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Maple Leafs’ Sandin gaining confidence as ice time, responsibility continue to increase

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin. Photo by Grant Halverson /Getty Images

DETROIT — As Mitch Marner on Monday night attempts to become the third Maple Leaf in franchise history to record a point streak of at least 17 games, Rasmus Sandin will try to catch his breath.

Fact is, Sandin has been sharp with increased minutes as the Leafs continue to succeed with top defencemen Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin on the sideline.

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A victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena would be the Leafs’ 10th in 14 games, and would cap what has been a terrific trip. Toronto has won all three games, outscoring opponents 10-5.

Sandin and partner Timothy Liljegren have stepped up.

“It’s easier to relax a little bit, play more of your game,” Sandin said.

“Confidence comes with ice time. If you make a mistake, you’re going to be back on the ice in 30 seconds or in a minute, so it’s easy to shake off. You try to focus on the next shift and do it better, and that next shift comes quicker.”

Sandin has played more than 21 minutes in each of the past three games, including a career-high 22 minutes 59 seconds against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Liljegren also had a career-high, playing 22 minutes nine seconds.

“In one way or another, they’re going to grow through this experience,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “You can see them growing through this, so it’s nice to see.”

With a point, Marner would come within a game of tying the Leafs record of 18 consecutive games with at least one point, set by Darryl Sittler and tied by Ed Olczyk.

There’s a good chance of Marner stretching his streak to 17 games. In 18 career games against the Wings, Marner has 20 points (10 goals and 10 assists).

HOLMBERG ON POINT

Judging by the way Pontus Holmberg has performed through his first eight games in the National Hockey League, Keefe appears to have found his second centre in the bottom six.

Holmberg has scored his first two NHL goals on the trip, but for Keefe, the shinier parts of Holmberg’s game have come in other ways.

“I can’t find this guy making a mistake,” said Keefe, who gave his team Sunday off. “He’s a young guy and there are things you want to talk to him about and show him and you’re expecting mistakes and corrections … this guy does not make mistakes. 

“Defensively, he is always in the right spot. He does not have a full grasp of the language yet or the league, yet he is picking up our system and our structure.

“He is near-perfect. It’s great to see him get rewarded for the offence, but he makes you feel good about putting him on the ice because he is going to do what you’re asking of him and he’s going to make it hard for who he is playing against.”

A sixth-round pick of the Leafs in 2018, the 23-year-old Holmberg gives Toronto more stability in the middle behind Auston Matthews, John Tavares and David Kampf.

“When you’re as smart as he is, sometimes for him I think it’s easier to play at the NHL level because you play with smart players,” Sandin said. “He fits in really well.”

RESPECT FACTOR

The Red Wings have won four games in a row and their power play has scored on eight of its past 20 opportunities, yet Detroit coach Derek Lalonde will peer over at the Leafs with a healthy amount of respect. 

“You could play really well against Toronto for 20 minutes, 40 minutes, and still be down 3-1,” Lalonde said on Sunday. “World-class talent, good depth up front, great special teams. It’s why they are a Cup contender.”

The Leafs, 13-5-5, ended the Penguins’ five-game winning streak three days after putting a halt to the New Jersey Devils’ 13-game streak.

“Their record is starting to play itself out, it’s actually very impressive what they have done,” Lalonde said. “They’re going through on the back end what we went through earlier in the season on our front end (when) we had six of our top eight forwards out. 

“Credit to Sheldon and his staff, they’re winning because they are playing the right way. They’re more concerned with keeping it out of their net.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

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  1. Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitch Marner (16) celebrates his goal with center Auston Matthews (34) against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at PPG Paints Arena.

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  2. Erik Kallgren of the Toronto Maple Leafs protects the corner against the Boston Bruins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 5, 2022 in Toronto.

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