The Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night and caught a break before the game even started. Oilers superstar Connor McDavid along with Derek Ryan and Tyson Barrie, all wound up on the COVID protocol list before puck drop and missed the contest. The Maple Leafs were able to take advantage of the shorthanded Oilers and squeaked out a 4-2 victory in only their second hockey game in the past 22 days. While I need to point out that ex-Maple Leaf Zach Hyman deserves another tribute video with fans in the stands, let’s dive into my three takeaways from the win.
William Nylander Now Leading the Maple Leafs in Scoring
Nylander was once again a force all night. From the opening puck drop throughout all 60 minutes, the veteran winger consistently found himself with grade-A chances and was once again productive on the score sheet. The 25-year-old looked to score the opening goal for Toronto, but according to NHL.com, they have given credit to John Tavares, who was standing in front of the net. Regardless, Nylander is on fire, recording nine points in his last five games and tallying a seven-game point streak. He now sits with a team-leading 35 points in 32 games this season.
For me, Nylander’s turnaround all started last postseason when he seemed to buy into the 200-foot game and even has been praised by the likes of Maple Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan about his ability to come up with the puck in his own end and calm things down by leaving the zone. If you watched the game on Wednesday against the Oilers, you would have seen much of the same.
The Leafs forward always seemed to have the puck on his stick or the ability to retrieve it shortly after one of his linemates gave it up. He’s becoming one hell of a complete player, and the narrative has completely changed. I wrote about it before the season started how Nylander was becoming a fan favorite. Not only does Leafs Nation love the fact he’s locked up to the best contract on the team at $6.9 million per season, but he’s also become perhaps the most consistent forward, and that’s saying something when Auston Matthews is on your team.
Maple Leafs Ilya Mikheyev is Heating Up
Remember when Mikheyev went to Kyle Dubas during the Amazon All or Nothing series and complained about his ice-time? Or during the summer months when the Russian forward asked to be traded. Yeah, me too, but aren’t you happy now that management stuck to their guns and said there’s no chance we’re trading you. While the relationship has certainly been rocky between the player and head coach Sheldon Keefe, the newfound ice-time on the second power-play unit has paid some serious dividends.
Mikheyev scored on again with the man advantage against the Oilers, after scoring twice last game against the Ottawa Senators. Three games this season, three goals, not a bad way to start if you ask me. It was such a shame when he broke his thumb in the preseason as 2021-22 was supposed to be a big year for the pending free agent. With an increase in ice time, it’s been a great site to see him get rewarded after being snakebitten most of last season.
The 27-year-old is one of the best skaters on the Maple Leafs and is certainly up there as one of the hardest workers. When healthy, the third line of him, David Kampf and Ondrej Kase can make up a trio that could be lights out for Toronto and help propel them over the top and into deeper in the postseason. One of my colleagues, Peter Baracchini, touched on the potent third line in a recent post, and he was bang on. Mikheyev is turning into another weapon for the Leafs, and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
Jack Campbell Continues to Put Up Vezina Performances
Night in and night out this season, Campbell has been a brick wall, and it was much of the same against the Oilers on Wednesday. “Soup” stopped 28 of 30 shots and came up with 10-bell saves to keep the lead late in the third period. The first goal he let in to Brendan Perlini would perhaps be one he would like to have back, but the second goal to Leon Draisaitl was a tap-in and a defensive breakdown, and the Maple Leafs’ netminder had no chance. He settled down from there, and it’s crazy to watch how much confidence his teammates have in his game. Can you really blame them, though? Through Campbell’s first 25 games, only one other goalie has recorded more wins. A historic start to his career in blue and white.
The 29-year-old now sits 17-5-0 on the season with a minuscule 1.87 goals-against average, and a sensational .939 save percentage in what’s turning out to be a potential Vezina award-winning season. He’ll be in tough against the likes of Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins and his old buddy Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes, but there’s no doubt as it stands right now, the award should be handed to “Soup.” The success couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, and Leafs Nation is hoping and praying that management can work out a contract extension to keep Campbell in Toronto long-term.
Toronto now heads west for a few games as they take on Colorado on Saturday and find themselves in Vegas and Arizona next week. The matchup on Saturday will be a good test to see how they stack up against one of the Western Conference’s best teams. Their four-game winning streak will be on the line in what could be a Stanley Cup Final preview. Yeah, I said it.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween