It’s safe to say that this has been the best stretch of hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season as the team is on a four-game win streak even with a number of their regulars out of the lineup.
Line mixing and their top four playing as their top four, the Maple Leafs have put together a good run of late with guys like Mitch Marner at the forefront of their offence. While there’s a lot of good headlines to take away from the team’s play over the past week, there are still some shortcomings are worth talking about — not all of which have to do with the team itself.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some ups and downs for the Maple Leafs over the past couple weeks.
Plus One: Marner’s Point Streak
Ilya Samsonov said it best when he was asked about Marner’s recent 17-game point streak. All he had to say about it was, “Stay f—ing hot.” He’s not the only Maple Leafs player to have a say. Both Mark Giordano and John Tavares commented on how he’s calling for the puck and how tough it is to put together a streak like this. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed.
He has 23 points over the 17-game span, including six goals and is currently on a three-game goal streak as well. He leads all Maple Leafs with 28 points in 24 games this season and he’s tied for 10th in the NHL for points.
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The mistakes he was making earlier on in the season — passes up the middle, miscues inside the offensive zone — have been relatively relinquished from his game for the most part, or at least not as magnified as before. But overall, Marner has found another level on the Maple Leafs’ second line with Tavares.
Marner will look to tie Darryl Sittler and Eddie Olczyk for the franchise mark on Nov. 30 when he goes for his 18th straight game with a point.
Minus One: Running Thin on the Blue Line
As mentioned, the Maple Leafs have a number of regulars out of the lineup. Jake Muzzin is out long-term with a neck and back injury. TJ Brodie is still recovering and Morgan Rielly will miss significant time with a leg injury. Add to that Jordie Benn’s most recent injury and the Maple Leafs seem to be short on the back end.
In place of not making a major deal, the Maple Leafs have promoted Mac Hollowell from the AHL and the fourth-round pick is making a difference on the team’s back end. Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin have both stepped into bigger roles in the team’s top four and the old guy of the group — Giordano — has been an absolute force to be reckoned with while the team searches for what to do.
As such, the Maple Leafs will have to really look at what they have organizationally to see if they can continue on with the group they have or have to make a trade. They did bring in Conor Timmins to fill a spot and Victor Mete has stepped in for a few games as well, but this isn’t the bolstered defence the Maple Leafs thought they were going into the season with.
Plus Two: Maple Leafs’ Goaltending Has Benn Strong
Speaking of injuries, the Maple Leafs have already dealt with a fair share between the pipes as well. At one point this season, they had a tandem of Erik Källgren and Keith Petruzzelli. That said, Matt Murray is back and Samsonov is on the mend and as of now the Maple Leafs are looking pretty good in that aspect of their game.
Murray has a 5-1-1 record in seven games this season, carrying a 2.44 goals against average (GAA) and .927 save percentage (SV%) for the Maple Leafs. On the other side of the duo — and no, not Samsonov — Källgren has stepped in for the team in a big way.
He’s played 10 of the team’s 24 games with a 3-2-4 record. However, his numbers are more indicative of how he’s played this season. He has a 2.67 GAA and his .898 SV% is more so an indication that he hasn’t seen as many shots while giving up a number of goals. Still, for the team’s third string goalie to come in and give the team a chance to win is part of the reason why the Maple Leafs are sitting where they are right now in the Atlantic Division.
Minus Two: Free Nick Robertson
While he slated to get back into the lineup on Nov. 30 against San Jose, there have been a lot of questions around the team’s 21-year-old prospect, Nick Robertson. He’s played 11 games for the Maple Leafs this season and has been scratched for just as many. Still given the opportunities, he’s recorded two goals and five points in those 11 games.
As is with anything though, consistency should drive this kid to perform better and put up better offensive numbers. It was discussed on a recent episode of Sticks in the 6ix podcast on possible options of who could be replaced in the Maple Leafs lineup and the obvious names that come up are Pierre Engvall and Alex Kerfoot.
Both have underperformed to this point in the season and while they’ve had runs in the past of being productive, the continuous lack of opportunity for Robertson could ultimately cost the Maple Leafs in the long run — whether the player decides he wants out or the miss an opportunity to properly develop a top prospect.
Either way, at 21, the hope for many is that Robertson gets a consistent look at some point this season so the Maple Leafs can truly evaluate what they have in the younger brother of the league’s leading goal scorer — Jason Robertson.
Plus Three: Pontus Holmberg Making An Impression
On the flip side, the Maple Leafs have had a chance to see what they have in Pontus Holmberg. He was a bubble player coming out of camp and given the opportunity he jumped into the lineup and has played a significant role in the team’s bottom six.
In nine games, the 23-year-old has two goals and three points on just five shots — a shooting percentage of 40 percent. Both of his goals have been game-winners and what’s more impressive is that he’s averaged under 10 minutes per game this season.
He’s got involved physically with six hits and has blocked four shots over his first nine games and has a 54 Corsi For Percentage (CF%) in all situations. Not bad for a guy that has started 56 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone.
On top of that, he’s another good example of the Maple Leafs drafting deep, as a sixth round pick for the Maple Leafs in 2018, 156th overall.
Minus Three: Concern Surrounding Matthews
One day it’s panic — from media sources or small sections of Leafs Nation — that Auston Matthews won’t score 60 goals. Calls for answers as to what’s wrong with the Maple Leafs top dog ring through the centre of the hockey universe.
All of a sudden, fast forward two games and two goals later and the two-time Rocket Richard winner is sitting with 11 goals on a team that struggled offensively out of the game. Why is there so much concern on whether or not Matthews achieves 60-goal status again?
Sure, it would be nice to see him hit the mark for a second straight year. But let’s look at the numbers. His shot percentage for starters is far lower than his career average. He’s pacing at just 10.7 percent while he scores at a pace of 16.1 over his career. Still, the star forward is produced 26 points in just 24 games. Sure, most of them are assists and that’s not something we’re used to seeing, but it’s not time to panic.
His 5v5 numbers have stumbled this season and that might constitute some worry among those watching, but Matthews has developed his game to be more and more of a 200-foot game over the past few seasons.
Now, in 2022-23, the 25-year-old still sits second on the team in points (26), third on the team in blocked shots (27), third on the team in hits (42) and third on the team in Corsi For Percentage (53.6).
The narrative that he will leave or that he’s not producing well enough, they are narratives that are used to fuel the discussion around a player that doesn’t need to be talked about at this very moment. After all, the panic and worry setting in this early, it’s just a distraction for the player, team and those that can’t see outside of the goal column when it comes to this particular players’ numbers.
With that, another week in the books, the Maple Leafs take on the Sharks on Nov. 30 before a clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 3.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.