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In spite of losing their top three defenseman to injury, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to chug along and pile up points, and will hope to complete a sweep of their four-game road trip as they take on the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Monday.
The Leafs put forth a nearly perfect road effort in a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday, limiting the Penguins to 26 shots on backup Erik Kallgren, and getting offensive production from the core group, as Auston Matthews had a goal and two assists, and Mitch Marner and William Nylander had two points (1 goal, 1 assist).
The Red Wings trail Toronto by five points (but have three games in hand) in the Atlantic Division standings and are equally as hot as the Leafs, having won four games in a row.
Matt Murray (4-1-1, 2.51 GAA, .921 save %) will start for Toronto after two full days rest, and head coach Sheldon Keefe is staying with the same lineup that won in Pittsburgh.
In the three games since Rielly’s injury, Keefe has been forced to lean heavily on a top four of Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren, Mark Giordano, and Justin Holl, playing each over 20 minutes. Sandin was +2 and played 22:59 on Saturday, Liljegren has been a plus player in each of the last three games, Giordano played an obscene 24:43 in the 2-1 win over the Devils last Wednesday, and Holl has done his best in expanded minutes to play low event hockey.
This will likely be the formula for the next few weeks or until newly acquired Conor Timmins gets up to speed. Rookie Mac Hollowell has had his good moments using his speed to jump into plays, but Keefe has had to pick his spots using the bottom pairing alongside Victor Mete since they can be muscled off the puck with their lack of size.
The question is how long can this group hold out? Right now, the pressure is off of GM Kyle Dubas to make any move, since the Leafs are playing well. It is a positive long-term that the Leafs are giving Sandin and Liljegren big minutes, since it finally gives them a good look at how they can handle the responsibilities of being a top-four blueliner, but the minutes being piled on Giordano when it was thought that Toronto would try to load manage the 39-year-old is concerning, and how long can the inconsistent Holl play this way before his penchant for faux pas returns.