The Toronto Maple Leafs face a good test when they meet the Boston Bruins tonight. The Bruins have won four games in a row and look to make it five when they host the Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs look to win two straight over elite opponents. The last time the two met was in early November and Toronto won that game by a 5-2 score.
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Both teams share exactly the same 41-19-5 record. The winner has a chance to move into second place in a close Atlantic Division. Currently, all the top four teams have played 65 games and the Florida Panthers have 94 points; the Tampa Bay Lightning are six points back with 88; and, the Bruins and the Maple Leafs both have 87.
In this edition of Maple Leafs commentary, we’ll look at some of the key points from the team’s last game when they beat the Panthers. Then we’ll try to make sense of the implications of this game moving forward.
Comment One: Morgan Rielly Led the Team with an Early Goal
Morgan Rielly had a big game against the Panthers when he scored a goal and added two assists. Rielly’s three points make him the sixth Maple Leafs player to reach 50 points this season. Rielly sits ninth in NHL scoring for a defenseman with 52 points, but he’s a long way behind this season’s leader Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators who has 81 points.
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Rielly sits in fifth place all-time for Maple Leafs’ defensemen’s scoring with 357 points and 57 more points to catch fourth-place Ian Turnbull who has 414. That’s a next season goal. He’s also fifth in assists for a Maple Leafs’ defenseman with 291, eleven behind Turnbull who sits at 302. Rielly is eighth in goals scored with 66 and needs 15 to catch Jim McKenny for seventh.
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Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin seem to be really getting comfortable with each other. Both the T.J. Brodie and Justin Holl and Mark Giordano and Timothy Liljegren pairings look good together as well. It will be interesting to see who plays alongside whom when Jake Muzzin returns.
Comment Two: Auston Matthews Seemed Hemmed in by the Panthers
It might be our imaginations, but Matthews seemed to be pressing at times in the Panther’s game. He seemed to be fighting the puck a bit more than usual. If so, the Florida players should get some of the credit for their tight-checking on Matthews throughout the game. Get ready for the postseason.
Still, it’s hard to hold the big guy down. He finished with a goal with the empty netter in the last second of play. He also added an assist to give him 48 goals and 35 assists (for 83 points) on the season. Both are personal records.
We’ll be happy when he gets his 50th and would love to see him get it against Boston on Tuesday night. First, it’s Boston. Second, it would be good if it didn’t become a distraction although it doesn’t seem to be thus far. Once he hits 50, he should have no problems getting the next five to set a new Maple Leafs record. Honestly, let’s hope 60 goals becomes a possibility.
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Matthews’ goal last on Sunday night put him one up on Leon Draisaitl for the Rocket Richard Award. If we have any suggestions to give who is undoubtedly the best goal scorer the Maple Leafs have ever had, it would be to not try drop passes with the puck when he’s on a clear-cut breakaway.
Comment Three: Mark Giordano Seems Still as Quick on the Ice as Ever
Usually, at the age of 38, players’ careers are winding down. Their coaches start figuring out how to protect them and limit their ice time considerably. We see that with Jason Spezza who is also 38 and isn’t the player he once was; and, that’s said with no disrespect to Spezza. He continues to contribute.
Mark Giordano on the other hand appears not to have lost a step from his Norris Trophy-winning season in 2019. He plays so well with and without the puck and seems to have an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. At the same time, he has to be a great mentor for a young player like Timothy Liljegren.
He’s played well in his short time with the team.
What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs travel to Boston to take on the Bruins tonight. At the time of this writing, we haven’t heard who head coach Sheldon Keefe might be starting in goal. We’re guessing he’ll keep Petr Mrazek in the net.
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The Maple Leafs then return home for a Thursday night game against the Winnipeg Jets before heading south to play four games in six nights. They begin the trip with a stop in Philadelphia on Saturday to take on the Flyers before continuing to Florida for a back-to-back against the Lightning and Panthers. They end the trip against the Dallas Stars.
[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.]