While the sky is definitely falling in Leafland, the defeated and depressed supporters of the blue and white can take some satisfaction in this clip:
As bleak as things have become, the shining light is in both the play and potential of Jake Gardiner (23) and Morgan Rielly (20). Gardiner has 5 goals and 8 points in his last 10 games and leads the Leafs in even strength ice time per game (18:04). Rielly is having a quietly effective freshman season. He currently is tied with Boston’s Torey Krug for the lead in assists (23) by a rookie defenseman. Rielly isn’t getting much help as a first year NHLer either. When it comes to usage, the fact that Rielly has only begun only 47% of his 5 on 5 shifts in the offensive zone demonstrates where the Leafs are as a team this season.
Generally, rookie blueliners are sheltered and placed in better situations than Rielly currently is. To be fair, Rielly is getting the most 5 v 5 offensive zone starts for Leaf defenseman this season. However, on a team that is so buried in terms of possession and receiving the game, even the sheltered players are being placed in difficult positions. (Hat tip to Andrew Berkshire of Eyes On The Prize for bringing Rielly’s zone starts to my attention and ExtraSkater.com for the wonderful charts)
Here are Rielly’s zone starts in relation to his blueline teammates:
The YouTube clip above (shout out to p00njabiHD) demonstrates just what these two guys are capable of. High end skill, skating and creativity. This is a play that they try at least once every few games. It worked for the first time against Detroit. I doubt that is the last time we’ll be seeing it. I’m extremely anxious to see what these two are capable of producing once the Randy Carlyle regime ends.