Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Nylander, Marner & Rielly

Who would have thought that the Toronto Maple Leafs offense would completely fail them in their fight for a postseason playoff berth? But that’s exactly what happened. It didn’t take new goalie Jack Campbell long to find out what his on-ice life would be like playing behind a Maple Leafs offense that should consistently be great, but sometimes simply doesn’t show up for big stretches of games.

Related: Leafs News & Rumors: Hutchinson, Matthews, Clifford, Campbell

During Saturday’s game against their historic Original Six rivals, a streaking Montreal Canadiens that the Maple Leafs would love to emulate, John Tavares scored the first goal of the game early in the third period. It was the team’s only shot on goal that period. So, there Campbell stood while the Canadiens dominated play and his teammates consistently collapsed into their own zone in front of him.

After constant pressure, Marco Scandella scored his first goal as a member of the Canadiens with less than three minutes left in the third period. Then, in overtime, Ilya Kovalchuk scored the winning goal on a fortunate rebound on teammate’s Nick Suzuki’s breakaway.

The final was a 2-1 overtime win for the Canadiens. From my perspective, good on the new goalie for carrying his team to at least a point in the game. He threw up a wall that was penetrated only twice despite constant play in his own end.

Campbell held the team in the game until only three minutes were left in period three and deserved better. It seems that, if someone wrote a book about the Maple Leafs’ goaltending this season, that book might be titled “They Deserved Better.”

Jack Campbell Los Angeles Kings
New Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell, when he was with the Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After the game, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe shrugged, “You don’t win games when you score one goal. We were not able to generate enough offensively. Our power play wasn’t very good. We let that team hang around with just a one-goal cushion.” (from “Just one shot in the third period — it went in, but the Maple Leafs left a valuable point in Montreal,” Kevin McGran, The Star, 02/08/20)

In this post, as the Maple Leafs wait to play the Arizona Coyotes at home on Tuesday night, I want to bring Maple Leafs fans up-to-date with what’s happening with the team in terms of news and rumors.

Item One: Campbell Is Playing Well

If the Canadiens game was an indication, Campbell’s a good goalie. He was basically left on his own during the third period in Saturday’s game and played a strong game. The Canadiens fired 16 shots on goal in the third period and 30 throughout the game, and Campbell stopped all but two.

When a team generates zero offense, that generally means the play is constantly in their defensive zone. The overtime goal was basically unstoppable, and Campbell stole a point for his new team.

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers

The point in the standings helps the Maple Leafs, who have a two-point lead over the Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division. Given the two-day rest between games, it’s likely Campbell will start again on Tuesday if starter Frederik Andersen (who’s out with a concussion) needs more time.

Item Two: Nylander Missed Another Game with an Illness

William Nylander has now missed two games in a row with an illness. He was on a nine-game point-scoring streak and has scored 25 goals and 49 points in 54 games for the season. He should be ready on Tuesday night, but there’s no doubt the team missed him in the third period against the Canadiens and during their last two games. He’s been firing the puck on net consistently.

Item Three: Marner Is on a Scoring Binge

Sometimes lost in the team’s playoff scramble is the fact that Mitch Marner is on fire. He’s led the entire NHL in scoring for the last two months. Since Dec. 7, Marner has scored 39 points – the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin has scored the second most with 38.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Derik Hamilton)

By the way, Auston Matthews has scored 37. Matthews has had some tough defensive games recently, but he’s scoring at a high clip.

Item Four: Can the Maple Leafs Leverage Rielly’s Injury?

In a recent post, TSN’s Frank Seravalli unearthed a possible salary-cap “loophole” Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas might be able to utilize to restock his team for the playoffs should star defenseman Morgan Rielly not be able to return during the regular season.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Here’s how it works. Because there isn’t a salary cap in play during the playoffs, if Rielly isn’t able to come back on the team’s roster prior to the end of the regular season, the Maple Leafs could utilize the money freed up by his injury by moving him to long-term injured reserve. That might work for Cody Ceci as well – the team has two defensemen (Rielly and Ceci) on the injured reserve. These injuries offer the team salary-cap space it could spend before Feb. 24 (the trade deadline), if that scenario works out.

Related: Kreider Returns, Sparks Rangers to 5-3 Win Over Maple Leafs

However, using that space depends upon Rielly’s injury status. Certainly, if he’s ready to resume play the team would want him available for the playoff push. As a result, Dubas will probably wait until the very last minute and could be quite active on the final day of the trade deadline. That’s coming in just over two weeks.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs were on a back-to-back on Saturday and had beat the Anaheim Ducks the previous night. If it were not for the team’s desperation for points, given its history on back-to-back games this season, three points out of a possible four would seem like a small victory. However, this isn’t the time of the season for small victories; bigger victories are required.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Toronto begins a short two-game homestand on Tuesday night against the Coyotes, who themselves have lost two straight and whose playoff chances are reeling after a 2-5-3 record during their last 10 games. The Coyotes will be coming off playing on Monday night against the Canadiens in Montreal so the Maple Leafs should have an advantage over a tired team winding down a road trip.

Related: Too Good to Last: Hutchinson Lets in 4, Snake Bit Maple Leafs Get 0

Nylander should return from his illness and Andersen might be back in goal. The schedule has set it up nicely, but the team has to show up.

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