Leafs must rely on new-found offensive juggernaut to beat Kings

The California road trip isn’t what it used to be, but the Leafs proved in San Jose that if you don’t show up you’ll still get slapped. However, can leaning on a new offensive beast be the key to success vs. the Kings?

So who is this new juggernaut the Leafs can lean on? Is it Auston Matthews? Nope, while he’s the best 5-on-5 scoring forward in the league, this isn’t new and he’s hardly a secret. Is it Tyson Barrie? Nope. Sure, he’s been trending up in recent weeks with more assists and playing time, but that’s been his game for all of his career!

So, who is it?

Pencil in a point for ya boy Marty Marincin, because this Slovakian king can’t keep his name off the scoresheet! If the three-game point streak for Marincin is proving anything it’s that if you give anyone enough opportunity something eventually will happen.

The saddest part about this three-game point streak is that it pushes his season (24 games) total to four points, spread out with one goal and three helpers. His other point not included in this streak came in the loss to Pittsburgh on the 18th of February, breaking an 18 game pointless streak prior to that game.

His goal against Vancouver was a very nice play to be fair to the player and showed some hustle as Marincin followed up his shot on goal pot his own rebound past Thatcher Demko. Okay, to be fair the goal itself is a comedy of errors from the Canucks defence just letting him stroll in and shoot, and Demko getting beat twice by Marincin.

Still, Marincin is a key player in this replacements level defence for the Leafs right now. With Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci on the mend and Jake Muzzin right behind them, the D-core will be back up and running at full capacity soon, eventually reducing his role.

This will end the spell of greatness for Marincin as an everyday starter, but we can all look back fondly on his one goal and three-game (plus?) point streak with loving adoration of what was, and thankfully look at our roster and appreciate that is isn’t any longer.

Plus, he’ll be a key player (unfortunately) for the Leafs in Hollywood tonight, and is PRIMED to stay in the points and extend the most unlikely streak in the NHL.

Starting the season with Ceci and Marincin isn’t the end of the world

The Leafs quest to fulfill wantaway defenseman Nikita Zaitsev’s trade request appears to have been completed. Pending a July 1st bonus payout, Zaitsev should be off to Ottawa for the rights to RFA Cody Ceci. Oh, and they resigned Martin Marincin for defensive depth as well.

A messy situation with Ceci

On paper, the deal seems like a solid swap. The Leafs lose their right-shot D and pick one in return, however, this isn’t the case. Firstly, Toronto will likely have to add in a sweetener, suspected to be Connor Brown or a draft pick by Bob Mckenzie. And secondly, Ceci may be asked to waive his arbitration rights to turn him into a UFA and clear his potential cap hit off the Leafs books.

This is a real inside hockey trade and we have the damn salary cap to thank for that. Ideally, in my eyes, Ceci would just sign a deal with Toronto at a less-than-Zaitsev cap hit, locking up a starting position on the right side of the D-core. This seems unlikely, however, as he is made $4.3m last season with the Sens.

Original speculation about Ceci waiving his arb rights has seemed to cool off. Darren Dreger is now reporting that the Leafs could see Ceci sign for $5m and could extend him further in January if he impresses Babcock, Dubas and the rest of the team with his first half pay. If we want to draw some conclusions from this, it seems like Brown will be gone in this deal, and Nazem Kadri might be off, too.

Martin Marincin… really?

I really thought we were done with this guy after his contract expired at the end of last season. I don’t trust him, he plays the left side, he isn’t better than half of the Marlies defensemen, and I’d rather get burned on giving a new player a chance or signing a player to a PTO than taking the unenigmatic bird in the hand that Marincin is.

That being said, Babcock seems to like him and with Ron Hainsey garnering a ton of interest, maybe this is Dubas’ appeasement to his head coach who is losing all of his favorite players.

I will say this, Marincin had a solid World Hockey Championships this summer with Slovakia. The Leafs are also pigeon-holed into putting stock into this tournament with Nylander excelling at it, so that is a positive. Regardless. Marincin is a cheap option at $700k and the Leafs know all of his limitations as a player. He’ll likely be the seventh defenseman on this team and won’t likely be touched should he get sent to the Marlies.

Overall, I don’t know what to think. Marincin resigning is disappointing but possibly just cover for what will be a green and young defensive core. Ceci in return for Zaitsev is extremely high risk. The Leafs could have a solid, producing right-shot defenseman for years to come, they could get caught in cap hell, or they could flip him to another GM to try and sign. Either way, Monday will be fun.

Garret Sparks, it’s Not Your Fault; Leafs Lose Big in Defensive Catastrophy

The Maple Leafs were (maybe predictably) slaughtered at Nassau Coliseum after Islanders fans embarrass themselves about John Tavares’s return. Nothing is fair and just, and the hockey Gods don’t exist. Oh, and Sparks wasn’t to blame.

Recap

Islanders 6 Maple Leafs 1. Pretty telling of the performance by the Buds and also that there is no justice in the hockey world. Islanders fans kept true to their idiotic word, chanting: “we don’t need you”, and “asshole” among other creative jibes while throwing jerseys and rubber snakes on the ice.

Just as a reminder, Tavares left in free agency after playing nine seasons for the New York Islanders. What a dick, right?

Anyways, it wasn’t terrible from the start as Zach Hyman got the scoring started. Hainsey’s point shot was deflected by Marner to Hyman who was able to bounce it in over Robin Lehner for the opener. Other than a disallowed second from Hyman, the Leafs offense ended there.

They still forced Lehner to make 34 saves in the game, but the intensity of the fans was matched by a tenacious Islanders team who were motivated to repay the Long Island faithful with a marquee performance. And they did.

Diving in on a shaky Garret Sparks

What would follow Hyman’s opener was six unanswered goals. Many are pointing the finger at backup goalie Garret Sparks but is that fair? Here’s my assessment of each goal and who was to blame for it:

1st goal: Anthony Beauvillier – 3 on 1 break, Sparks hung out to dry by Muzzin who decided to make a hit instead of keeping the puck in or, ya know, playing defense.
2nd goal: Anders Lee – Rielly gambles on center ice hit that he doesn’t land, Johnsson and Hainsey don’t communicate, leaving Lee opened in front for a half-empty net. Sparks not to blame either.
3rd goal: Casey Cizikas – Bad miss on a simple pass to Muzzin, soft on the stick by Ennis, but you need your goalie to make the simple stick down save there. Not entirely his fault, but it’s a savable shot.
4th goal: Valtteri Filppula – It’s a save that Andersen usually makes, but Marincin and Holl make an absolute mess out of this. Holl rushes to cover the Filppula in front, Marincin also does, Ladd is able to rush the net and shoot, both players lose Filppula and he ends up scoring. Sparks rebound control wasn’t great here but had zero help in front.
5th goal: Nick Leddy – Weird tip in front. No one really to blame on this one, this shot misses the net 9/10.
6th goal: Brock Nelson – Sparks easily abandons the top of the net on a post play which allows Nelson to score it. Again, Andersen makes this save but Marincin makes an idiotic pinch, then just chooses not to cover his man and goes back post where Rielly already is.

Upon further review…

From my initial watching, I was glaringly mad at Sparks. It was another start, another shaky performance, and I was ready to point the finger. Looking back on it, however, this game plays out very differently if Jake Muzzin plays better and Martin Marincin is nowhere near the team.

It’s a shame that Babcock didn’t deviate from his plan of playing Andersen the first game in every back-to-back for this one game. That being said, the players on the ice let Tavares down, as well as their backup goalie.

The Sparks criticism is certainly warranted, but only for maybe 3 of the 6 goals against. He wasn’t outstanding as we all really expected, but take your own look back on the goals, Sparks gets hung out to dry – a lot.

Overall…

It’s a shame for Tavares, but this game clearly meant more to the opposition than it did to his Leafs. Toronto isn’t playing playoff games in February, but the Islanders are. This was their Stanley Cup. Congratulations, I guess.

It’s two points a month before the playoffs start, so it’s important, but there isn’t much you can draw from this game other than it being a one-off. The Leafs were outplayed but judging by recent form and results, this game isn’t a barometer of games to come.

Leafs Forced to use Three Second-Stringers in John Tavares’ Return to Long Island

Jake Gardiner – Out, Travis Dermott – Out, Frederick Andersen – resting. Thing’s are a little lean on the back end for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they visit Tavares’ old home in Long Island.

New Third Pair

Ahead of the second game in the back-to-back the Leafs are shuffling their defensive lines a little more and mixing in players as much as they can it would seem. Martin Marincin has been called up to pair with Justin Holl as the bottom two for the Leafs defense.

It’s an interesting move for Mike Babcock, to not pair each new player off with a veteran, but rather pair them together. I understand, however, the desire to keep your greenest defenders on a pair that you can minute-manage for the entirety of the game.

The Gardiner injury saw Igor Ozhiganov return to the lineup after a months absence and he played well. Ozhiganov finished with an empty stat line and 15:08 if ice time. While underwhelming, it’s a positive; Igor showed he can seamlessly return to the team and put in a solid effort.

Justin Holl

Ozhiganov did well, but there is no need to rush him into what looks to be a high intensity back-to-back. Justin Holl, the Leafs OTHER extra defenseman will get the right-side duties tonight on the bottom pairing.

Holl impressed last season after getting called up and scoring in back-to-back games from the blue line. He impressed in those two games with the two goals and, more importantly, his +5 rating in that stretch.

There is a possible problem with injecting Holl into the lineup tonight. That issue is rust. Holl has played in just 2 NHL games this season and due to having waivers attached to him, has had no AHL games to keep him in game shape.

I would have liked to have seen Holl in the first game against Edmonton in Gardiner’s absence but that’s only due to the hindsight gained after the Dermott injury. Holl will have a tired team in front of him but no doubt they’ll be motivated for JT.

Martin Marincin

I’m seriously impressed that Martin Marincin is still a Maple Leaf right now. He played a big part in the Leafs’ playoff defensive woes last season and offers little to nothing from the back. This begs the question: why is Marincin getting the call up?

Let’s be honest here, Marincin is in because Calle Rosen is injured.

The Leafs did have Marincin on the roster earlier this season. Once Ennis returned from injury, however, there was no roster space available for him and he was waived. Despite my crossed fingers, Marincin (and his gaudy $700,000 contract) wasn’t claimed by anyone and he’s been in the AHL since.

In his 10 games with the Leafs this season, Marincin has chipped in 2 assists with a -1 rating. In his 8 AHL games, he has 1 goal and 3 assists for a 0+/-.

Scheduled Sparks gets the Start

As is tradition this season, Garret Sparks gets the start for the Leafs second game in the back-to-back. It’s good for Sparks to get into a game that will have a playoff-like intensity, providing him meaningful NHL hockey experience while still in the regular season.

There is little to no pressure on Sparks, whose job is basically to take whatever the opposition throws at him. He’s tasked with playing and knowing there is little to no chance of Frederick Andersen coming off the bench to relieve him.

Sparks hasn’t looked the most steady in net this season, but his stats show he’s doing a fine job as a backup. Throughout his 13 games played this season, Sparks is 7-3 with a .908% save percentage and GAA of 2.86.

He’s improved on his numbers in 15/16 when he first came up which is terrific. The next step in Sparks’ development is to learn how to stay more composed in net, which he can absorb from Andersen’s style of play.

It’ll be a tough game, regardless of Toronto’s bottom pairing and backup goaltender getting the start. Hopefully, the added pressure on the Leafs to come together for Tavares can inspire a solid performance.