Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Kase, Ritchie & Tkachuk

I got it wrong in my post yesterday when I looked back at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ pattern of having long winning streaks and then falling into long losing streaks. Instead, the Maple Leafs played a solid bounce-back game when they traveled to Philadelphia to shut out a strong Flyers team by a score of 3-0 last night. 

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Perhaps, although it’s only an N of One, the team has learned to recover more quickly from a stinker of a game and come into their next game with the kind of intensity they need to wear down other good teams. 

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It wasn’t that the Maple Leafs played so poorly against the Los Angeles Kings, it was when they played poorly. The team came out on Monday night without intensity and gave up two quick goals. They actually played better than the Kings during the last two periods, but it was too little and too late. Last night was a different story.

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll comment on some of the key points of the game and share notes about the upcoming Calgary Flames’ game on the horizon for Friday.

Item One: Auston Matthews Inspires with His Work Ethic

Is Auston Matthews turning into a team leader? Last night I thought he led the team by example and, although he failed to record a goal, played inspirational hockey that helped lead his team to victory.

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Maple Leafs’ fans are so used to Auston Matthews ringing up goals that they sometimes fail to see him as a team leader. Or maybe I’m only speaking for myself. I thought he played a strong game last night against the Flyers. He skated hard, played strong on the puck, and added two more points to his season’s totals. They just weren’t goals.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews with William Nylander (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

In fact, Matthews only had two shots on the net. But he did register assists on both William Nylander’s goals. One was at an even-strength goal during the second period and the other was a power-play goal during the third period. Matthews now has five goals and five assists in 11 games on the season. He’s closing in on being a point-a-game player on the season.

Item Two: William Nylander Again Carries the Offense

William Nylander scored two more goals in last night’s 3-0 win over the Flyers. His first goal broke a scoreless tie, then he scored an insurance goal in the first five minutes of the third period. 

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What impresses me most is that it’s almost as if Nylander can stand flatfooted in front of the goalie and, without any goalie distraction, simply beat the goalie by the accuracy of his shot. Similar to Matthews, Nylander is closing in on being a point-a-game player for the season. In 14 games, he has scored seven goals and added six assists (for 13 points). 

The 25-year-old Nylander now is on a five-game point-scoring streak since the beginning of November. However, last night was his first game with more than one goal.

Item Three: Jack Campbell Throws a Shutout Against the Flyers

Given the goalie situation for the Maple Leafs, the team seems as if it’s going to ride Jack Campbell hard and hope he doesn’t wear out. So far, he’s been more than up to the test. He blinked against the Kings on Monday, although I don’t think anyone can fault him for the goals; but, he roared back with a 36-save shutout last night.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Campbell looked absolutely dialed in on Wednesday. It was his second shutout in 11 starts on the 2021-22 season. He’s had a poor game or two but, in nine of those starts, he only allowed two goals or fewer. He’s been solid. My guess is that the team will play him against the Calgary Flames on Friday night and might give Joseph Woll his first NHL start in Buffalo on the second night of a back-to-back.

Item Four: Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie Rise from the Depths

To my mind, one of the key events of last night’s game was that both Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie contributed so fully to the victory. Both Kase and Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares were question marks headed into the game. Kase played, but Tavares rested. Instead, Nick Ritchie drew into the captain’s spot in the lineup. 

Kase has, to my eyes, looked good so far although he hasn’t been rewarded on the scoresheet for the season. Given his history of concussions, when he’s listed as injured that’s a concern. 

Kase added his second goal of the season; and, by doing so, broke the streak of goals by the Maple Leafs’ so-called Core Four. Kase has been working hard and playing well. Last night he was rewarded on the scoresheet. 

With Tavares resting, Ritchie took on more responsibility and performed well. He looked especially good on the power play. Ritchie showed good hands and an ability to move the puck to teammates. He’s a big body and a net-front presence. He doesn’t have a goal yet; but, if his play last night is an indication, one’s coming sooner than later. He made a great play was to spring Timothy Liljegren for a third-period breakaway. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As noted, on Friday the Flames are coming to town carrying a surprising 7-2-3 record. They lost recently to the also surprising San Jose Sharks, so should be in a poor mood. 

I’m interested in the history of the teams. Last season Campbell was injured during the Flames’ game in January and missed several weeks of the season. During that game, Matthew Tkachuk “accidentally” kneed Campbell in the back during a goal-mouth scrum after the Maple Leafs’ goalie was injured. 

Related: Tkachuk Shows His Ignorance Discussing Maple Leafs’ Campbell Injury

The very next game, defenseman Jake Muzzin tossed a puck into Tkachuk’s lap after a Maple Leafs’ victory. Tkachuk tore the place apart on his way to the dressing room. 

Will any of that animosity will transfer to Friday’s game? It could be interesting.