A post-game trade got our minds off of a tough loss for the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

We’ll start with some thoughts on the deal and then dedicate the remaining points to tonight’s 6-3 loss to the Blues.

Your game in 10:

1.  Kyle Dubas sure likes himself a February trade!

We were mostly thinking the Leafs were going to have to suck it up and spend a mid-round pick to offload Nick Ritchie’s contract; to also get two pieces back at RHD and LW that might be of use to the team this season at the cost of a 2025 second rounder (or 2023 third-rounder) is tidy business.

Ryan Dzingel’s contract is fully buriable if they went the waivers route, so it clears off all of the dead weight from the books this season, and it completely frees up the $2.5 million left on Ritchie’s deal in 2022-23. That’s the main benefit of the deal.

2.  Ideally, Ilya Lyubushkin can provide a Zach Bogosian-like element they can use on the bottom-pairing next to Rasmus Sandin. For cap reasons, maybe Timothy Liljegren has to rotate out for now, but on the merits, I’d argue Justin Holl should be just as much in the conversation in terms of rotating in and out of the lineup with this Lyubushkin addition especially knowing the Leafs‘ new add has played over 2.5 minutes a game on the penalty kill this season (and is right handed).

The awkward part about Sandin-Lyubushkin with Holl in the top six is that Muzzin-Holl seems to be a thing of the past for now (for good reason), and a Muzzin-Lyubushkin pairing is probably asking too much of Lyubushkin.

If the Leafs can’t carry eight defensemen with their cap constraints, the easy move roster-management wise is sending down Liljegren, but it’s pretty unfair to the player to leave him out for an extended period of time — it also might well be sacrificing your ability to play your best six — on the balance of his overall performance level this season.

Again, because Dzingel earns $1.1 million, they could just waive him and carry eight defensemen for the time being. There is plenty of logic in that; you need at least that many NHL defensemen for any kind of lengthy playoff run.

That said, Dzingel circa 2017-19 — who combined his moxie, a good motor, and finishing ability to the tune of back-to-back 20+ goal seasons — would have been a good LW fit for the Leafs on the Tavares line. Whether he still has that kind of game, and if the Leafs give him that kind of opportunity (in the Galchenyuk spot, so to speak) is a big question mark.

Bumping Alex Kerfoot onto a line with David Kampf and Ondrej Kase while creating a fourth-line with Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev would create really solid depth throughout the lineup.

If Dzingel isn’t part of the solution at LW, they can add somebody who can be the impact forward they’re looking for before the deadline, but ideally, they could find out about Dzingel if the cap situation will allow for it.

Obviously, there is a lot still to be sorted out here.

3.  This game tonight reminded me a bit of the 5-2 loss in Calgary on February 10 and the 6-3 loss in New York on January 19, which also had a good pace and physical edge to them. The Leafs had more than enough puck possession and offensive-zone time, and in this game, they even scored enough at five-on-five — all three goals came at evens. They carried a decided advantage in the shot attempts and expected goals (60%), but they made critical mistakes defensively and were out-goaltended. The pick plays, clutching and grabbing, and other forms of interference were going uncalled, so they didn’t get much in the way of power-play opportunities (0 for 1).

4.  The Blues are in many ways a challenging foil for the Leafs. They’re comfortable defending, where they’re physical and hard to play through in the defensive zone; it’s difficult to get off the wall against them and into the net-front area without fighting for every inch and taking a lot of abuse. They’re also potent counter punchers off the rush if you aren’t really careful and organized in your transition defense, which the Leafs got caught out on a number of times.

There were a number of shifts where I was encouraged by how the likes of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander battled and played through contact to get to the scoring areas, although Nylander’s two goals did come off the rush. It was also positive to see the third line (+ TJ Brodie) contribute a goal with a point shot through traffic in front. It’s not that they were shut down offensively by any means, but you can’t give up five at even strength and expect to win.

5.  It was an off night for the Leafs’ most dependable defense pairing this season. TJ Brodie partially made up for it with his goal — he also had one of his patented, perfectly-played 2v1 sweep checks against Buchnevich — but he made a bad read on the 3-2 goal to step up towards the wall and attempt a play on the puck with a numerical disadvantage; he also turned it over up the boards prior to the 5-3 goal.

Morgan Rielly also wasn’t doing the pair any favours on either goal, playing the pass across awkwardly on the 3-2 goal and then failing to take care of O’Reilly’s stick on the 5-3 goal.

6.  The Leafs are now up to eight bench penalties this season, second-worst in the NHL, after their too-many-men penalty late in the first period. Sheldon Keefe was content to mostly chalk it up to flukey circumstances a few weeks ago, but there has to be something to it in terms of instilling a little more awareness and attention to detail in the players coming off of the bench. Nylander just failed to read the situation entirely as he stepped onto the ice and played the puck without a St. Louis player within 100 feet of him.

7.  Really good to see William Nylander break through and bump his slump in a big way after so many missed opportunities on breakaways and odd-man rushes during his eight-game stretch without a goal.

That said, it seems like the Tavares line is finding ways to give anything it produces right back at five-on-five of late.

They had several good workmanlike offensive-zone shifts in the first period and struck twice off the rush (which were due rewards). But they allowed Colton Parayko to walk in off the point and make a play to the backdoor for an easy goal on the game-winner, and they were caught out on the 5-3 as well — the latter was more on TJ Brodie and Morgan Rielly, to be clear.

8.  Tonight, the John Tavares line was the only Leafs line not to break even in shot attempts and shot share. They’ve been outscored 7-3 at even strength in the month of February with a 49.1% expected goals share. In over 300 minutes together this season, they are hovering just above break-even with 17 goals for and 15 against and a 51% shot attempt share.

It’s a line with an $11 million center and $7 million right-winger who are on pace for 80 points each. The primary matchup attention on this team falls on Matthews and Marner. They’ve had very encouraging segments within games, including tonight, but the overall results should be better at five on five.

Does the coaching staff take the opportunity to shake up the middle part of their lineup with the Dzingel addition? Either Dzingel – Tavares – Kase / Kerfoot – Kampf – Nylander or Dzingel – Tavares – Nylander / Kerfoot – Kampf – Kase could be worth a look. Not sure if it’s possible at the moment within the constraints of the cap.

9.  Jack Campbell has now had 12 starts (out of 18) since the beginning of December where he has given up three-plus goals. In seven of those 18, he’s allowed four or more, and most concerningly, he’s given up five goals in five of his last 11 starts.

Mostly, he was left out to dry tonight — two backdoor plays, one 2v1 play where he made the initial save then had little chance, one difficult redirect. But there was the 1-0 goal where the rebound control wasn’t good enough and it was definitely on him — it wasn’t a hard low shot off the far pad where a goalie is handcuffed; it was high enough into his blocker region where he should have done better.

10.  Somewhat quietly, and largely masked by how good their penalty kill/special teams have been, the Leafs’ goals-against rates have been ballooning since the new year.

Their 3.11 goals against since January 1st ranks 21st in the league — not great — and if we look at 5v5 goals against, they’re 28th — ahead of only Montreal, Columbus, New Jersey and Arizona, and just behind San Jose, Philadelphia, and Detroit. That isn’t the kind of company you want to keep, and we are closing in on a 20-game sample now in 2022.

It goes without saying they’re going to need to find more stability on their bottom two pairings and get better than .889 goaltending at 5v5 (that’s their save percentage at evens since the new year) down the stretch heading into such a difficult playoff path.

The numbers suggest it’s mostly goaltending-related; the Leafs are top 10 in expected goals against per 60, top five in high-danger chances against per 60, and 30th in the NHL in 5v5 save percentage in 2022. That said, my eye test isn’t quite as convinced it’s only on the netminding.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Blues 6 vs. Leafs 3