Although coming in first place is not a done deal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s becoming more likely game-by-game. The Maple Leafs now have a record of 30-13-5 (for 65 points) and are seven points ahead of the second-place Edmonton Oilers and eight points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets for the first spot in the all-Canadian North Division.
It looks as if the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and the Ottawa Senators will be left on the outside looking in. It also looks as if the Maple Leafs – who play the Montreal Canadiens tonight – will likely also meet them again during postseason play. Unless something really surprising happens – and it might – the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens are on intersecting pathways towards being first-round opponents. If that happens, it would be the first time the two teams would have met in the postseason since 1979.
Furthermore, because the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens play each other four more times in less than two weeks, they should become familiar playing each other. Such familiarity could lead to a contentious series.
In this post, I’ll take a brief look at some of the news and roster moves coming from the Maple Leafs’ organization.
Item One: Jack Campbell Gets the Starting Nod Against the Canadiens
After a few days off, Jack Campbell pulls the start against the Canadiens in Montreal. Because the Maple Leafs have a quick turn-around and play the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow, count on backup goalie David Rittich getting that start.
After Campbell set the NHL-record by winning his first 11 starts of the season, he fell into a bit of a swoon. However, he’s put together two strong back-to-back victories over the Jets in the team’s last two games. His goals-against-average was excellent at 2.01 and his save percentage a really solid .937.
If the 29-year-old Campbell can pick up the win, it would be his 14th victory of the season. Prior to this season, his previous high in victories was 10 in 2018-19 with the Los Angeles Kings.
Item Two: John Tavares Hopes to Continue His Hot Streak
John Tavares has been on a hot streak, totalling 16 points his last 11 games. On the season, he has 17 goals and 27 assists (for 44 points) in 48 games and is sneaking up on the point-a-game plateau. Why the sudden increase? Line partner William Nylander revealed his secret yesterday: “He changed his curve and got his sticks going and he has been dialled in with it.”
Nylander added that Tavares had been “playing with a different stick that wasn’t really his stick, so he had to wait some time to get the new sticks.” (from “Keefe: Leafs’ plan is to give Sandin ‘more runway’ for the young D-man to prove he belongs,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 27/04/21).
Item Three: Veini Vehvilainen Moved to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies
On Monday, Veini Vehvilainen was reassigned to the AHL Toronto Marlies. The 24-year-old goalie was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Mikko Lehtonen trade, and he’s been serving as goalie insurance with the Maple Leafs. It isn’t likely he’ll see any action with the Maple Leafs this season.
Item Four: Frederik Andersen Must Be Healing
The last word is that Frederik Andersen is hoping to get some ice time before the 2020-21 playoffs begin. That only means that his knee injury must be improving. Andersen’s been sidelined since March 19, when he last played against the Calgary Flames.
From what I read, prior to shutting his game down in mid-March, Andersen had been trying to fight through the knee injury. He certainly wasn’t himself this season; in fact, he wasn’t playing well at all and had put together a paltry set of six games before his rehab where he went 1-5-0 with a goals-against-average of 3.84.
Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, while Andersen was out, Campbell carried the workload – with Michael Hutchinson and Rittich getting a few starts. Given the team’s injury history in the goalie position, it’s been a surprisingly good season for the team.
Item Five: Riley Nash Will Begin Skating This Week
Riley Nash, who came with Nick Foligon from the Blue Jackets, is expected to start skating again sometime this week. Nash injured his knee on April 4 when he was with the Blue Jackets; and, at that time, it was projected he would be out for four to six weeks.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that he was told Nash could start skating any day. Keefe said. “I was told to expect him to start to get on skates this week, but I’m not exactly sure on the day.”
Keefe also noted that, because the NHL schedule had been stretched out to May 19th, it would help Nash get ready for the first Stanley Cup playoffs series.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have played the Canadiens well and carry a 4-2-0 record against the Canadiens on the season. The team doesn’t need too many more wins to solidify its position in first place.
Today Alex Kerfoot said the Leafs “want to be peaking at the right time (and) playing well in all facets of our game” as the playoffs approach, but he noted that the team isn’t getting ahead of itself.” (from “Canadiens host Maple Leafs with playoff vibes expected,” The National Post, 28/04/21).
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