The Toronto Maple Leafs would have had every reason to have a letdown performance against the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night with Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen out of the lineup.
Instead, the team put forth their best 60-minute effort and held the NHL’s top-scoring duo off the scoresheet while not sacrificing their offence as well. Of course, what should be on everyone’s mind is what the team does as a follow-up Monday night.
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This has been a fixation of the Leafs’ gameplan considering the team’s defence has improved significantly this season. Look no further than how they were able to keep things in check with Michael Hutchinson being called into action.
What’s been impressive about the Leafs’ defensive play is that they have found a way to be effective without being overly physical. Instead, the effectiveness has come from blocking shots, staying on top of and slowing down opposing players.
"“We have to continue to have the level of commitment defensively when the puck changes hands,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said to reporters Sunday. “We’ve got to be in really good spots and look to slow them down when we can.“There are only so many things you can do as a group. Sometimes, the best players are going to have an off-night, and those guys have had a lot of nights when they’ve been on.”"
You can see that this team is more committed to playing as a unit than they have in the past. At times, there has been too much reliance on Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to lead the way offensively.
Saturday’s game showed that as long as all four lines continue to put in the work to be responsible at both ends, they will be rewarded. Whether or not that means this lineup sticks around a bit longer remains to be seen but it’s tough to mess with a winning lineup.
Toronto Maple Leafs: No need to rush Matthews or Andersen back from injury
Make no mistake, the Leafs are a better team with Auston Matthews in the lineup but it won’t help the team if his wrist injury continues to be a problem. The same can be said for Frederik Andersen which usually hasn’t been the case.
Both Matthews and Frederik Andersen were at practice Sunday while Jack Campbell was given the day off. Keefe made it seem like the team wanted to keep Campbell some rest considering his lengthy absence but it seems like Andersen isn’t any closer to returning.
"“Between Campbell and Fred and their situations, we’ve got a lot of things to sort through here that I don’t suspect will get sorted out until tomorrow,” Keefe said. “It’s not looking [like Andersen will be available] if we’re being honest, but with his injury, basically where we’re at here now is just waiting for him to be comfortable. Today, he was on the ice for the better part of an hour, and took lots of shots, so we’re essentially just waiting for him to feel comfortable.”"
When it comes to Matthews, he was seen as an extra skater at practice which is promising considering he has been absent the past few days. The team hasn’t ruled him out yet but unless things improved significantly for him, Matthews likely misses Monday’s game.
Regardless, the Leafs don’t seem desperate to rush any of their players back from injuries. Considering the six-point lead they have in the North Division, Toronto should be comfortable giving other players a chance to prove themselves.
What do you think about the Leafs’ play of late? Is it something they can sustain? Let us know in the comments below.