Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Ritchie, Matthews & Mario

After the 5-4 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche last night, Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe had nothing but praise for his players. When he spoke with the media after the game he said, “I thought our guys did what we asked of them today. Would we like to get two points? Absolutely. Should we have had two points? Absolutely. But that is a very good team. To come out here on the road and get a point is huge for our group.”

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share player news that emerged from the game as well as offering commentary on issues or thoughts surrounding the team. 

Item One: Jack Campbell Gave Up Five Goals, But Played Great

All night long, Maple Leafs’ goalie Jack Campbell kept his team in the game. In the end, he made forty-five saves, which is usually plenty enough to win. That it wasn’t last night speaks more about Avalanche firepower than it does about Campbell’s ability. His strong game was just not enough and he and his teammates went down to defeat.

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

To show how dominating the Avalanche were in the first period, the Maple Leafs played a lot in the Avalanche’s end but didn’t get a shot on goal until almost eight minutes were gone in the first period (7:52 to be exact). In all, as noted, Campbell faced 50 shots against an offensively-dominating team. Still, he went into the third period with a 4-2 lead and in almost any other game could have held it. Not last night.

A couple of months from now, if the game’s box score is looked at, it will look like one of Campbell’s worst games of the season. It wasn’t. The only goal I saw that he might have wanted back was the overtime winner by defenseman Devon Toews just over a minute into the overtime period. 

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Admittedly, I’m a Campbell fan. However, even given the score, I thought he had a solid game. It was Campbell’s second game of the season where he allowed five goals, but it was not at all like the first one. The last was on October 23 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he gave up five goals in 21 shots. Campbell has played well for most of the 2021-22 season. 

Item Two: Nick Ritchie Steps Into the Lineup and Scores His Second Goal

It has to have been a tough week for Nick Ritchie, who was both put on waivers and then cleared waivers. That must mean in his mind that no NHL team wants him. Still, that he scored his second goal of the season had to be good for his confidence. Ritchie proved his worth, at least to himself.

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

Credit Wayne Simmonds, who made a great play in front of the goalie to corral the pass and get it to Ritchie who had an open net. But also credit Ritchie for being in the right spot at the right time and being able to tap in the score. Ritchie got time on the power play and made it count.

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It was Ritchie’s first point in over a month. He now has scored nine points (two goals) in 31 games. Wouldn’t it be something if Ritchie stuck around the team and made a huge contribution during the playoffs? He might just be the kind of player that general manager Kyle Dubas would bring in as a trade deadline acquisition. He’s already brought in Kyle Clifford for such a role earlier this season. (from “Maple Leafs get ‘nothing but positives’ from coach despite blowing lead in OT loss,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 08/01/22).

Item Three: How Good Is Auston Matthews, Comparisons with Mario Lemieux

I admit I have never thought of it before. However, when Fox Sports wrote about Auston Matthews’ game against the Avalanche last night they wrote that Matthews was like a young Mario Lemieux. It, to me, was a perfect comparison. 

Mario Lemieux Pittsburgh Penguins
Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Matthews reminded them of a young Lemieux. Matthews has great hands, can shoot with accuracy from almost anywhere on the ice, and is dominating when he’s rushing the puck through the neutral zone. Matthews is so fast and so deft with the puck that all defenders seem able to do is back up to try to stay between him and their goalie. 

And, even that is difficult because he’s such a good skater and puck handler. He can skate around most defenders with what look like simple stick moves. He seldom loses the puck. On defense, how often does he catch a puck carrier from behind and snag the puck to go the other way? 

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As cited about Matthews, “He’s very much a young Mario Lemieux – big, fast, ultra-skilled, and very competitive. And Matthews can score in so many ways, while playing a dominating two-way game.” 

Matthews scored twice in the space of 33 seconds during the first period. Although the Avalanche dominated the shots on goal during the first period, in some ways the Maple Leafs dominated the end of the ice where the game would be played. 

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

The Maple Leafs were in the Avalanche end for much of the second half of the first period. That was on Matthews’ ability to control the puck and carry the play. He’s a truly elite player. Matthews now has 36 points, including 22 goals, in 30 games.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Although the Maple Leafs pulled a point from the Avalanche, for which coach Keefe was grateful, it was a tough loss. Things don’t get easier on Tuesday when the team meets the Vegas Golden Knights for the next game on their schedule. 

I have no doubt Campbell will be in the goal for that game and backup Petr Mrazek will get the back-to-back game on Wednesday in Arizona against the Coyotes. 

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Currently, the Maple Leafs have 47 points, which is four points behind both the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, they have two games in hand over Florida and four games in hand over Tampa Bay. They’re still playing well, even with the loss last night.

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