The Maple Leafs played a great game last night vs the Sabres, not only getting the victory, but deserving it too. Unfortunately, Morgan Rielly got hurt during the game.
During their previous two contests, vs Montreal and New York, the Leafs were badly out-shot and out-possessed, and were lucky to come away with the win. Last night, they thoroughly dominated the Sabres – 60% Corsi-For – winning 4-3 and attempting nearly 60 shots.
The win puts the Leafs to 8-1-1 in their last ten, and was their third win in a row. It positions them just one point behind the Bruins with five games in hand. They now have a better record than the Canadiens since November 1st.
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In fact, if not for a penchant to blow late leads that is far more statistical anomaly than real problem , as well as some early season struggles by goalie Fred Andersen, the Leafs would be among the top teams in the NHL.
The Bad with the Good
The Leafs are having a great season and every game is fun to watch, but one thing helping them as they climb the standings has been an excellent run of health.
The Leafs, so far, have managed to avoid any roster-crippling injuries. They have skated with their ultimate lineup in just about every game so far this year. Unfortunately, luck like that just can’t last, and last night Morgan Rielly suffered what appeared to be a leg injury.
The Leafs second-best defenseman is, according to TSN just ‘day to day.’ The Leafs have a pretty thin defense as it is, and Rielly is my son’s favorite player, so luckily he won’t be out as long as it looked at first like he might be.
The injury prompted almost intimidate Kevin Shattenkirk speculation, but let us hope the Leafs do not choose to travel down that expensive (and almost certainly disappointing) road.
What it will lead to is Jake Gardiner getting a more appropriate amount of ice time. Last night, with Rielly out, Gardiner played 29 minutes. At this point it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he did it while putting up a 60% CF rating.
So far, I am yet to meet a single person who can coherently explain to me why Gardiner gets less ice-time than Rielly. My guess is that the Leafs see Rielly as their future #1 guy, so they play him that way. Zaitsev, who is fast becoming as overrated as Gardiner is underrated, is obviously just along for the ride.
In the end, Rielly is an awesome player with a ton of potential. It is great news that he won’t be out long. As a silver lining, perhaps this will allow Babcock to realize his team would be better if Gardiner lead it in ice-time.