Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly had one of his strongest games Thursday of the season and continues to show confidence and maturity with the puck, writes Mike Brophy. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
Splitting up defencemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly on Thursday was a significant change that could benefit the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward, writes Mike Brophy, who takes a closer look at Toronto's 6-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
The kids were not all right.
After a boo-boo by Jake Gardiner led to the Florida Panthers opening the scoring, the Toronto Maple Leafs decided to separate him and his defensive partner Morgan Rielly, who is just 19.
It certainly wasn't the main reason why the Maple Leafs were able to rebound from a 2-0 deficit and defeat the Panthers 6-3, but it was a significant change that could benefit the team moving forward.
Both players love to rush the puck and playing together as a duo often causes them to hesitate; not knowing for sure if one goes the other will hang back a bit.
After the opening goal Rielly was paired with Tim Gleason and Gardiner with Cody Franson. They did play the kids together on the power play, however.
Not only that, Rielly had one of his strongest games of the season and continues to show confidence and maturity with the puck.
"We have been contemplating splitting the kids up for a while," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said.
Carlyle added Rielly has adapted well to playing in the NHL as a teenager and even though he and Gardiner formed a very young pairing, it didn't seem like a huge risk to play them together. He added they may play together again down the road, but with Gardiner having played last season with Franson, the change made sense.
In fact they did play together again on the power play.
Carlyle said putting Rielly with Gleason, a veteran, will free him to join -- or lead -- the rush.
"Gleason is a guy who has come in and been a heart and soul guy for us," the coach said. "He blocks shots, he's physical and hard to play against. That's his game. That should give Morgan a little bit more freedom knowing that type of player is back there."
Gleason had to leave Tuesday's game a little early because of a shoulder injury and missed Wednesday's practice, but he was in the starting lineup against the Panthers. That was the good news. The bad news is he took two first-period penalties. Fortunately for Gleason, the Panthers power play is awful. The Panthers had just one power play goal in their last 15 games and prior to playing the Boston Bruins Tuesday -- a game in which they struck with the man advantage -- they were 0-for-41 in their previous 14 games.
At the end of the night, Gleason played his best game as a Maple Leaf. He led the team in ice time at 23:41 and had six hits and five blocked shots.
The Maple Leafs have now won five in a row at Air Canada Centre and Gleason said after the game he is thrilled.
"It is a great place to play," Gleason said. "I didn't like it coming in here as a visitor, but I love it being on the home team. We appreciate the fan support."
Not part of the plan
When you are playing a goal-challenged team like the Panthers, the idea is to get the lead on it and make it open things up. The Maple Leafs did the opposite giving up a goal to Nick Bjugstad at 1:39. Defenceman Jake Gardiner failed to keep the puck in at the Florida blue line and his partner Morgan Rielly, as well as centre Nazem Kadri were unable to cover up for his miscue. Twelve minutes later Franson made a weak clearing attempt that was picked off and led to the Panthers going up 2-0 on a Sean Bergenheim goal.
Franson makes amends
Franson's snap shot from the point found its way through a crown and past Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen. With James van Riemsdyk setting a screen to make it 2-1 late in the first period.
Third line rocks
Even when the Maple Leafs were trailing 2-0, their third line of Peter Holland between Mason Raymond and Troy Bodie continued to work hard and be impressive. Their hard work paid off early in the second period when Mason Raymond snapped a shot in after just 27 seconds. Bodie drew an assist on the play.
With the Maple Leafs leading 3-2 after 40 minutes, but playing a particularly good game, they needed a strong third period and that is exactly what they appeared to do. Nikolai Kulemin scored his eighth of the season from the top of the faceoff circle at 4:00 and just 2:22 later Joffrey Lupul connected on a one-timer for his 16th. The Panthers, however, got a goal from Dmitry Kulikov to throw a scare into the Maple Leafs. Tyler Bozak got it back for Toronto on a great feed from Kessel.
Trade Kadri? Yeah, right
Not long ago they were telling Kadri to pack his bags and get out of town. Now with two goals and seven points in four games, chances are he's off the market. He had three assists against the Panthers. Kadri's second assist of the game, on the Lupul goal, was his 100th NHL point.
Carter can't connect
Toronto grinder Carter Ashton had a breakaway while killing a penalty at 10:33 of the third period, but was turned back by Clemmensen, Ashton is still looking for his first NHL goal having played 45 games.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.
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