Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Campbell, Marner, Liljegren & Simmonds

If you only looked at the third period of last night’s game, the Toronto Maple Leafs are world-beaters. In fact, the team pushed its winning streak to four games in a row, with a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on the road. They can also thank the Montreal Canadiens for not allowing the Tampa Lightning to take both points in their game. That puts both Toronto and Tampa Bay with 93 points in 68 games played.

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Counting only the last period, the team continued its five-game streak where they played well. But don’t ask Maple Leafs’ head coach about the first two periods – the first period especially. He thought the team was a disaster and basically fell apart in front of starting goalie Jack Campbell. Campbell was tested early and held the door shut until his own team decided to take it to the Flyers, which they did in the third period.

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In the game, Auston Matthews scored his 51st goal to now lead the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl by two. Defenseman Morgan Rielly added a goal and two assists. John Tavares, Wayne Simmonds, Timothy Liljegren, and Pierre Engvall (short-handed) scored the other goals. 

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly is having a strong season with the Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the events of the game and suggest what these might mean as the team continues its road trip into the Sunshine State for a game against both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers.

Item One: Thanks Be, Jack Campbell Is Back

As I noted earlier, Jack Campbell was tested early and often. He made a number of acrobatic saves and held his team in the game by allowing only a goal before his own team came back to score two goals in just over a minute to take the lead. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Campbell’s first game back since March 8, he looked like the goalie who started the season so well. In the end, he stopped 29-of-32 shots on the net. That was good enough. Campbell’s performance reminded me more of the start-of-the-season goalie than it did of the goalie who, in his last five starts before the injury, had allowed 23 goals. 

Item Two: Every Game There’s Something Great to Write about Mitch Marner

Every game it seems, there’s something remarkable to say about Mitch Marner. He was the NHL’s leading scorer since January 1, 2022, with 58 points in 34 games. Last night he registered two assists to push his points-scoring streak to nine games.

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However, one assist really stood out. In it, Marner showed his on-ice IQ as well as his chemistry with first-line partner Auston Matthews. It was as nice an assist as a hockey fan can see. Coming in from the goalie’s left, Marner circled the net to find a wide-open Matthews who had planted himself about 12 feet away from the net on the goalie’s right. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Marner hit Matthews with a perfect pass, and Matthews wasted no time in scoring his 51st goal of the season. Marner now has scored 28 goals and added 53 assists (for 81 points) in only 59 games. Incredibly, given his large number of games missed with injury and COVID-19, Marner could actually hit the 100-point mark this season. 

Item Three: Wayne Simmonds Breaks Scoring Drought

Wayne Simmonds hadn’t scored in 30 games. That ended against his old Flyers team last night. Simmonds had played in Philadelphia for eight seasons between 2011 and 2019 and had scored 30 goals with the Flyers two times.

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However, Simmonds is no longer that player. Still, he made a smart play to beat the defense down the ice and took a great stretch pass from T.J. Brodie to fumble the goal past the Flyers’ goalie. Simmonds last goal was scored on December 14. 

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

By the way, had Simmonds assisted on a goal, he would have had the Gordie Howe hat trick. He had a spirited fight with Zack MacEwen during the third period. On the season, Simmonds has scored five goals and added 10 assists (for 15 points) in 61 games in a fourth-line role. He’s not the power forward he once was, but he still might be an important part of this team’s mix during the postseason. He has 66 penalty minutes. (“Maple Leafs report cards: Jack Campbell returns as Toronto starts slow, finishes strong,” Omar White, The Athletic, 02/04/2022).

Item Four: Is Timothy Liljegren Becoming a Scoring Machine?

The Maple Leafs’ third pairing of Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren has played well. In fact, Liljegren scored for the second game in a row last night. To my eyes, the former 2017 first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft has not played this well before. With Giordano, he looks like an experienced NHL defenseman.

Liljegren now has three points during his last two games, and on the season has scored three goals and 17 assists (for 20 points) in 50 games. Partnering with the former Norris Trophy winner Giordano, Liljegren has raised his offensive game with nine points in his last 13 games.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

By scoring six goals in the victory over Philadelphia, over their last four games the Maple Leafs have scored 24 goals. That’s an average of six goals each game. Look for that high-scoring to end on Monday night against the Lightning in Florida. It should be a lower-scoring game and the Maple Leafs have to dial in from the get-go.

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However, if Campbell can come back strong from his rib injury, that bodes well for the team moving forward. The Maple Leafs have a tough test coming up in Florida. They play back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday (when they play the Panthers). The team ends their four-game road trip with a game in Dallas against the Stars on Thursday.