A Stretch Run Checklist For the Toronto Maple Leafs

With a little over a month to go in the NHL regular season and less than twenty games, the Toronto Maple Leafs have time to get their house in order before the Stanley Cup playoffs.

New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Rangers v Toronto Maple Leafs / Chris Tanouye/GettyImages
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Determine Defensive Pairs

Thanks to the trade deadline acquisitions of Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson the Leafs improved their depth on defense. The problem is that most of that depth has a third-pair ceiling and wouldn't crack the lineup on a title-contending team.

Morgan Rielly, Jake McCabe, T.J. Brodie, Timothy Liljegren, Simon Benoit, Mark Giordano, and Conor Timmins are the other options on the blue line.

Giordano just recently joined Timmins on LTIR. Rielly, McCabe, Liljegren and Brodie are everyday mainstays in the lineup. Barring injuries, that leaves Benoit, Lyubushkin, and Edmundson fighting for the last 2 spots on defense. T

There has been speculation that Liljegren would sit, but that doesn't really make any sense and would be a bad move. Ideally, Liljegren takes one spot for two reasons. First, he is the Leafs only puck-moving defenseman besides Morgan Rielly, and second he is right-handed and therefore he needs to be in the lineup.

Lyubushkin adds a physical element and also has the advantage of being right-handed, helping to better balance the defense pairs. He lessens the need for players to be on their unnatural side.

Benoit has already felt the repercussions of the new additions as he was a healthy scratch against the Canadiens. That was a tough blow for someone who has been a steady presence for most of the season.

The Leafs defense has been a revolving door due to injuries or suspension and Benoit has helped them navigate the adversity.

During the last few weeks of the schedule, the Leafs must decide what defense pairs serve them best. What tandems are winning their shifts at 5 vs 5 play? What players will help invigorate their stagnate penalty-killing?