In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at tonight’s game by focusing first on the goalies involved. It’s a funny thing that in the NHL great friends can also be tough opponents. That’s the case for Frederik Andersen’s first visit to his old stomping grounds tonight.
As well, I’ll share the news that Jake Muzzin is not quite ready to return to the lineup from his concussion symptoms. He’s been out since January 15 and he’ll likely miss one more game – at least. That offers a chance for other young Maple Leafs’ defensemen to step up and cover for him.
It should be a good game; and, if the stars align, a possible precursor for postseason action? Who knows?
Item One: Welcome Back to Toronto Frederik Andersen
While partaking in the NHL All-Star weekend, former Maple Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen got to hang out with his old friends and teammates Jack Campbell and Auston Matthews. The three former teammates will see each other under other circumstances tonight when the two teams hook up in Toronto.
Both goalies are having amazing seasons, which is why they were All-Star selections. In addition, both goalies helped their teams get off to great starts to the season and there’s a chance they’ll see each other in the postseason if that success continues. Both Andersen and Campbell rank among the NHL’s goalie leaders in goals-against average and save percentage.
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Maple Leafs’ fans know that Andersen and Campbell were goalie partners last season in Toronto. But some fans might not recall that, during the first wave of the pandemic when COVID-19 forced the NHL to first shut down before it eventually completed the season inside bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, Andersen and Matthews hung out together for a couple of months in Arizona. They’re tight.
This will be Andersen’s first game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto as a member of the Hurricanes. However, he should feel at home in Scotiabank Arena. Between the beginning of the 2016-17 season and the end of the 2020-21 season, he played 268 games with the Blue and White before signing as a free agent with Hurricane.
Not surprisingly, Andersen’s success has helped him become a favorite in Carolina. His head coach Rod Brind’Amour said, “He checks all the boxes.” Teammate Jaccob Slavin described Andersen as a “solid brick wall back there.” He added that Andersen has been “just a steady, calm goalie. You know you’re going to get his best effort back there every night, so you can appreciate that.”
As much as Andersen has been a hit with his new team, Maple Leafs’ fans have their own love affair with Campbell in goal. Not only has he played well, but he has the kind of work ethic that endears him to all fans. He’s also one of the most feel-good guys anyone can hang around.
Item Two: Petr Mrazek Will Start in Goal Tonight
In a move that doesn’t hold near the drama as an Andersen vs. Campbell match-up but makes all sorts of sense in other ways, Petr Mrazek was named as the starter for tonight’s game. I like the move, which means the coaches are considering the bigger picture and not getting caught up in the show of it all. If the Maple Leafs are going to have a good run at a top-position finish in the Atlantic Division, Mrazek will be important to that goal. They need to establish him as legit.
Tonight’s game is the start of the second half of the 2021-22 regular season. Thus far, Mrazek’s mostly been a non-factor over the first half of the season. However, he’s been playing better lately. Recently, he won his fourth straight game and has given up only six goals in his last three wins.
It’s not going to be an easy game tonight. Earlier in the season, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe used the Hurricanes as the example of what a really good NHL team looked like and what his own team – to that point – had failed to become. Although the Maple Leafs’ lot has improved since then, the Hurricanes remain steady and are still playing well.
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Mrazek’s totals on the season include a 5-2-0 record, a goals-against-average of 2.94, and a save percentage of .902 in the seven games he’s played. The game will be a test both for Mrazek in goal and for the remainder of the Maple Leafs in general. The Hurricanes average 3.48 goals per game this season. Keefe was right; they are a good team.
Item Three: Jake Muzzin Will Likely Not Play Tonight
Although Jake Muzzin was a regular participant in the team’s Sunday practice, it doesn’t look like he’ll play tonight. He was the seventh defenseman in practice. The team is being particularly cautious with Muzzin’s concussion symptoms.
But Muzzin is close to returning. He’s missed the team’s past six games and used the All-Star break to extend his rest and rehab. The Maple Leafs will depend upon the six healthy defensemen they have.
Coach Keefe reported that it was unlikely the Maple Leafs’ shutdown defender would return to the lineup Monday, but when Muzzin spoke to the media he wasn’t sure about his status. We’ll see.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
With Muzzin out, it means that Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren will play. Yesterday, in his media discourse, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas spoke about Sandin and Liljegren and noted their growth up the organization’s ladder toward a place where they were more in the core of the team’s defense.
It won’t be long, if everything goes as expected, that these players – along with Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie – will become more part of the core of the team. It’s been fun to watch their steady – with some hiccups – progression into the lineup.
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