Move over EBUG controversy, the Toronto Maple Leafs just put together a huge effort to protect their playoff spot and star goalie with a bunch of defensemen who shouldn’t even still be on the team.
For a team that couldn’t beat a Zamboni driver in goal on Saturday, the Leafs looked potent offensively, sound defensively, and motivated to take two points from an equally lopsided Panthers squad.
The only problem for the Buds was their defensive pairings. Reminiscent of a split-squad team that was clearly the B team, the crew’s depth was on display here:
Dermott – Holl
Sandin – Barrie
Marincin – Liljegren
The seven-man core consists of the injury-prone next big thing (Dermott), our should-be seventh defenseman (Holl), our best Marlies D (Sandin), should-have-been-traded guy (Barrie), Shouldn’t-have-a-contract-guy (Marincin), our second-best Marlie (Liljegren), and a member of the Colorado Avalanche (Rosen). What a team.
To compound issues, Frederick Andersen had one of the worst periods of hockey in his life. With awful rebound control, less-than-usual edge work, and uncharacteristic swimming in his crease, Andersen channelled prime James Reimer with similar results.
A vote of confidence from the head coach to start him in the second (not a popular opinion) saw Andersen settle eventually, but not without near-constant bailing out by his rag-tag group of defensemen. Yes, the replacements showed up and actually looked like a solid group of players.
The biggest improvements in the D-core were their patience on the puck, willingness to turn back and retain possession, and ability to work with their backchecking forwards to section off any Panthers pressure. Timely pinching was also on display regularly, with extra motivated teammates coving back and offensive zone possession limiting defensive zone time.
Capped off with an empty-net goal by newly crowned shutdown defender Justin Holl, the wobbling puck that somehow tracked into the vacant goal showed that the Hockey Gods don’t fulfill lofty wishes, but rather guide justified results from ice level for hardworking efforts.
Honestly, the Leafs getting any sort of performance from these players tonight was unlikely, but keeping Florida to under 30 shots on a night where Freddy didn’t have it? It’s a narrative so unlikely the David Ayres story will drift into oblivion. Move over, Zamboni EBUG, the replacements are here, and they’re aiming for the playoffs.