Toronto Maple Leafs: Rielly and Gardiner’s stellar seasons

EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Jake Gardiner
EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 30: Jake Gardiner /

The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 on Monday night, as they matched a franchise record for points in a season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs extended a team record on Monday night at the ACC, as the 5-2 victory over the Sabres represented their 48th win of the regular season. However, the evening was also special for another reason.

Jake Gardiner recorded his 45th assist and 50th overall point of the season, to join Morgan Rielly in the 50-point defencemen club and extend his point streak to five games. This is the first time two Leafs defencemen recorded 50+ points in a season since Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle did it in 2006-2007.

Both Gardiner (5G & 45A) and Rielly (6G & 45A) have had stellar offensive seasons. They both quarterback the offensive machine that is the Leafs’ power play and use their skating to open up scoring chances.

Growing up on numerous ponds in Minnesota has certainly helped Gardiner with his skating. He’s quick on his feet and uses it to break away from forecheckers to get the puck out of his zone.

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At times, he seems to temporarily lose his mind and make bone-headed mistakes, but those instances are becoming less frequent. It also helps that he has a world-class goalie backing him up in Frederik Andersen.

Rielly did not have a great campaign last season. He missed games to injury and his partner was constantly changing, as the Leafs tried to figure out the ideal pairings. Before, Rielly was the guy who was expected to always be back to support and to think defence first.

With the acquisition of Ron Hainsey, Rielly has finally experienced consistency for the first time in his career. Hainsey is a responsible veteran who allows Rielly to let loose and use his creativity to create chances. He has allowed Rielly to use what makes him such a valuable player and the team is reaping the rewards.

Hainsey’s acquisition in the summer was widely criticized, due to the term and his age. However, all he’s been for Toronto so far is a pot of gold.

Hainsey is the Leafs’ most important penalty killer and has stabilized all of the pairings. The consistency of playing with the same player night in and night out (Hainsey-Rielly and Gardiner-Nikita Zaitsev) has helped build chemistry, and he is a big but underrated reason why Rielly and Gardiner have been able to flourish this season.

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Gardiner and Rielly are integral pieces of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ future. They have seen and experienced scorched earth and are not willing to have it happen again. At the ripe ages of 27 and 24 respectively, they are already strong locker room presences.