Bad news on the Matthew Knies front: He’s likely out for the series due to a concussion.
Matthew Knies has a concussion and will definitely miss Games 3 and 4, according to Sheldon Keefe. He's "unlikely to return in the series."
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 5, 2023
After the game last night, Sheldon Keefe honed in on the Sam Bennett cross-check on Michael Bunting with a comparison to the Auston Matthews cross-check on Rasmus Dahlin last year that resulted in a two-game suspension for Matthews, but the reality is that the incident Keefe offered “no comment” on — the Bennett takedown on Knies — was much, much worse. Not that a coach’s remarks will make a huge difference in the league’s decision-making, but the outrage should’ve been fixated on this incident.
Sam Bennett should get supplemental discipline for this but he probably won’t pic.twitter.com/IKFxA8a9cD
— Michael (@mic_mazz) May 5, 2023
Bennett knew exactly what he was doing here. He seized on the opportunity presented by the coming together of two players behind the net, acting as though it was a 50-50 wrestling match between willing participants when in reality, Knies didn’t engage as Bennett head-locked him and slammed him to the ice. It’s a dangerous, predatory act with a brutal outcome.
The high cross-check on Bunting, while also pretty dirty and reckless, was at least something of a hockey play in that they were battling for positioning in front of the net. This incident involving Knies could in no way be described as a hockey play, and Knies is now confirmed to be concussed and out for an indeterminate number of playoff games.
Bennett will walk away with nothing more than a fine for his troubles — a fine for an unrelated incident that wasn’t as serious. We’re talking about a net-front battle play in the case of the cross-check — quite a bit different than the Matthews vs. Dahlin circumstances if we’re honest — compared to a behind-the-play incident that resulted in a notable injury.
Sam Bennett gets a $5,000 fine for his cross-check on Michael Bunting, per @NHLPlayerSafety.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 5, 2023
Alas, the Maple Leafs will now proceed without a rookie forward who was a total unknown for them a few weeks ago — at least as far as his ability to immediately contribute to this postseason run — but very rapidly became an important piece in the top nine on the left wing. The Maple Leafs appeared to be one quality left-winger short after the trade deadline, but Knies was well on his way to filling this lineup hole for them during this playoff run.
While there have been a few learning moments in the defensive zone as expected, Knies has been a clear net positive with his ability to forecheck, puck protect, shake defenders, and create offensive opportunities for himself and his linemates. The Leafs have out-scored the opposition 7-3 over all situations with Knies on the ice, and he’s been out there for a number of big goals late in games and in overtime, including the Game 6 OT winner that punched the Leafs‘ ticket to the second round (he won a battle down low along the wall and cycled the puck to John Tavares just before the winner). A nice finish in Game 1 for his first NHL goal felt like it was a long time coming; he’s quickly earned the coach’s trust and the opportunity to complement the team’s best players at times.
The Leafs will now either need to bump Alex Kerfoot into the top nine and re-insert Zach Aston-Reese, or consider the 11 and 7 option, which likely just became a lot more appealing in light of a number of factors:
– ZAR has averaged just over seven minutes of ice time with no points, a minus-two, and three shots on goal in his last four playoff games in addition to poor underlying numbers.
– Timothy Liljegren struggled in Game 2 and played less than 13 minutes, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Justin Holl or Erik Gustafsson tagged in as an extra.
– The team has scored only two goals in four straight games while continuing to trail a lot more than it leads. 11/7 allows Keefe to mix and match a little more — on the road without last change/matchup control — and find more offensive opportunities for his star scoring talent from the beginning of the game in addition to perhaps adding a little more offensive prowess from the backend if Gustafsson is inserted into the lineup.
If there is any kind of silver lining to this, maybe this Knies injury on top of the two mistake-laden losses on home ice will piss the Leafs off that little extra heading out on the road. It’s a do-or-die Game 3, and they’ll need to play like it.