Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Nylander, Matthews & Knies

I guess all the angst surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs play caving in was simply a way the team keeps its fans guessing throughout the regular season. They lost to this season’s lowly Buffalo Sabres 5-2 on Tuesday night then they rose up to spank the Washington Capitals by a score of 7-3 last night. Odd.

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The entire team showed up in force and played with pace and energy from the start of the game. The result was that they sent away a Capitals team that was on a four-game winning streak. They also silenced the great Alex Ovechkin, who didn’t seem to create much concern at all.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the key events from the game and comment on how these might impact the near future as the team ends its regular season and starts considering the postseason.

Item One: Jack Campbell Records His 28th Win

Jack Campbell certainly wasn’t busy during the first part of the game, when his teammates took it to the Capitals. In the end, he had allowed three goals on 25 shots and had stopped the shots he needed to earn the win for his team. On the night, he had a number of strong saves, which sometimes can get lost when just looking at the numbers.

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

In one of the scarier moments of the game, Campbell moved out of his net at the wrong time and was crushed by the ever-nasty Tom Wilson. That collision sent Campbell’s mask flying, but he didn’t seem to be much worse for the wear. 

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After the game, Campbell noted that it was a “hockey play” and he didn’t make much of it. In fact, he noted that he had met Wilson during this year’s NHL All-Star game and he “seemed like a nice guy.” That’s likely true, off the ice.

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During the game, Campbell’s teammates turned on the offense and he cruised to an easy win. The victory pushed Campbell’s record to 28-9-5 on the season. He also has a goals-against-average of  2.73 and a save percentage of .911 on the season.

Item Two: Maple Leafs’ Depth Covers for Matthews and Marner

Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner didn’t carry the team’s offense during this game, and that’s likely a good thing for the Maple Leafs as they head into the postseason. Sure, Matthews didn’t move closer to the 60-goal mark, and he hasn’t scored in two games. However, he registered two assists to nudge him over the 100-point mark.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last night, the team’s goal-scoring was spread out between three Maple Leafs’ players – Ilya Mikheyev, William Nylander, and Michael Bunting. Each of them scored twice. And, in one of the classy moves of the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe created a new-look power-play unit consisting of the three of them. He obviously hoped one of them would score a hat-trick goal. No one did.

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The fact that the Maple Leafs’ have such a deep team bodes well for the coming playoffs. 

Item Three: William Nylander Has a Plus-2 Rating on the Game

One of the conundrums of the season is how a player with William Nylander’s talent playing on such a high-scoring team could have such a poor plus/minus rating. He entered last night’s game with a minus-15 rating; however, he erased two of those negatives. He finished the game with a plus-2 rating and played almost 20 minutes of TOI (19:17 to be specific).

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nylander’s goals pushed him over the 30-goal marker for the second time in his career. The 25-year-old Swedish forward has now scored 30 goals and added 41 assists (for 71 points) in 73 games this season.

Item Four: Matthew Knies Is Headed Back to University

The drama surrounding Matthew Knies’ decision is finally over. He decided not to sign with the Maple Leafs now and told the organization he’d be returning to the University of Minnesota for the 2022-23 NCAA season. 

Obviously, such a decision is a tough one – and could boil down to money now against an education that will serve him well whenever Knies retires from hockey. Personally, I commend the decision, although I admit it’s probably a tough one to make and I wouldn’t have been smart enough to make the same decision at 19 years old. 

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Knies had been talking to the Maple Leafs seriously about signing a professional contract, but ultimately he decided to return to Minnesota to – as was reported – “finish some unfinished business.” Perhaps, it’s a hockey thing. I hope it’s more the family got together to discuss and decide what was best for Knies’ future.  

It isn’t as if the 19-year-old forward’s development will be stymied by this decision. He already plays for a top-rated university team; he’s represented Team USA on the world juniors; and, he even suited up to play for Team USA for this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.  

Matthew Knies University of Minnesota
Matthew Knies, University of Minnesota (Image courtesy of University of Minnesota Athletics)

Knies was chosen by the Maple Leafs in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft ( 57th overall). He also doesn’t sound as if he’s rejecting the Maple Leafs as a team he wants to play with. However, now just isn’t the right time for him. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs have 102 points on the season, and the franchise record is 105 points during the 2017-18 season. They have eight games remaining to reach and surpass that total. However, over the next three games, the Maple Leafs play teams out of the 2022 postseason. Oh oh.

Fortunately, they go on another Florida road trip where they play the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Should they match their recent record against those teams and come out with three of a possible four points, they’d tie their best season’s point total in history. 

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I’m only being a bit tongue-in-cheek. It would be good to see the team play well against their next three opponents, the Ottawa Senators, the New York Islanders, and the Philadelphia Flyers. In my mind, this team should be able to beat anyone.

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