Maple Leafs: Who Should be in the Defensive Pairings Game One?

Should the Leafs play Justin Holl, Ilya Lyubushkin, Timothy Liljegren, or Rasmus Sandin in game one of the playoffs?

The Leafs have some questions heading into the playoffs surrounding the defense. Four defencemen are battling for their jobs heading into the postseason.

Ilya Lyubushkin

Ilya Lyubushkin was acquired on February 19th in a deal for Nick Ritchie. When he arrived in Toronto, he started on the third-pair playing with Rasmus Sadin and eventually played himself onto the Leafs’ top D-Pairing with Morgan Rielly. Lyubushkin plays a playoff-style game, plays a low event type of game, and it’ll benefit having him in the lineup to slow the game down in the playoffs, especially if the Leafs are playing a fast-paced offensive team in Tampa Bay, which is looking like who the Leafs will match up against in the 1st round. The problem with Lybushkin is that he lacks offensive skills. The Leafs, who are in the bottom five points by defensemen, could struggle to advance the play with Lybushkin on the ice.

Timothy Liljegren

Liligren is the most interesting one for the Leafs going into the postseason. Liljegren, in his first full year, has 22 points in 57 games playing on every pairing. Liljegren has shown signs of excellence in his first full year with the breakout pass, deciding the right time to pinch down low for an offensive chance, but there have been some dull points this season for the young Dman. Liljegren has shown that he could lose a net-front battle or lose positioning on an opponent out front of the net. If you are the Leafs, you want to get Liljegren in the playoff games to develop the experience and see that he needs to become a more potent defenseman to play successful defense in the postseason. I think that if he does suit up for game one, he should be playing with the guy he’s looked most comfortable within, Mark Giordano.

Justin Holl:

Justin Holl is the most talked-about defenseman in the Leaf’s media in this day in age. Justin Holl is a safety blanket for head coach Sheldon Keefe. He (Keefe) feels safe when he puts Holl on the ice. Holl started the season awful, but Holl has been excellent ever since the covid lockout. Playing with Brodie, Holl has shown he can still perform as he did in 2020. The problem with Holl is that when he starts doing too much with the puck. Holl doesn’t have the skill to lead a rush or lead a solo breakout like Morgan Rielly. The turnovers that Holl in the neutral zone leads to odd-man rushes for Brodie to deal with, who does handle odd-man rushes very well, but if Holl is in game one, he needs to be playing with a puck mover and not a stay at home guy like Jake Muzzin, they just don’t work together.

Rasmus Sandin

Rasmus Sandin is currently nursing a LBI (Lower Body Injury) but has started skating in Toronto while the Leafs are on the road. In his first full year on the Leafs, Sandin has shown signs of greatness but has also shown some growing pains in the defensive end. Sandin has excellent offensive awareness with knowing when to jump into the offensive zone for a scoring chance and has shown poise with breaking the puck into the zone by himself or with a great first pass. The problem with Sandin is the defensive zone coverage. He loses net-front battles easily, and it’s costly for the Leafs, Sandin tries his best to use his frame with reverse hits and throwing his weight around, but when it comes to net-front battles, he can’t handle a bigger body. If Sandin is healthy, I’d still be putting him up in the press box to start the playoffs because I don’t think he’s ready for the playoff’s close and tight-checking game.

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