In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the activities emerging from the team as they head into tonight’s game against the tough Winnipeg Jets in Winnipeg. The key questions that surround the team have to do with the health of its goalies. And, in this post I’ll share the latest insights about both Frederik Andersen’s and Jack Campbell’s injuries and how the team is working to manage its goalie situation.
At the same time, the team is on a 4-0-1 run over its last five games. That means a number of players are doing well, and I’ll share their contributions to the team’s success. That’s especially true of the Maple leafs’ first line, and I’ll comment about their ranking in the NHL.
Item One: Goalie Frederik Andersen Will Be Out for at Least the Next Three Games
Frederik Andersen went in to be reassessed and the news isn’t good for either him or the Maple Leafs. He’ll be out for at least the next three games with his lower-body injury. He hasn’t been on the ice at all since the injury came back, and now it’s unclear when he might return. (from “Leafs netminder Andersen not out long-term, but won’t join team out west,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 01/04/21).
If fans take the announcement literally and count games, it might mean that Andersen could be ready to return on Wednesday versus Montreal. I’m choosing to put two and two together to understand what I believe is likely the call on Andersen’s injury. Reading between the lines, it strikes me that no one knows for sure when Andersen will be back; but, it’s not likely to be in the foreseeable future. My call – and I admit I’m not that kind of a doctor – is that he’s not going to be hitting the ice any time soon.
Part of my prognosis is based on the fact that Andersen hasn’t skated since March 19. What is interesting and also what I like from the organization is that there seems to be no sense of panic about his slow recovery. As Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe puts it succinctly, Andersen’s recovery is “progressing well.” In the meantime, Jack Campbell will continue to be Toronto’s starting goalie.
Here’s what we know. First, Andersen’s injury is healing – he’s making progress. Second, he didn’t join the team on this road trip, so he won’t play over the next three games. Third, he’ll be reassessed next week.
Item Two: Jack Campbell’s Feeling Back About His Workload Management
To give a sense about Jack Campbell’s sense of responsibility to his team, here’s a goalie on a really hot streak. However, he seems not to be taking his success for granted. On Wednesday night, he stopped all but one of the 27 shots the Jets put on net to extend his perfect record on the season to 7-0-0.
In addition, Campbell’s goals-against-average of 1.41 and his save percentage of .948 save percentage in those seven games would be tops in the NHL if he’d played the requisite number of games. [The Colorado Avalanache’s Philipp Grubauer leads the NHL with a goals-against-average of 1.78, and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Casey DeSmith leads the NHL with a save percentage of .933.]
Still, it obviously bothers Campbell that his workload is being “managed” so cautiously. As he noted, “As a competitor and a teammate, I feel bad sometimes. I get days off when the other guys are grinding. It just puts more fire in my belly to perform when I get called upon.”
That said, he’s accepted it and notes, “But, I trust the staff and what they decide to do, and obviously it’s something I need to really take seriously now.”
Related: ‘Mr. Hockey’ Gordie Howe
It’s likely that Campbell will start again tonight. However, if the Maple Leafs are too concerned with his workload they could put backup Michael Hutchinson in goal. He’s not been playing badly, but he’s just hasn’t matched Campbell’s success this season. No one has.
Item Three: Maple Leafs’ First-Line Magic
The Maple Leafs’ first line of Auston Matthews at center, Mitch Marner at right-wing, and Zach Hyman on the left side is playing well. In fact, this line might be the best 200-foot forward line in the NHL.
Matthews has currently scored in three straight games and had both a goal and an assist on Wednesday night. Hyman also scored a goal and an assist Wednesday and now has eight points (four goals, four assists) in his last eight games. Marner has scored a goal and five assists in his past four games.
For the season, when they’ve played together the Matthews-Marner- Hyman line has outscored its opponents 18-8. For those like myself who consider plus-minus to be an important statistic, Marner is plus-18, Hyman is plus-17, and Matthews is plus-14. That ranks them in the top three for the team and in the top 10 for NHL forwards.
As coach Keefe notes, “[Matthews and Marner] have been really good defensively right from the start of the season. Both guys have really worked, really focused on it. Pretty much every night they’re playing against the other team’s best players. Often these are some of the best players in the world.”
Keefe noted that the Jets ice some of the best forwards in the NHL and that his “guys” on the first line “do the job.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m looking for the Maple Leafs to break their power-play jinx tonight against the Jets. They had five power play chances on Wednesday and couldn’t score, but Alex Kerfoot did score a short-handed goal. I guess that counts for something on the special teams.
The Jets were the last team to give up a power-play goal to the Maple Leafs (Auston Matthews scored it in a Jets’ 4-3 victory on March 9). Since that Matthews’ goal, the Maple Leafs haven’t scored in 24 power-play chances. It’s been nine games without a goal with the man advantage.
Still, despite that power-play drought the team’s had a 4-0-1 record in its last five games and has stretched its North Division lead over the second-place Jets to three points.