By DAVID SHOALTS
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
TORONTO -- There was a near-unanimous opinion in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room about Zach Hyman's two-game suspension: It is what it is.
"He's not a dirty player. He's honest, he plays hard. It is what it is," defenceman Morgan Rielly said.
Rielly added this about a high hit he took in the same game last Saturday from Boston Bruins forward Chris Wagner shortly after Hyman levelled Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy to draw the suspension: "It is what it is.
Move on and worry about the game tomorrow night."
Hyman really gave that useless cliché a workout, citing both his teammates and the man who gave him the suspension, NHL disciplinarian George Parros.
"I was suspended for two games and that's what it is. Everybody's trying to do their job. I'm trying to do my job, George is doing his job. It is what it is.
I'm just trying to get ready for Saturday."
Then there was the hit itself, a clean one but a bit late in the eyes of Parros.
"I think the play is out there," Hyman said.
"Everybody can interpret it the way they want to. And it is what it is, I guess," Hyman added.
The only thing missing was a sound track from Doris Day - Que Sera Sera.
"It is what it is" also gave certain Toronto media members another day to ensure a dead horse was truly lifeless: the tiresome notion that maybe the Leafs are a soft team because they no longer have any leg-breakers on skates in their employ.
In the meantime, the Leafs have to figure out how to get ready for a showdown with their biggest problem, the Tampa Bay Lightning. In their past two games, against the Detroit Red Wings and the Bruins, the Leafs played their worst hockey of the season and lost both.
At least the Leafs should be able to ease into Thursday's game in Tampa. They start their road trip on Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C., against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team in transition from mediocre to decent, but one with some holes, notably in goal now that ex-Leaf Curtis McElhinney is injured.
Each of the two most recent losses saw the Leafs stretch a running bad habit to perilous lengths, namely their penchant for taking some shifts off. Now they face two games without Hyman, their most tireless worker and forechecker when it comes to chasing the puck. The Leafs will also miss Hyman on the penaltykilling unit. It is not a disaster, given Hyman's modest scoring production and the length of the suspension, but it still hurts. Head coach Mike Babcock tried to put the best face on it.
"You're going to have injuries and that's the way things are, a brief injury for a guy, that's the way I look at it," Babcock said, "and you give other people opportunities. The other thing about [Hyman], he's a forechecker, he's a heavy guy, he's at the net.
"When everyone talks about his line, there's two guys on it and there's a guy that gets the puck back and is at the net all the time.
We're going to miss him. We don't have a ton of that in our game."
Connor Brown, who is the same sort of constant worker as Hyman, moved up to take over Hyman's spot at left wing with centre John Tavares and right winger Mitch Marner. Andreas Johnsson gets another crack at left wing on Auston Matthews's line with Kasperi Kapanen on the right side. William Nylander is back at right wing with Kadri and Marleau. With Hyman suspended, Frederik Gauthier comes back into the lineup as the fourth-line centre with Par Lindholm shifting to left wing.
Given Brown's work ethic and dedication to checking at both ends of the ice, it is as seamless a transition as the Leafs could manage anywhere in their lineup.
His job is to get the puck and move it to Marner and Tavares, not worry that he hasn't scored since Nov. 9, a stretch of 14 games.
"It's important for me to be working out there and show confidence and get pucks back," Brown said. "For us, it's important to work hard, put our work before our skill. We've got a lot of guys in here who can score. You don't want work to take a back seat."