As a team, the Toronto Maple Leafs could not have dreamed their four-game road trip any better. Last night the Maple Leafs finished off California with a 5-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks. The team has now pushed its road winning streak to a franchise-record-tying seven games. It’s also improved its record on the 2020-21 regular season to 16-6-1.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the events of last night’s game as well as speak to where the team and the players are as they head home to Toronto for a well-deserved respite in its schedule.
Item One: Jack Campbell is Good as Always
In a wonderfully redundant way, Jack Campbell just keeps stopping pucks. Last night he saw a lot of rubber and stopped 39-of-40 shots during the 5-1 win over the Ducks. The Ducks came out hard during the first and the third period, but Campbell only let a single goal through and it came when the team had a substantial 3-0 lead.
There might be arguments from other teams, but it is easy to make a case that Campbell’s right now the best goalie in the NHL. He leads the league in three main goalie categories – with 12 wins, with a goals-against-average of only 1.64, and with the highest save percentage at .946. In his last seven starts, he’s given up more than one goal only two times.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Has Goals in Three Straight Games
Auston Matthews had a two-game, goal-scoring streak coming into the Ducks game. He moved it to three games. Of the 10 goals Matthews has scored, he’s racked up nine of them during November. His slow start seems to be over.
What seems more interesting to me is how Matthews is scoring. He’s not relying so much on his one-timer far from the net. Instead, he seems to have become more aware of his size, strength, and skills in close. He’s starting to use them.
Matthews changing scoring philosophy also is changing the Maple Leafs’ game plan. The team seems to be getting a lot more pucks on the net and hoping to emerge with a goal from the turmoil and chaos created. It’s the kind of change a number of hockey old-timers seem to have been calling for.
Matthews now has 19 points in the 20 games he’s played. The Maple Leafs have won seven of their last eight games, and Matthews’ 200-foot game is being perfected. There’s no doubt he’s the team leader on offense.
Item Three: William Nylander Picks Up Another Two Points
William Nylander scored a goal (empty-net) and added an assist in last night’s game. He’s now had two multiple-point games in a row and six multiple-point games this season.
The 25-year-old Swede has now scored nine goals and 12 assists in 23 games on the season. His scoring and good play seem to be taken for granted as part of the Maple Leafs’ offense, and that’s a good thing. He’s been perhaps the most steady player on the team in terms of offense.
Item Four: John Tavares Now Has Three-Game Multiple-Point Streak
John Tavares put up two assists last night, which pushed his multi-point game streak to three games. He’s now up to 10 goals and 12 assists (for 22 points) in 22 games. He’s the only point-a-game player on the team.
Tavares’ assists came on goals by his two linemates Nylander and Alex Kerfoot. He’s playing consistently and well. Gone are any lingering concerns from his postseason injury that kept him out of the playoffs last season.
Item Five: Wayne Simmonds Making Things Happen with the Third Line
With Ondrej Kase out for a couple of games – for injury maintenance, I hope, Wayne Simmonds has taken his place and had done well. He scored again on Sunday night and how has a three-game point streak going. During that streak, he’s put up two goals and two assists.
The 33-year-old power forward now has eight points in 22 games and has shown great hand-eye coordination in his increased role on the team.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs are in rarified air for the moment after their four-game road trip. They sit on top of the entire NHL in points with 33 points, tied with the Washington Capitals. But that’s not likely to last a long time because the other NHL teams will be busier than the Maple Leafs over the next week.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price
It’s a good time to take a rest, and the team has to be a bit beat up. They only play on Wednesday night against the Colorado Avalanche and then head out on the road again for a back-to-back against two surprising teams. The Minnesota Wild team is surprising because it’s leading the Central Division, and the Winnipeg Jets are surprising because they are not.
It will be a good week to rest and rehab. Expect Ondrej Kase to return, and Ilya Mikheyev and Petr Mrazek are close. The Maple Leafs have weathered injuries well this season, which speaks to the team’s depth.
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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).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
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