The Toronto Maple Leafs have had 19 straight man advantages without scoring a power play goal. They could have used one last night. Given the team’s firepower and the style they play, I wouldn’t have predicted such a power-play slump; and, I’m sure the team will suddenly start scoring again. Still, it’s an issue.
Although the Maple Leafs held a 2-1 advantage over the Edmonton Oilers into the third period, they both lost that advantage and then lost the game in overtime by a score of 3-2. It was a good game, as games between these two teams have proven to be this season. This was the last regular-season meeting of these two teams, but will it be the last meeting of the entire season? I’m thinking there’s a good chance these two teams will see each other again in the playoffs.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I share some commentary from the game and look forward to what the game might mean for the team’s near future. As well, I’ll share the breaking news about a defenseman on the loose.
Item One: Is Jack Campbell Injured Again?
Just looking at the face of it, there’s a logic to the fact that the Maple Leafs didn’t even dress Campbell last night against the Oilers. The team has been carefully managing his workload since he returned from a lower-body injury. Although the plan was for Michael Hutchinson to start, I was surprised that the team gave Campbell the complete night off.
That decision might be as simple as Keefe recalling the March 14 game when Hutchinson was pulled after giving up two goals in three shots to the Ottawa Senators and not wanting to repeat that. If you’re determined not to use a goalie, why dress him? I would understand that.
However, the optics make me wonder. Should Maple Leafs fans be worried that Campbell hasn’t practiced during the past two days? I keep reading that it’s “expected” he’ll be available to start Wednesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets on the road; but, given this season, don’t blame me for being a bit concerned.
As it was, Hutchison started against the Oilers and newcomer Veini Vehvilainen was the backup. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.
Item Two: Michael Hutchinson’s Record Falls to 3-2-1
I admit that Hutchinson started this game slowly, but I didn’t think he played horribly on the night. In total, he stopped 20 of the 23 shots he saw in the 3-2 overtime loss to the Oilers.
Still, for the second night in a row, the Oilers’ goalie Mike Smith was the best goalie on the ice. No sooner than Smith robbed Auston Matthews on a point-blank shot in overtime, Connor McDavid (who’d been held off the scoresheet on the night to that point) fed a great pass to defenseman Darnell Nurse for the game-winning goal with only 17 seconds gone.
Item Three: Is Justin Holl Becoming a Scoring Machine?
Justin Holl has been one of the big surprises of the season for me. He’s working well with Jake Muzzin to create a shut-down defensive pairing and he’s even begun to score. Last night, the 28-year-old Holl scored assists on goals by both Mitch Marner and Matthews to push his point-scoring streak to three games. In those three games, he’s totalled a goal and three assists to push his scoring to 14 points this season.
By the way, given how long it’s taken for Holl to round into this version of his playing self, I can totally understand why the Maple Leafs’ organization seems to be so patient with Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Re-takes NHL Goal-Scoring Lead
If Auston Matthews were completely honest about his night, he probably would admit to being frustrated. Still, Matthews scored his 23rd of the season on “only” three shots – it seemed like he had way more chances and just missed on a few others. Matthews seemed dominant all night and his first goal was a beauty, where he circled in front of the net and put a perfectly-placed shot over Smith’s left shoulder.
Matthews NHL-leading 23rd goal of the season is now two better than the Oilers’ McDavid. But the thing that must have frustrated Matthews most was that he missed a great chance to win the game almost as soon as the overtime period started. Goalie Smith stopped him from point-blank range, as it seems he had done time and time again during the two-game series.
Matthews now has goals in back-to-back games, and he seems completely healed from his wrist injury of a couple of weeks ago. He will carry a three-game point-scoring streak (two goals, two assists) into Winnipeg for Wednesday’s game.
Item Five: Mitch Marner Carries the Game in the First Period
Although the Oilers scored the first goal of the game on a nice backhand shot by Josh Archibald, they seemed to start the first period a bit flat. It didn’t take the Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner long to take advantage. He scored a goal and an assist in the first period to stake his team to a 2-1 lead.
Both Matthews’ and Marner’s goals were great plays. As I noted, Matthews took his time to roof a shot over Smith’s shoulder for the team’s second goal of the game. Before that goal, Marner both pushed hard to the net and then patiently out waited Smith to score the Maple Leafs’ first goal of the game.
The 23-year-old Marner’s two points pushed him to 10 points (three goals and seven assists) in his last nine games and to 13 goals and 31 assists (for 42 points) in his 34 games this season. That puts him into fourth place in the NHL scoring race.
Item Six: The Philadelphia Flyers Place Shayne Gostisbehere on Waivers
In breaking news, the Philadelphia Flyers announced that they have placed Shane Gostisbehere on waives today. What this means for the Maple Leafs is unknown, however he was often mentioned as a trade possibility for the team over the past few seasons.
Somehow the Ghost (his nickname) has falled from grace in the city of Brotherly Love. Only three seasons ago, he scored 52 assists and was one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. Recently he’s been critical of the Flyers’ problems and perhaps that might have something to do with his placement on the waiver wire.
As I say, it will be interesting to see if anyone picks him up. I’d bet on it. I wonder what Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is meeting about this morning.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The fact that the Maple Leafs and the Oilers went into overtime during both games probably was as perfect a scenario as a hockey fan could draw up. That seems fair in the long run. The result gave each team three points of a possible four on the two-game series, and that outcome kept the Maple Leafs in first place in the North Division.
Two things concern me as I look into the near future. I hate to be doomsday, but I have to wonder if Campbell is really healthy. Second, the lack of a successful Maple Leafs’ power-play is one reason for the team’s generally poorer play over the last ten games. I’m a bit mystified by that lack of success, because the team should be better.
Over the past ten games, even the bottom-dwelling Ottawa Senators have a better record at 4-3-3 than the Maple Leafs at 4-5-1. By the way, in the North Division – and the Buffalo Sabres are not part of that division – only the Calgary Flames at 4-6-0 have a worse record in their last ten games than Toronto.
On Wednesday night, the Maple Leafs meet the Jets in Winnipeg. The Jets are coming off a 5-1 win over the Flames.
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). 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