MAPLE LEAFS (19-24-9)
9:00 pm (TSN4)
The battle for last place is on as the Leafs are set to take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the Rexall Centre.
— PengellyInk (@pengellyink) January 27, 2016
With captain Dion Phaneuf being dealt hours before their game against the Calgary Flames, the Leafs are starting to feel the pain that was promised at the beginning of the season. Coming off a 4-3 loss to the Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan-less Flames, the Leafs turn their attention to Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers as their struggles continue.
The Oilers are coming off a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils. While it was a close game, it was definitely a better effort for them after a slew of ugly losses to the Montreal Canadiens (5-1 loss) and New York Islanders (8-1 loss). In three games, the Oilers have allowed 15 goals and were only able to notch 3 goals. After scoring 12 in two games (Columbus and Ottawa) before this, and the return of phenom Connor McDavid, it seems things might be turning around for the Oilers. Yet, they’re still tied with the Maple Leafs for last place in the league.
Everyone expected this team to possibly rise up in the standings. Yet, they are still dealing with the same things that have made them a basement dweller the past few years.
While McDavid has shown no signs of rust after missing three months with a broken clavicle (seven points in five games since his return), his linemates Jordan Eberle (six points in five games) and Benoit Pouliot (six points in five games) have benefited greatly from his return as well.
For Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl, things could be better. Hall only has two assists since the All-Star break and Draisaitl has seemed to have cooled down after having a significant impact in the first half of the season. Since February 2nd, Draisaitl has two goals and one assist, and is a minus four in his last three games.
The Leafs have turned a new leaf and are on a new path without captain Dion Phaneuf. With Phaneuf gone there are three key factors that will impact the team.
One, the Leafs got rid of the last of three massive contracts (other two being David Clarkson and Phil Kessel) and gained some cap flexibility. Two, it gives two of the Leafs budding young defenders more of an opportunity to show that they belong on the team. Last but not least, it gives them the ability to increase their position in the draft order. Let’s face it, the losses will happen.
Going back to factor number two, it’s now the perfect chance for Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly to rise to the occasion and take the next step forward. With Phaneuf gone, this is now their blue line. They will see more ice time and for Rielly, it’s another chance for him to show that he’s the team’s number one defenseman for the future.
Gardiner averaged almost 26 minutes of ice time in his first game without Phaneuf and tallied a goal in the 4-3 loss to the Flames. Rielly was a minus two, but averaged 22:31 of ice time.
In total ice per game, Rielly averages 22:19 while Gardiner was 19:34. With the departure of Phaneuf and with Roman Polak possibly on the way out, those ice time totals and responsibility will only increase as they try to man the blue line the rest of the year and for years to come.
One thing is for sure, while the defense may look younger, it’s definitely a sign for fans to get excited about Rielly and Gardiner getting more of an opportunity on the ice.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hunwick – Rielly
Gardiner – Polak
Marincin – Corrado
Gdiff (5v5) — -15
Gdiff (All) — -24
CF% (5v5) — 50.6
PP% — 15.4
PK% — 80.9
Gdiff (5v5) — -27
Gdiff (All) — -33
CF% (5v5) — 48.7
PP% — 18.4
PK% — 79.6