and I think it is the way to go long term. Now, with the Thornton injury, they might.
On the loss of Thornton and the team’s forward depth:
At the bottom half of the lineup, this is the weakest Leafs forward group we have seen in the last few years. For a while, they had NHL players who weren’t able to make the lineup because they had too many good forwards. Now we are looking at a third line with Wayne Simmonds or wondering if Pierre Engvall is coming into the lineup, or if Barabanov is back, or if Jimmy Vesey is going to play on a line with Matthews and Marner… But you do have to roll with the punches with the injuries to Robertson and Thornton.
I think Pierre Engvall might have to play. How many [depth] players on the Leafs, if we are talking forwards, can transition the puck from defense to offense right now? In that Edmonton game, they were skating into a neutral zone trap and no one could slice through it. Morgan Rielly was able to jump up in the rush a couple of times and create off the rush. We saw William Nylander slice through the netural zone trap. But I am looking at Jimmy Vesey and Wayne Simmonds — these role players they have added — and they don’t have that puck transporting ability. As much as Pierre Engvall can frustrate it us in certain areas of the game, he can carry the puck from defense to offense.
He makes a bit more money than you’d like when you look at the salary cap situation, but I think he can provide some value right now, especially at even strength.