There is a clear contingency plan if he can’t play.
Final NHL rosters are due today at 5 p.m., but the most pressing issue at Maple Leafs practice today was not the bottom of the lineup, but the very top. There has never been a guarantee that Auston Matthews will play in the home opener against Montréal on Wednesday, and now it looks like practice today was contingency planning for his absence.
Matthews was dressed as an extra today along with Kirill Semyonov (likely the final cut). The power play was arranged to do without him:
With Ritchie watching turned into…
With Matthews watching.
— David Alter (@dalter) October 11, 2021
And then the lines were arranged in a more sensible way than the depth centre auditions we had throughout preseason:
#Leafs lines at practice:
Grey: Matthews, Semyonov
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 11, 2021
This really is the only realistic arrangement of players given the injuries right now. The Maple Leafs are two injuries away from Pierre Engvall in the top six, but suddenly have more centre depth than they’ve had in a while. They can easily bring in players to join the fourth line, but they have to swallow a rapid decline in quality higher up.
This is also a really good lesson in why, even if Alexander Kerfoot seems just not all that exciting and his roster spot the place for improvement, he’s still around for times like this.
Not everyone present at practice agreed on the structure of that fourth line. Michael Amadio and Jason Spezza are both centres who can take faceoffs, but the usual practice of the Leafs has been to have Spezza take the draws and then function as a winger. Amadio plays wing a lot as well, so it’s likely impossible to say who really fits where there. Two right-shot centres is a maybe one more than required, but it’s nice not to have none.
Meanwhile, it once again seems like Timothy Liljegren has earned a shot at the starting lineup now that cap concerns are less of a concern with Ilya Mikheyev out. Edited to add: there is also disagreement from reports about the D pairs, with Dermott playing with Sandin on some lists, so we can assume this isn’t settled yet.