The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Ottawa Senators tonight in both teams’ first game in weeks. Both teams have experienced extended layoffs as a result of the impact of COVID-19 and the NHL protocols each had to face.
In truth, although both teams are likely to show rust in the game, the Senators are entering with a bit of a disadvantage. While the Maple Leafs’ lineup is all but “regular” – only defenseman Timothy Liljegren remains on NHL COVID-19 protocols – the Senators just had the team’s first-line center Josh Norris and former Maple Leafs’ Tyler Ennis – enter COVID-19 protocols just before practice on Friday.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news emerging from the team as it prepares to play the Senators later today.
Item One: Jack Campbell Will Get the Start in Net
Surprisingly, Jack Campbell never missed a start in goal. Although he was on the COVID-19 NHL protocol list, the Maple Leafs never played. On the season, Campbell has a record of 15-5-2, a goals-against-average of 1.94, and a save percentage of .937. His save percentage ranks first in the NHL. He’ll start the game against the Senators.
Over his last five games, Campbell has a 3-1-1 record with a goals-against-average of 2.97, and a save percentage of .909. His last game against the Senators was the game when backup goalie Petr Mrazek was first injured, and Campbell jumped into the game in a relief role. He stopped all 10 of the Senators’ shots on goal.
Item Two: Defenseman Rasmus Sandin Ready to Return
Over the past week, I was reminded what it must be like to be an NHL player. An article cited Rasmus Sandin as saying that, when he was able to fully participate in his team’s practice, his “whole body was almost shaking, I was so happy to be back on the ice.” (from “Rasmus Sandin ‘almost shaking’ with joy as he re-joins Maple Leafs blue line in practice,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 30/12/21).
Sandin suffered that knee injury on December 5 but was rehabbed and ready to return. However, his tussle with COVID-19 set him back. He’s now healthy and ready to play. In fact, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe commented that the 21-year-old Swede looked good during practice.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Is Finally Back in the Lineup Tonight
It’s been a long time, but Mitch Marner will finally be back in the Maple Leafs’ lineup later today. It’s now been a month since Marner’s freak practice run-in with Jake Muzzin had resulted in his shoulder injury.
Marner has been activated off the long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and will take his normal place on the team’s first line with partners Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting. He’ll also be part of the team’s top power-play unit. I look for Marner to get on a roll over the next while. He’s currently less than a point-a-game player on the season, with only six goals and 15 assists (for 21 points) in his 24 season’s games. That won’t last.
Item Four: No Sure News About Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly was cleared to play from COVID-19 protocols, but I have no news whether he’s able to play or not. I haven’t read how the virus affected him. I did read that John Tavares had suffered difficult symptoms with a loss of energy, but that Sandin was virtually asymptomatic without any loss of energy.
But I’ve read no news about how Rielly has been feeling. It’s one thing to be cleared to play and another to be able to play. The team’s medical team might have a large say in the lineup.
Item Five: Line Combinations for Tonight’s Game
With most of the Maple Leafs’ players on its roster now, the line combinations for yesterday’s practice were tweeted by David Alter yesterday. Nick Ritchie seems to be the extra forward, and there’s a question about how much he’ll play tonight.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The game today might be interesting. How rusty will the players be? Today will be the Maple Leafs’ first game since December 14, when they beat the Oilers in Edmonton 5-1. It will be the Senators’ first game since December 18, when they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime.
Although the Senators lost their last two games, they’re 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. Those 10 games include wins over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Florida Panthers. The Senators are an improving team.
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