TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What did Sheldon Keefe learn about Travis Dermott when the 23-year-old was promoted to Toronto's top defence pair in six games right before the season pause?
"Just that he can handle it when called upon," the Leafs coach said.
With Jake Muzzin sidelined for the rest of the qualifying-round series against Columbus, Dermott is being asked to step up again.
Coming off shoulder surgery, Dermott started slow in the regular season, but played some of his best hockey in late February and early March after Muzzin broke his finger during a game in Tampa. With Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci also sidelined, Dermott joined good pal and former Marlies teammate Justin Holl in tangling with top lines.
"Both guys were taking on greater responsibility," recalled Keefe. "Holl had really been doing it most of the season, taking a big step in terms of his responsibility and his role. Dermott's evolving and taking on more as it comes. It's really been injury situations that's given him more opportunity throughout the entire season and this is no different."
Per the website NaturalStatTrick, Dermott and Holl played together for 297 minutes and 40 seconds at five-on-five in the regular season, making them Toronto's fifth-most common pair. The opposition outscored the Leafs 12-11 in those minutes, but the underlying numbers were positive with the Leafs controlling 50.28 per cent of the shot attempts and 53.46 per cent of the expected goals.
At Wednesday’s practice, Dermott once again took Muzzin's spot alongside Holl.
"Every single player is valuable and Muzz certainly is one of the most valuable and important people, but I also believe in our game in particular that everyone is replaceable," said Keefe. “We're going to have guys come in and step up and continue rolling as a team."
The Leafs went 7-5-4 with Muzzin out of the lineup during the regular season.
On Tuesday night, John Tavares described Muzzin's contribution to the Leafs as "unmeasurable." You can certainly understand why. Muzzin is a big leader off the ice as one of only two Stanley Cup champions on the roster. He consistently logs tough minutes against top lines while also playing on the penalty kill. Muzzin led the team in hits and is the club's most physical presence on the back end. Earlier this season, Keefe referred to Muzzin as the "conscience" of the team.
"I don't think you can replace what he does for our team, but I think it's important to have other guys help fill that void,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. "He really offers a lot, but it's a good opportunity for guys to play more minutes and in different situations and rise to the occasion."
That includes Rielly, who rose to the occasion in Game 2 after he and Ceci got off to a shaky start in the series.
"They moved the puck a lot more efficiently," Keefe observed of the pair. "Morgan, in particular, was really sharp. I think he made some adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2 that really helped that pairing a lot and helped our team as a result. I thought we played a really good team game that really helped everybody."
Rielly played a team-high 24 minutes and 37 seconds on Tuesday and sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
With Muzzin out, Martin Marincin will draw into the lineup on Thursday. It will be Marinicn's first Stanley Cup playoff game since the 2017 series against the Washington Capitals. The Slovak skated with Tyson Barrie on the third pair at Wednesday's practice.
"We think that Marty brings some of the elements that Muzz brings,” Keefe explained. "In particular, the penalty kill, the size and all those types of things, there are some similarities there in terms of what he can provide us and we think that's important."
The 6-foot-5 Marincin, who won a Calder Cup while playing for Keefe with the Marlies in 2018, suited up in 26 games for the Leafs in the regular season averaging 1:40 of shorthanded ice time per game.
Keefe revealed he's considering dressing seven defencemen on Thursday, which means rookie Rasmus Sandin may make his NHL playoff debut.
The betting here is the Leafs will dress seven defencemen for Game 3 against Columbus. They will use Martin Marincin in some situations, especially PK. And they'll use use Rasmus Sandin in offensive situations. Don't know which forward will come out of the lineup.— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) August 5, 2020
Mostly quiet in Game 1, Tavares exploded for eight shots on Tuesday night, including a breakaway goal. How did the Leafs and their captain finally get some rush chances against the stingy Jackets?
"We were just quicker and that's not just necessarily the way we're moving our feet, but I think just our execution and the way we moved the puck," Tavares explained in his post game Zoom session. "I thought the D did a great job of just handling their forecheck, which they [Jackets] do really well, and then I think as forwards we were just in sync reading off each other and doing [a] good job of, when we had to, getting pucks in behind and getting on the inside and first on those races that allowed us to then set up the next couple of plays to break them down and create some opportunities, some more possessions. It's something we have to continue, especially when you expect them to make some adjustments.”
The Captain!— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) August 4, 2020
John Tavares puts the Leafs up by two pic.twitter.com/zzR39TIPfC
In Game 2, the Leafs didn't just have the skill edge, they seemed to be outworking the Jackets all over the ice.
"I don't think it’s rocket science how we need to play in order to have success," said Columbus winger Nick Foligno. "I think we saw that last game with just our effort and our energy level, it wasn't where it needed to be and it's the reason why we didn't have the result that we wanted. We shore that up and I think we have a better result."
Foligno wants the Jackets to play more physical in Game 3 and fire more shots toward Toronto’s net even from bad angles in an attempt to break them down. Columbus only had 12 shots on net through two periods in Game 2.
"Our forecheck needs to be better," the Jackets captain said. "I mean, it’s all stuff that we know. That's why I think we're moving past it. If there's one thing about our team, we always seem to bounce back the right way and that's why I'm confident in this group and what we're going to bring tomorrow and knowing that this is a really important game for us."
In the minutes after his team's shutout loss on Tuesday night, John Tortorella was in no mood to offer reporters an autopsy.
"Toronto played a really good game,” the Jackets coach said. "We sucked."
Tortorella repeated that comment a couple times in his Zoom session.
The veteran bench boss remained tightlipped on Wednesday when asked how the Jackets can create more possession in the Leafs end.
"We're just going to play," he said. "Get prepared to play the right way and go about our business."
A follow-up question led to a listing of the team itinerary.
"You guys are killing me," Tortorella said. "Listen, we're going to prepare to play the game ... We had a meeting today at 11:30 a.m. with coaches. We had a 2:30 practice, we'll have an 11 o'clock meeting tomorrow and then we'll play at 8 o'clock. I'm not going to talk about what adjustments we have to make, what we have to do differently. We're going to prepare to play the right way."
The Athletic's Aaron Portzline attempted to ask about the breakdown on the second Leafs goal and, at this point, Tortorella had had enough.
“What's your question, Portzy? God damn, you just keep on working me, don't you," Tortorella fumed.
The scribe shot back, "I keep asking you questions about playoff hockey games, yeah, sorry."
“Yeah," Tortorella responded, "and I've told you I'm not interested in breaking down what's happened in the games and I've been very fair about that. All I'm telling you is I'm looking to get our team ready to play the next game and I'm sorry I don't have information for your story, but that's how we're going to go about our business."
”God damn, you just keep on working me...”— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) August 5, 2020
Tight-lipped #CBJ head coach John Tortorella maintains that he’s not interested in questions breaking down what happened in the game: https://t.co/oQnC96Zk5r#TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/iU2r7t8uKz
During Tuesday's loss, Tortorella had a heated conversation with Pierre-Luc Dubois on the bench. The Jackets' top centre is struggling to keep up with Auston Matthews in a head-to-head showdown. Tortorella noted that the 22-year-old is still learning how to manage his emotions during games.
“It's a process," Tortorella said. "He's a young player still learning to understand momentum swings in games, what is needed in certain situations when things aren't going right for him or the team. It doesn't surprise me. It happens with all young players. We've gone through quite a bit of adversity as we've played the past couple of years and I think it's good training ground for some of our young guys."
Dubois, who led the Jackets in scoring in the regular season, has failed to hit the scoresheet through two games. He was on the ice for two goals against on Tuesday night.
Kyle Clifford, who played seven seasons with Muzzin in Los Angeles, had never seen his friend stay down like he did on Tuesday night.
"That was the first time I've ever seen him need medical attention on the ice," Clifford said. "Bit of a scary moment, but he's a mentally strong guy. He's a big, tough kid so we're just hoping for a speedy recovery and just go one day at a time."
Clifford appreciated that general manager Kyle Dubas kept the team apprised of Muzzin's status throughout the night.
"I know [Muzzin's wife] Courtney's obviously thinking about it and his mom and dad and everyone wants to be there by his side and we're in a different situation now with COVID," Clifford said. "What I liked is we had a lot of communication. Kyle was with him and he relayed what was going on and kept us all up to date basically on an hourly schedule."
Muzzin lost feeling in his extremities as a result of the collision, which is why he was taken to hospital. He regained feeling shortly after, however, as the Maple Leafs have acknowledged, he won’t be available for the remainder of the series. https://t.co/vHMN7hw3IH— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) August 5, 2020
With Muzzin out, Clifford will be the only Leaf suiting up who has won a Stanley Cup. The gritty left winger only played three minutes and 21 seconds in Game 1, but made an early impression in Game 2, levelling Jackets defenceman Dean Kukan with a huge hit.
"It's a short series so we're in an all-in mindset with our team and when our number's called we're just going to be ready to do what provides us with the best opportunity to win the game," Clifford said. "We have enough experience with [Jason] Spezza and I and Pierre [Engvall] or Goater [Frederik Gauthier] to be ready."
Clifford played seven minutes and 36 seconds in Game 2, finishing with one shot and two hits.
Lines at Wednesday's Leafs practice, per team media relations:
Lines at Wednesday's Jackets practice, per team media relations: