Like the doctor ordered, the Toronto Maple Leafs came off their All-Star break and immediately reeled off two road wins. The team had looked ugly in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks before the break but bounced back nicely. As they begin a two-game homestand, they’re now resting – although precariously – in a playoff position.
In this post, as the team waits to play the Ottawa Senators in a Hockey Night in Canada game, I want to keep Maple Leafs fans up-to-date about news and rumors from the team.
Item One: Andersen Posts Two Straight Wins
After giving up six goals in a loss to the Blackhawks, 30-year-old Frederik Andersen bounced back to win both games he played on the road. He stopped 34 of 36 shots against the Nashville Predators in a convincing 5-2 victory and then won his 24th game against a tough Dallas Stars team when he stopped 31 of 34 shots in Wednesday’s 5-3 win. Those two wins were Andersen’s first back-to-back wins in almost a month. His last was on Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.
Andersen’s record is now at 24-9-6 with a goals-against average of 2.87 and a .910 save percentage. Interestingly, he’s won 13 of 18 games on the road this year. Fortunately for him, although he gives up almost three goals a game, the Maple Leafs offense often bails him out.
Item Two: Hutchinson Will Be Starting Against the Ottawa Senators
Michael Hutchinson is in net against the Senators on Saturday. Hutchinson has been roughed up lately and is coming off back-to-back losses to the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers. However, head coach Sheldon Keefe’s put him in a good matchup against the Senators, who lost 5-3 to the Washington Capitals on Friday night and are only 6-15-4 on the road this season.
Item Three: Sandin Scores His First NHL Goal
Rasmus Sandin scored the game-winning goal and added an assist in the win against the Predators. It was the 19-year-old defenseman’s first NHL goal. Still, it might not have been his best play in the game. He sent the high-scoring William Nylander in alone for a goal on an amazingly accurate breakaway pass for the game’s first goal.
Although it’s a small sample size, in the four games since his recall from the Toronto Marlies, Sandin’s scored a goal and three assists. To say he’s playing well is an understatement.
Item Four: Barrie Has Scored in Four Straight Games
With his two points against the Stars, Tyson Barrie extended his point streak to four games. He had an assist on Matthews’ goal and scored a goal himself halfway through the second period to give the Maple Leafs a 3-1 lead.
Barrie’s thriving under the team’s new leadership and has been a completely different player since Keefe took over from Mike Babcock.
Item Five: Could Matthews Score 60 Goals?
For a goal-scorer, there’s something to be said for close games where your team is ahead by a goal or two with two minutes left in the game. That was the case in Nashville on Monday night, and Auston Matthews came through with an empty-netter for his 35th goal of the season. They all count.
Then in the win against the Stars, Matthews scored his 36th and added an assist in the 5-3 win. Those two points give him 60 points in 51 games this season. Not only is he on a pace for his first 80-point season, but there’s a chance he might score 90 points if he keeps up his torrid pace. As wild as this sounds, he might have a chance at 60 goals for the season. There’re 31 games remaining and he needs 24 goals. That’s tough but possible.
Item Six: Will Muzzin Re-sign with the Maple Leafs?
There is a fair bit of rumor about Jake Muzzin’s interest in re-signing with the team. When he was first brought in from the Los Angeles Kings, it seemed to me that then-head coach Mike Babcock sort of hinted that Muzzin was the best trade the team could make at the time. Although I admit I was reading between the lines, which was a bit of a sport for hockey writers who covered the team, Babcock’s talk seemed to downgrade Muzzin as a player.
However, to my eyes, if that assessment of Muzzin existed it’s been inaccurate. Muzzin’s been solid on the ice and has become a dressing room leader. That he’s considering re-signing with the team should be good news for fans.
However, rumors about re-upping Muzzin might be surprising because there has not been similar rumors about re-signing Barrie who’s had a resurgence under Keefe. Barrie’s a right-handed shot who’s younger and, like Muzzin, will become a free agent this summer.
Recently, on the show “Insider Trading” Bob McKenzie reported about the interest in Muzzin by the Maple Leafs.
McKenzie said there’s “no question Muzzin’s on record saying he’d like to come back and stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And there’s no question, I think, that the Toronto Maple Leafs want him back, for both sides, under the right set of circumstances.”
McKenzie added that the two sides have had preliminary discussions and both want to get something done. He also added that “Muzzin has gone on record to say how impressed he’s been with the organization and how they take care of the players.”
Finally, McKenzie noted that a contract of about four seasons at about $6 million per season makes sense to him.
What’s Next For the Maple Leafs?
Obviously, the Maple Leafs are driven by a strong offense, and that offense is rounding into form. The usual suspects, Matthews, Nylander, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares are holding up their ends of the bargain, but others are also joining in. Barrie has jumped into fifth place in team scoring with five goals and 30 points, and Zach Hyman is playing great hockey and in 32 games has 14 goals and 24 points.
If Toronto can score four or more goals in each game, which they’ve done for eight consecutive road games (a franchise record), it’s simply tough to beat them. That gives their goalie a great chance every night to pull out a victory.
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