Let me just go right to the good news. The Toronto Maple Leafs stole a point from Minnesota, roaring back for three goals in about six minutes to tie the Wild late in the second period and then forcing overtime. That point can’t take away the sting of losing a game, or having their five-game winning streak stopped, or of not being able to set a franchise record with eight road wins in a row.
Still, a point is a point in the closely-contested Atlantic Division. Now to Winnipeg later today to play the Jets. Going home for a Tuesday game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday with three points out of four would be considered a huge success.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the game and engage in some commentary about what the events of the game might mean to the team moving forward.
Item One: Maple Leafs Out-Chanced by the Wild
The truth is that the Maple Leafs were lucky to gain a point in this game. Early this morning, as he sometimes does, super Leafs’ fan Stan Smith sent me his tracking of how the game played out. [He has a really unique way of watching – and re-watching – games that might be interesting for other Maple Leafs’ fans to see. That might be worth part of a post sometime.]
According to Stan’s calculations, the Maple Leafs had 10 dangerous-scoring chances throughout the entire game. Six of those dangerous-scoring chances happened between the 8:09 mark and the 50-second mark of the second period. During that seven-minute and 19-second period, the Maple Leafs out-chanced the Wild 6-0. That means that, during the other 57 minutes and 41 seconds of regulation and overtime, the Wild out-chanced the Maple Leafs 15-4.
That’s not a recipe for success in the NHL; however, it reminds Maple Leafs’ fans just how important starting goalie Jack Campbell has been to the team.
Item Two: Jack Campbell Falls Victim to Wild in a Shootout
During 60 minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime during Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Wild, Campbell gave up three goals on 40 shots. It was a crazy game – as hockey often can be – of bounces that impacted both teams positively and negatively. For the first 28-minutes of the game, Campbell didn’t seem to be in the groove he’d been in earlier in the season.
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However, he can be appreciated for what happened from the middle of the second period onward. Campbell simply didn’t allow another score. As noted earlier, given how things eventually worked out for the team, no shame in his game. There’s no question that Campbell has been the leading NHL goalie to start the season; however, what does it mean that he’s given up three goals in each of his last two games? That’s hard to say right now.
During the latter stages of the third period, Leafs’ Nation experienced a momentary scare when the Wild’s Marcus Foligno skated through the crease and hit Campbell in the head with his shoulder. Campbell jumped back up and never missed a beat. However, he likes to finish games as we remember last season against the Calgary Flames when he was injured prior to being “engaged” by Matthew Tkachuk’s knees. He missed several weeks with that game’s injury.
As readers know, I’m already spinning Campbell for a Vezina nomination. The Maple Leafs don’t want to lose him.
Item Three: Jason Spezza Buzzes to the Rescue
Jason Spezza might be my favorite Maple Leafs’ player. That he’s signed on for the NHL league minimum simply to be part of this Maple Leafs’ team is – from my perspective – a gift. Watching him with the younger players, I hope he’s auditioning for a job with the organization when his playing days are over. He’s a character guy.
Last night, the 38-year-old Spezza had a three-point game; and, it came exactly when the team needed it. His first goal began a rapid revival that tied the game and, eventually, led to the team taking its single-point gift to Winnipeg.
During a buzzing second period, Spezza was a working drone. He scored two goals on Wild goalie Cam Talbot and assisted on Auston Matthews’ game-tying goal just prior to the end of the second period. In his 25 games this season, the future Hockey Hall of Famer forward has registered seven goals and three assists (for 10 points).
What makes Spezza so valuable is his ability to add value to the team in such a variety of ways. He has four points (three goals and an assist) in his last two games. This is just me hoping, but I’d love to see Spezza join Matthews and Michael Bunting on the first line until Mitch Marner can play again. He seems to be in good enough shape to engage the opportunity.
What’s Up Tonight for the Maple Leafs?
While the Maple Leafs are a hot team, the Jets are surprisingly not. The Jets have a 1-5-1 record over their last seven games. However, they pasted the New Jersey Devils by an 8-4 score on Friday night and have an 8-3-1 home-rink record.
In 18 games on the season, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Blake Wheeler doesn’t yet have a goal this season. However, he does have 10 assists. Tonight he’ll play his 1000th NHL game. Now 35 years of age, he’s had a great career and was one of the original Jets’ players when they moved from Atlanta in 2011.
I mentioned Wheeler’s size because last April Rasmus Sandin, who’s much smaller, noticeably shook Wheeler with a body check along the boards. That check got Sandin noticed by Maple Leafs’ fans for an element of his game that people hadn’t seen before. I wonder if Wheeler will remember.
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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