Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe obviously wanted the team that had lost the two previous road games by a huge margin (two goals for and 11 against) to have a chance to redeem themselves. There were no lineup changes as his team suited up against the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night.
While redemption didn’t come quickly – apparently it took a heated first intermission conversation after the team hit the dressing room down 2-0 – it eventually did come. In his talk with the media after the game, Keefe said that he overheard the players challenging each other to stop talking and start doing.
Given that Keefe also noted that he’d been on his players ”about protecting our goal and they (the Blackhawks) scored two. That’s got to stop.” In hindsight, it wasn’t the way the coaching staff or the players drew it up in their heads, but perhaps a huge comeback win is just what the doctor ordered for this team. They certainly need their mojo back.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the game and some of the redemption that emerged from it. I’ll also wonder about Maple Leafs’ defenseman Jake Muzzin and wonder if there’s something wrong with him physically.
Item One: William Nylander Keeps Playing Well
I keep looking for the William Nylander that many Maple Leafs’ fans had soured on, but I’m not seeing him. What I saw last night was a player who wanted to win and was battling for pucks on the boards and scrimmaging around in tough places. He also scored the game-winning goal in the 3-2 overtime win. That clutch goal, scored in overtime, could turn out to be one of the most important goals of the Maple Leafs’ season. Fans won’t know for a while, but this one seemed big.
Nylander’s goal capped off a strong comeback effort by the Maple Leafs. He now has scored three goals and three assists in the eight games he’s played this season. Given the team’s scoring woes, that’s quite an accomplishment. But perhaps the greater accomplishment is the emergence of a new leader on the team.
After the game, it was mostly Nylander – although there were others – who was forthright with the media about the team’s conversation during the first intermission. After the game, Nylander shared with the media that, ”Tonight, we got closer to where we want to be, but not fully there yet.”
Nylander further revealed that the team challenged themselves and each other by shaking themselves “to wake up. Like stop feeling sorry for ourselves, Nobody’s going to get us out of this, it’s only the guys in the locker room.”
All this from a young player many fans believe is completely self-focused. Nylander’s leadership seems to be emerging.
Takeaway Two: Jack Campbell Stands Tall to Hold Off the Blackhawks
One of the tipping points of this season will be how good goalie Jack Campbell really is. After starting the season well, he had given up 10 goals and fallen into a three-game losing streak (0-2-1). But after a first period where he gave up two Blackhawks’ goals, he shut the door.
Perhaps he could have stopped one of the scores, but what I saw was a Blackhawks’ team that was given pretty easy access to Campbell’s net. In the end, Campbell stopped 27 of the 29 shots he faced. Those two Chicago goals came during the first 12 minutes of the game, but Campbell kept everything else out after that.
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If he ever were gone, it seems that the 29-year-old is back. He’ll probably start against the surprising Detroit Red Wings in the team’s next game on Saturday. As it stands right now, Campbell now holds a goals-against-average of 2.31 and a save percentage of .918 in seven games over the early course of the season.
Takeaway Three: Is Jake Muzzin Injured?
Jake Muzzin made an error in last night’s game that cost his team a goal. I know right now among Maple Leafs’ THW writers there’s a sense that the pairing of Muzzin and Justin Holl isn’t playing well and needs to be changed. There’s no argument from me that the pairing we’ve come to trust has played below par. I’m simply not used to seeing Muzzin make mistakes.
I have to wonder if there isn’t something wrong with Muzzin. If Muzzin’s on the limp that makes it tough for Holl. Holl benefits from Muzzin’s good play; and, if Muzzin can’t play up to par, the pairing won’t be strong.
Looking backward, Muzzin, for the second postseason in a row, was hurt during the playoffs. Something just popped. I’m not that kind of a doctor and I don’t want to start rumors, but I have to wonder if there isn’t something bothering him.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’ve been pleased to see that Petr Mrazek’s groin injury has sufficiently healed to allow him to practice with the team this week. As noted, I believe Campbell will start against the Red Wings, but I’m looking forward to seeing Mrazek in goal again soon.
Having Mrazek makes the team better. He’s only played a single game with the Maple Leafs, and that was the goofy October 14 game where he was victimized by bounces to the tune of three goals to the Ottawa Senators.
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