Given the shutdown of public events occurring in California with the onset of the coronavirus, it’s a miserable time to be there. It was also a miserable trip for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but for different reasons. For a team that desperately needed points, the Maple Leafs might have shown up stronger. In total, in three games the team came home with just one point (only scoring three goals) against the Western Conference’s three bottom teams – the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks.
Obviously, all that was behind them because – in front of many empty seats – two of the league’s highest-scoring teams battled with the Maple Leafs earning a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The difference in the game was Frederik Andersen, who was making only his second start in the last 10 days. But, it was the stop-everything Andersen who showed up.
On the other side of the puck, the Maple Leafs came out as if they cared. They threw puck after puck at Andrei Vasilevskiy, who also had a strong night in goal and made 34 saves. Almost before half of the first period was completed, the Maple Leafs held an unheard of 18-0 lead in shot attempts.
But Andersen was better, stopping breakaways, one-timers, in fact, every shot but one – a second-period goal by Ondrej Palat. Both William Nylander and Auston Matthews scored goals and, in the NHL, two beats one every night of the week. Mitch Marner and John Tavares both scored double assists, and the team welcomed back their sorely-missed star defenseman Morgan Rielly for the first time since early January.
Obviously, head coach Sheldon Keefe’s changes to his lines made an early difference.
As the Maple Leafs wait to face the Nashville Predators on home ice Thursday, in this post I want to help Maple Leafs fans keep up with the news and rumors emerging from the team.
Item One: Frederik Andersen Is Now 4-0-1 in His Last Five Starts
As I noted, Andersen was on his game and stopped 32 of 33 shots in the 2-1 win over the Lightning. During the game, Andersen held one of the NHL’s elite offenses at bay with his strong play. The 30-year-old goalie now hasn’t lost in regulation since Feb. 22, with a 4-0-1 record and a goals-against-average of 1.77 GAA and a .938 save percentage in his last five starts.
Andersen had been almost perfect in last Thursday’s game against the Kings by stopping all 30 of the shots he faced during regulation; however, he ultimately lost in the overtime. The 30-year-old Dane was again almost perfect against a Lightning team that carried a 21-10-4 road record to Scotiabank Arena; but, this time his team scored just enough for the win. Andersen had won each of the last two starts against the Lightning and improved his season’s record to 29-13-7 with a goals-against-average of 2.85 and .909 save percentage.
Item Two: Auston Matthews and William Nylander Scored Goals in 2-1 Win
Auston Matthews scored his 47th goal of the season and William Nylander scored his 31st to lead the team. Matthews’ goal puts him one back of the Boston Bruins David Pastrnak and the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin, who both have 48.
Nylander’s goal now gives him nine more than his best season’s total when, in 2016-17, he scored 22 goals on his way to 61 points. He has 59 points this season and should soon beat his career-best of 61 points he set both in 2016-17 and in 2017-18.
Item Three: John Tavares and Mitch Marner Both Score Two Assists in Lightning Win
Both John Tavares and Mitch Marner had two power-play assists in their team’s 2-1 win over the Lightning. It was a good day for the Maple Leafs special teams. The power play generated the necessary offense and the penalty kill didn’t allow a goal on four Tampa Bay power plays.
The 29-year-old Tavares now has scored 26 goals and 60 points in 63 games. It was the seventh season in a row he’s reached the 60-point mark. It was Marner’s first multiple-point game since Feb. 7; however, the young winger still has a strong season going with 16 goals and 67 points in 59 games.
Item Four: Mikhail Abramov Signs Three-Year Entry-Level Contract with Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Tuesday that they’ve signed prospect Mikhail Abramov to a three-year, entry-level contract. Abramov was chosen by Toronto as the 115th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been lighting it up with 35 goals and 76 points in 63 QMJHL games during the 2019-20 season.
What’s so special about the 18-year-old Abramov is that he leads his own Victoriaville Tigres in scoring by 35 points. He’s scoring this season not because he’s playing with great linemates or even in partnership with another star. He’s basically scoring on his own with little help; the next highest scorer on his team has only 19 goals.
The Maple Leafs might have found a star and quickly signed him on the dotted line. Abramov will continue to play in the QMJHL for the season where his scoring ranks him fifth among U19 skaters. In 125 career QMJHL games, the young Russian has scored 51 goals and 79 assists. He was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team in 2018-19.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
It was good to have Rielly back in the lineup after missing 23 games with his broken foot. He’s a big add for the Maple Leafs defense corps that actually has been hanging together pretty well in the absence of its veterans. Perhaps credit is due to Tyson Barrie and the replacements Keefe has skated.
The team faces the Nashville Predators on Thursday and remains three points up on the Florida Panthers, who aren’t going away. The Panthers have a game in hand. It’ll likely be a fight to the finish for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.