The Toronto Maple Leafs last played on Saturday evening in Montreal and lost 5-2. Granted, it was another back-to-back game, but the Toronto Maple Leafs were soundly beaten. The team played a strong second period to tie the score 2-2, but the Canadiens overwhelmed besieged goalie Michael Hutchinson during the third period and he couldn’t hold off the breakaways and odd-man rushes he faced. And that was the game.
The Maple Leafs prepare to meet the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, Oct. 29 in Toronto. Should they lose, they’ll have a 6-6-2 record. That’s not at all what the team expected going into the season.
How worried is the team? During Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada Headlines segment, the conversation turned to the struggle the team has been having. Although the focus was on head coach Mike Babcock’s job security, hockey insider Chris Johnston reported during that segment that a number of people inside the organization aren’t really that upset things haven’t been easy to start the season.
As he noted: “internally the Leafs don’t mind, at least some in the organization, that the team’s faced some adversity here. They believe it will make them stronger. When they looked at their schedule, they knew it would be a tough opening month.”
While the team is moving towards their next game, in this post I will try to keep Maple Leafs fans appraised about some of the news coming from within the organization.
Item One: Bettman Knows How to Rattle Maple Leafs Fans’ Cages
I never knew NHL commissioner Gary Bettman did stand up comedy, but he was in fine form during media coverage for the NHL’s Heritage Classic on Saturday. When talking about the NHL’s playoff format that had been instituted since the 2013-14 season, he noted that most people liked it because it strengthened rivalries.
Well, he noted, unless you’re a Maple Leafs fan.
That format has pitted the Boston Bruins against the Maple Leafs in consecutive seasons. And, his “joke” was alluding to the fact that Toronto has lost to Boston each of those postseasons.
How sad that the NHL commissioner would take an opportunity to rub it in with an organization. Even sadder, he’s right. The Maple Leafs record in this playoff format has been poor.
Obviously, Bettman knows well the ongoing Maple Leafs irritation, and he thought it might be time to have a little fun with it during the press conference. I haven’t heard yet a response by Babcock.
Item Two: Tavares’ Broken Finger Is Getting Better
It’s obvious that the Maple Leafs miss John Tavares; and, in a bit of good news, his broken finger is healing and his preparation for a return moves forward. On Monday, Pierre LeBrun tweeted that Tavares shot pucks for the first time since the team announced he had broken his finger on Oct. 16 against the Capitals. [One correction, Pierre: Tavares actually shot a puck since his injury. It was later during the game, and it was a goal.]
There’s no timeline for Tavares’ return, but he was expected to be out for at least one to two weeks. It’s moving towards two weeks now. The team needs his settling influence.
Item Three: Hyman’s Knee Still Not Better
In a corresponding bit of bad news, TSN Maple Leafs reporter Kristen Shilton tweeted that Zach Hyman’s knee injury has not progressed quickly enough to allow him to return to the lineup just yet. Like Tavares, Hyman practiced on Monday’s as an extra forward. He might be a week or two away from playing again, but no one’s certain.
Item Four: Rielly Takes a “Personal Day”
Shilton also reported that defenseman Morgan Rielly has missed his third consecutive practice on Monday. Babcock noted that Rielly “took the day for himself.” Two thoughts: (a) Rielly logs big minutes for the Maple Leafs although he misses practices. I see no let-up in the effectiveness of his game. Maybe he’s just resting. (b) Was it my imagination, or did I see Rielly showing a bit of a limp during the last Bruins game?
Item Five: The Tyson Barrie We Expected Hasn’t Shown Up Yet
When I think of Tyson Barrie’s play with the Maple Leafs this season, the song “Mrs. Robinson” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel keeps running through my head. The line in the song that keeps replaying is “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
The Barrie we expected to show up in Toronto simply seems to have gone away.
Honestly, I know the line has nothing to do with someone not showing up. Instead, when Paul Simon penned that line, I believe he was considering the erosion of heroes as we “graduate” (the song comes from the 1967 Mike Nicholls movie The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman). Even Joe DiMaggio, as heroic a baseball player as anyone who ever played, becomes mortal and ordinary.
Well, Barrie’s play has been mortal and ordinary. Barrie’s gone 10 games without a point and has scored only four assists in 13 games. He seems off his game. There’s no question Babcock has deployed Barrie more in defensive situations and Rielly more in offensive situations. And, Barrie isn’t getting the power play time he’s used to getting with the Colorado Avalanche, but something seems wrong. He hasn’t had a scoreless streak like this in many seasons.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As noted, the Maple Leafs play the Capitals on Tuesday evening. Then they take a three-day break before showing up in Philadelphia to play the Flyers on Nov. 2. Fortunately, the schedule gets a bit easier and the team doesn’t have another back-to-back until it plays the Bruins at home on Nov. 15 and then travels to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Nov. 16.
It will be interesting to see where the team ranks at that time. One would think their play would improve by then. Wouldn’t one?