Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Ritchie, Marner & Playoff Success

On paper, the game tonight between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Seattle Kraken should turn into a win for the Maple Leafs. However, all hockey fans know how things on paper can swiftly turn when reality hits. 

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The Maple Leafs are on the third game of a three-game road trip and have already lost in Calgary and in Vancouver. In both games, they dominated the game and ran into hot goalies. They put 101 shots on goal over their past two games, yet have only four goals and two losses to show for it. 

The Flames’ Jacob Markstrom stopped 46 of 48 Maple Leafs’ shots on Thursday night; then, immediately after on Saturday, the Canucks’ Thatcher Demko stopped 51 of 53 shots. In both games, the Maple Leafs were buzzing, but not scoring.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at what’s happening as the team heads into this game. 

Item One: Jack Campbell Gets the Start for the Maple Leafs

During the last two games, neither of the Maple Leafs’ options in goal could keep their team in the game. The other team’s goalie was simply superior at the opposite end. Tonight it’s Jack Campbell’s turn to ensure the team gets a single win during the road trip.

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

It would be nice if Campbell got on a roll over the second half of the season. His record is deceiving. He’s gone 4-2-0 in his past seven starts and 9-3-2 in his last 15. However, his statistics have begun to fall. During his last seven games, he let in five goals three times. His save percentage has been only .855. 

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However, to look at Campbell’s numbers on the season it would seem things are rosy. His record is 21-7-3; his goals-against-average is 2.39; and, his save percentage .921.   

Item Two: Rumor: The Maple Leafs Are Trying to Trade Nick Ritchie

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Maple Leafs are looking to trade Nick Ritchie. Friedman noted that, after Ritchie was sent to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies last week, “there was traction” in the hopes of finding him another NHL team to play with. However, Friedman also noted that Ritchie did not officially ask to be traded. 

Nick Ritchie Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Ritchie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ritchie’s had a tough season. Speaking of “traction,” he seems to have been able to get none of it on the ice. He’s scored only two goals and seven assists (for nine points). However, he’s been one of the team’s most physical players and has had 79 hits in the 33 games he’d played.

Item Three: Is the Mitch Marner Turn Around for Good?

As I’ve written over the past few weeks, Mitch Marner is playing the best hockey I’ve seen him play since I started to cover the Maple Leafs more than three years ago. The question is whether he can keep it up.

The history of my writing about Marner is that, when I first saw him play, I was taken by his ability, creativity, and his obvious hockey IQ. However, no one I know was more critical of his negotiation tactics than I was. I thought they were wrong-minded on several levels and in one post suggested that the team should let him sit for a season. (See link below.)

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But, over the last two seasons, I’ve seen hints of his ability and – better yet – his determination. Recently, this season I’ve seen more. There have been games when he’s just been dazzling. He sees the ice so well; he seems to know intellectually that if he continues to be a shooting threat, he’ll open the ice for his line-mates; and, he plays stellar defense. He’s not just a good player, he’s one of the very best I’ve ever seen.

That said, I know there will be disagreement among fans about (a) my assessment of Marner’s skills and (b) my belief in his abilities to be a team leader during the postseason. However, if the Marner who controlled the ice over the past month can continue to do so during the playoffs, there’s a good chance the team will be more successful in the more-difficult playoff environment. Can he turn the corner and truly become a team leader?

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner and Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

I believe Matthews has decided not to wilt under the pressure. I believe John Tavares has the drive to be successful and wants to show what he could have done had he not been injured against the Montreal Canadiens. Although I believe William Nylander needs to return to his playoff form of last season and his success earlier this season, I believe he can do so. 

For me, Marner is the key. He’s been shooting and scoring more recently, and he’s continued to be a key piece of the team’s defense in both five-on-five or penalty-kill situations. But, it’s his confidence that’s rising and has become apparent. As I suggest, if this same Marner can continue to shine the team has a chance to move out of the Atlantic.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

But first the Kraken. The Kraken, as an expansion team, is not the Vegas Golden Knights. They’ve posted a 9-15-2 record at home. They’re near the bottom in the NHL and average only 29 shots on goal and 2.69 goals for. And, they have the NHL’s fifth-worst power-play percentage on home ice at 14.5 percent.

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It would be nice for Maple Leafs’ fans to see a win; however, it would be better to see Campbell shine in goal. For all the things I noted about Marner above, the key to postseason success for this team is in goal. Campbell needs to be on top of his game.