The Toronto Maple Leafs came out against the Columbus Blue Jackets and won Game 2 Tuesday by a 3-0 score to even their series at 1-1. In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll discuss the play of Frederik Andersen and Nick Robertson in Games 1 and 2. I’ll also compare Auston Matthews’ response to the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons to the way Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella answers media questions.
Item One: Two Games In, and Andersen’s Looked Great
One of the biggest questions heading into the play-in series was which Frederik Andersen would Maple Leafs fans see. Would it be the early-season, slow-starting Andersen; or, would it be the Andersen who, when he’s on his game, can carry a team? Well, the right goalie showed up for both games.
In two postseason games, Andersen showed none of the rust that usually plagues him early in a season. Specifically, during Game 1, he made save after save – except for one. By his admission, he guessed wrong. He could have blocked the shot but thought it came off the stick higher and he miffed.
During Game 2 there were no mistakes. That said, the Maple Leafs dominated the Blue Jackets and only allowed 20 shots on goal. Still, Andersen stopped them all.
One mistake in two games for any goalie is extremely solid. Andersen’s errors are more obvious because after he makes one a horn blares and half the players forget to social distance. But his two postseason games have been far better than his regular-season play.
It’s hard to play much better than he did and no one blames him for the Game 1 loss. In fact, in two postseason games, he’s been one of the best players on the ice for either team.
Today’s game was Andersen’s 50th playoff game, and mostly it’s been frustration. He hasn’t won a postseason series since 2015 when he helped lead the Anaheim Ducks to the Western Conference Final.
Before Game 1, defenseman Morgan Rielly noted about Andersen: “He’s definitely a guy that really enjoys the process and he enjoys practicing and trying to get better. I think come playoff time all that stuff becomes that much more important. He wants to prove himself again. He’s very motivated, that’s who he is as a person, he wants to prove people wrong and be a big part of what we’re doing. We’re lucky to have him on this team and he brings it every day so I would expect him to be ready.”
He gets another chance to show if he can continue his solid play on Thursday.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Finally Converses with Steve Simmons
The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons first broke the news that Auston Matthews had tested positive for COVID-19. Simmons’ history with the Maple Leafs has been complicated, and he’s a polarizing reporter. Some feel his report, although accurate, was unethical, while others feel it was newsworthy. There was speculation about what might happen when Matthews met Simmons for the first time after his report (from “Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews tests positive for COVID-19,” Toronto Sun, 19/06/20).
During the post-game interview, the inevitable happened. Simmons asked Matthews about the difficulty of breaking through the Blue Jackets’ defense. Given the context of the situation – Matthews had just come off a frustrating game where his team lost, he was tired, and he probably would have preferred to be anywhere else – there could have been “drama”.
But, nothing like that happened. Simmons asked Matthews a question about the game. Matthews seemed to shrug a bit (my interpretation) while he listened and, without drama or emotion, he told Simmons:
“First of all, it’s unfortunate I’m getting a question from you at this point, Steve. I just wanted to say that I didn’t appreciate the article you wrote about me a couple of months ago. I thought it was a bit unethical, to be honest.”
Then he answered Simmons’ question.
Matthews must have thought about how he would react when the situation arose, and maybe he was even coached by the organization. But he handled it perfectly when he could have reacted differently. He simply stated what he felt.
Well played, Matthews. As PensionPlanPuppets’ KatyaKnappe rightly reminded us, if you ask Matthews a question, he’ll answer it. She contrasts Matthews’ behaviour to Tortorella’s, who can be rude, parsimonious in his explanations, and sometimes even obnoxious. Appreciate him or not as a coach, he can come across as haughty and condescending.
As someone in their mid-70s, I appreciate that about the Maple Leafs organization. From top to bottom, the group is community-minded and seem to appreciate fans and try to keep them in the know (as much as possible) about what’s happening.
By the way, Matthews was the 1st Star during Game 2 and tipped in the Maple Leafs first goal of the series before the end of the second period on an assist from Zach Hyman. John Tavares got the team’s second goal of the game on a breakaway five minutes into the third period to put the game on ice.
Item Three: Nick Robertson Has Played Well in His Third-Line Role
The debate about Nick Robertson playing during the qualifying series seems settled. He started both games against the Blue Jackets and has played well. What’s amazing is that he’s not much older than the young women I coached this past season on my high school basketball team.
He earned more shifts as the game have gone on; and, if he continues, he’s going to be a good player. He might be that already. I’m hoping he scores in this series. For his part, he simply keeps firing hard shots on net; he’s not afraid to shoot.
After Robertson’s impressive training camp and before Game 1, head coach Sheldon Keefe warned fans (and perhaps Robertson) that, “It’s going to be a lot harder starting tomorrow, and he’s got to be prepared for that and we’re anxious to see how he can handle it.” Still, Keefe believed Robertson was “ready for it” and was “confident in putting him in.”
He was right. Robertson hasn’t looked out of place in his first two NHL games.
Item Four: Jake Muzzin Taken to the Hospital with Neck Injury
Late in the third period, Jake Muzzin was tripped up and fell heavily into an opponent. He stayed on the ice until he was finally taken off on a stretcher. At this time, there’s no word on his condition.
Nor is there any word about his status after leaving the bubble to enter the hospital. The policy is that any player who leaves the bubble must quarantine four days. We’ll keep you up-to-date on Muzzin’s status when we hear more.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
After Game 1, Keefe didn’t blow things apart. During Game 2, he made a small change by replacing Frederik Gauthier with Pierre Engvall on the fourth line; and, the fourth line showed up well today. Engvall was all over the ice and Kyle Clifford made his physical presence felt during the game with a number of thundering hits.
The fact that Keefe only made minor changes to his lineup for the two postseason games reminds us that the team only lost Game 1 by a single goal. Then they dominated today.
During Game 1, the right goalie showed up. During Game 2, the right forwards showed up. That’s a good sign for the Maple Leafs going into Game 3.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf