Maple Leafs Commentary: Marner, Bunting, Campbell & Matthews

The Toronto Maple Leafs made the short trip from Tampa to Sunrise to take on the league-leading Florida Panthers on Saturday night. Head Coach Sheldon Keefe obviously felt this game was the more important of the two games in the Sunshine State as he started Jack Campbell after sitting him in Tampa. He also re-inserted Auston Matthews into the roster.  

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The Maple Leafs got off to a great start in the game as Mitch Marner scored on the first shot of the game. They added another goal by Justin Holl to end the first period up 2-0. They also outshot the Panthers 13-8 in the first period.

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The Panthers owned the second period scoring two goals of their own to knot the score at 2-2. After a scoreless third period that saw both teams get great scoring chances only to be stymied by the opposing goalie, the game went into overtime as many Panthers’ games tend to do. In fact, Florida has had 22 games go past regulation, and they have owned those games. Their record is a strong 16-6 in games that have gone into overtime or a shootout.  

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov is a leader on a strong Florida Panthers’ team
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As good as the Panthers have been in winning those games, it might be interesting to note that of the 120 points they’ve earned this season, 38 (or 32 percent) points have come via three-on-three play or in the shootout. Those two situations do not happen in the playoffs.

As it was the Panthers scored the overtime goal to win the game 3-2. The game was definitely the kind of game both teams could expect in the postseason. It was at times a tight-checking game with little flow, that did open up for short spurts.  

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As you would expect in a close game like this there were both good and bad points. In our commentary, we’ll look at some of both.

Comment #1:  The Good: Mitch Marner

As we previously stated Mitch Marner opened the scoring. It was a goal we’re sure Sergei Bobrovsky would like to have back. However, the goal shows how Marner’s mindset has changed this season.  

The goal was set up by a long shot into the right corner of the Panther’s zone from his own zone by T.J. Brodie, which Marner beat out for icing. Brodie saw that Marner was in a position to get behind the defense and played the puck into that area figuring Marner had a chance of being the first player to it.  

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the past, Marner would have most likely picked up the puck and turned to see what Maple Leafs’ players were entering the zone, with the intent of playing the puck to them. The “new” Marner just skated into the puck and let rip a one-timer that beat Bobrovsky under the arm. We can’t help but wonder if Marner’s decision caught Bobrovsky off-guard as well.

The goal was Marner’s 35th of the season and 96th point, leaving him with three games to get four points to reach the 100-point plateau.

Comment #2: The Bad: Michael Bunting.

After only playing 2:43 in this game, Michael Bunting fell awkwardly behind the Florida net and looked to be flexing his leg as he headed to the bench. He went directly to the locker room and did not return to the game.  

When Keefe was asked about the injury after the game, the news was not good. Keefe replied, “I don’t know. He is going to miss some time for sure. I don’t know how much.”

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After Bunting left the game Keefe put the lines in a blender for some shifts moving Colin Blackwell up alongside Matthews and Marner. However, he eventually settled on William Nylander on the left side of the first line.  

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe left the second line of John Tavares, Ilya Mikeheyev, and Alex Kerfoot together for the majority of the remainder of the game. That decision put Blackwell with David Kampf and Pierre Engvall. With only having eleven forwards available, both Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford saw limited ice time. Clifford finished the fame with 6:52 TOI, while Simmonds ended with 5:54.

Losing Bunting for any length of time in the playoffs could be a blow to the Maple Leafs.

Comment #3:  The Good: Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell played his third solid game in a row, allowing only two goals in regulation once again. It marks the third consecutive game in which he has allowed two goals in regulation. Over those three games, he has a 0.932 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average.

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

Since coming back from his injury Campbell has a 6-0-1 record in seven starts, and a 6-0-2 record overall when we add the 7-6 loss to Florida that he played in relief of Erik Kallgren. Campbell seems to be getting his game back at exactly the right time.  

Comment #4:  The Bad: Auston Matthews.

The subtitle might be somewhat misleading. Auston Matthews certainly has not been playing badly. Although he was held pointless in the Panthers’ game, he had several decent scoring chances. He led the Maple Leafs with seven shots on the net. He also had two hits, a blocked shot, and three takeaways in 21:40 of ice time.  

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The bad news is that on April 9th Matthews had a two-goal game versus the Montreal Canadiens. That capped off a stretch of games where he scored 51 goals in 50 games and gave him 58 on the season with ten games left to play. Sixty goals seemed to be a foregone conclusion. The debate in the media then was whether Matthews could score 65 or even 70 goals.  

Since that game 15 days ago, Matthews has missed three games due to injury and has been held goalless in the four games he’s played. Now he finds himself with only three games left to try and hit the 60-goal plateau. Although Matthews didn’t seem to have any issues in the Panthers’ game, it is not 100% sure he will play in the Washington game.

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

On the plus side this team, and its players, seem to be focused on one thing and one thing only, the playoffs. There’s little talk about personal records or possible awards with this team. It appears the only award the team is interested is the Stanley Cup.

Even with Matthews not having a goal in the Maple Leafs’ last seven games, he still leads the NHL goal-scoring race by four goals over Leon Draisaitl and seven over Chris Kreider. Draisaitl does have four games left to play. What once seemed like a foregone conclusion now could go either way.

What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs can’t rest yet. Tonight they travel into Washington to take on the Capitals in the second of back-to-backs for the Maple Leafs. We know that Erik Kallgren will get the start in goal. Other than that there are questions in regard to what the lineup will look like. 

Will Matthews play? If not, who takes his place? Who enters the lineup to replace Bunting? Will Jake Muzzin play, if so who comes out?

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The single point the Maple Leafs did eliminate the possibility of the Boston Bruins catching them. Any combination of three points acquired by the Maple Leafs or lost by the Lightning assures the Maple Leafs of home-ice advantage in the first round.

Boston still trails Tampa by three points for third place in the Atlantic Division.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]