Here’s what’s different from this season’s 2020-21 Toronto Maple Leafs and last season’s iteration of the same team. This season’s team can play defense. Obviously, goalie Frederik Andersen played well; however, the entire Maple Leafs also played stand-up defensive, too.
The Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Wednesday night. In truth, Andersen might not have needed to be fantastic in this game. OK, forgive one breakdown in the first two minutes of the game when the Canadiens’ Josh Anderson pushed one past him off a team giveaway. After that, it was a good game all around for the Maple Leafs.
Tomas Tatar’s goal was similar to a Wayne Simmonds’ manufactured goal. When you get the puck bouncing around in the crease, anything can happen. It was the combination between determination and fluke. It went off Maple Leafs’ defenseman T.J. Brodie (who plays the quietest game in the world I think) before bouncing around and past Andersen. Nobody’s fault.
On Tuesday night the Maple Leafs won ugly against the Vancouver Canucks by a 3-1 score. Last night’s 4-2 win over a strong Montreal Canadiens’ team wasn’t as ugly as it was just a good defensive game. But the results were the same – another Maple Leafs win.
Might this team be as good as it seems to be? In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll focus on the goaltending and the defense as I look back over and comment on the game.
Item One: Frederik Andersen Wins His Fourth Game in a Row
How good has Frederik Andersen been? Well, he’s good enough now to have won four games in a row; and, he also hasn’t lost a game in regulation in his last eight. Andersen has now improved his 2020-21 season’s record to 9-2-1 with a goals-against-average of 2.59 and a save percentage of .908 in 12 games.
The 31-year-old Dane now is part of every game the team plays; and, fortunately for the Maple Leafs, there are no back-to-back games that might change that pattern until later this month. As a result, Andersen is the Maple Leafs’ workhorse goalie. Given his success, there’s little chance that he won’t start in the team’s back-to-back against the Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday back home in Toronto.
Ironically, it’s interesting how good a goalie can be when the team’s playing well in front of him. Andersen didn’t really need to be outstanding because the team played so well defensively overall. It makes me wonder how good Andersen might have been playing over the past few seasons when his defense was more porous.
Item Two: Jake Muzzin Records Three Assists In 4-2 Win
Jake Muzzin usually doesn’t make the score sheet at all; however, last night he scored three assists. Muzzin helped on goals by Travis Dermott, Justin Holl, and Zach Hyman (an empty-netter at the end of the game). This scoring “explosion” gives Muzzin a total of nine points (a goal and eight assists) in 14 games this season.
The 31-year-old defenseman, who now seems like a fixture on Maple Leafs blueline and a team leader, has worked himself into a solid top-four defenseman. Good for general manager Kyle Dubas for pulling him out of Los Angeles.
Item Three: Justin Holl Scores Goal One on the Season
Justin Holl made the scoresheet with his first goal of the season. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Holl had only a single assist in his last nine games. However, because he had collected four assists during the season’s first four games, he hadn’t been a scoring write-off.
The 29-year-old Holl’s goal came early in the third period, gave the team a 2-1 lead, and opened the gates for the Maple Leafs’ victory. Holl now has scored six points in 14 games this season. I’ll say more about him later in the post, but I think he might be turning into a special player.
Item Four: Travis Dermott Comes Back from Injury to Score
Travis Dermott had been out with a leg injury but came back strong by scoring in the 4-2 win over the Canadiens. It was both his first goal and point of the season. It surprised Carey Price – good goal!
Item Five: Special Call Outs for Young Maple Leafs’ Players
Three young Maple Leafs’ players in particular need call outs. It was good to see Dermott get his first goal of the season. Congratulations.
To my eyes, Ilya Mikheyev’s been playing well, and it was good to see him score. I believe he contributes in many different ways to the team whether he’s scoring or not. Last season, when I first saw him play, I thought he’d be a 20-goal scorer season after season. Perhaps, instead, he’s going to grow into one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards. He has the size, the reach, the smarts, and the speed to do so.
Holl has been a revelation. He’s really become a much better hockey player than I think anyone thought he could be. He’s good. Every once in a while I see him make a great defensive play to save a good scoring chance. He’s growing into one of my favorite Maple Leafs’ players.
Item Six: Ex-Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri Scores 400th NHL Point
I always loved the way Nazem Kadri played with his heart when he was with the Maple Leafs. I also know there are a large number of other Maple Leafs’ fans who also remain Kadri fans. Congratulations to Kadri on scoring his 400th NHL point in a recent game.
For fans who care and wish to read more about Kadri’s second season with the Colorado Avalanche, I wrote a post yesterday reviewing his season. You can follow the link above to catch up with how he’s playing.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
For the Maple Leafs, Wednesday night’s game was interesting because when it was over, the scoresheet wasn’t filled with numbers beside Auston Matthews’ or Mitch Marner’s names. Matthews got a single-point; Marner didn’t make the score sheet. The rest of the team carried the Maple Leafs to Wednesday’s win.
Instead of being led by the dynamic duo, a number of Maple Leafs players who typically don’t find the score sheet contributed to the team’s win. Holl, Dermott, and Mikheyev each scored their first goals of the season. That was good to see, and it bodes well for the team’s future. Such depth is what might separate the Maple Leafs from the Edmonton Oilers this season.
In summary, I keep asking myself, how good can this team become this season? That’s the fun of hockey. We’ll see as the season rolls on.
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