Do Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans have reason to angst today? The Maple Leafs went into Calgary and got beat by the Flames by a score of 5-2. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ Commentary, we’ll take a look at some of the events of the game as a way to ask five of what we call “Confounding Questions.”
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While some of these questions are simply curious, a number of them are questions we believe must be addressed if the team is to move forward successfully. A number of these questions focus on the team’s defense, which is an area Maple Leafs’ fans and those who cover the team seem to be dwelling on recently as visions of trade-line acquisitions are dancing in their heads.
Confounding Question One: Is There Something Wrong with the Holl/Muzzin Combo We’re Not Seeing?
Justin Holl had his worst game since he came back from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. He ended up a minus-3 for the game. Jake Muzzin was a minus-2. Is it a coincidence that Holl’s worst game happened when he was reunited with Muzzin?
Confounding Question Two: Is There a Chance Fans Could Turn on Jack Campbell?
Jack Campbell has been amazing this season. However, he hasn’t been playing nearly as well over the past few games as he did at the start of the season. Sure it was hard to blame him last night for the goals scored against the team, but five goals is five goals. Is there coming a time when Maple Leafs’ fans start to turn on their beloved goalie? They have a history of making life tough for people who make mistakes.
Last night, the team made a number of mistakes that gave the Flames excellent chances, and Campbell let in five goals. That’s now four games in his last eight games that he has allowed five goals. And, five goals is the kind of hole that’s tough for even a high-scoring team like the Maple Leafs to cover.
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Campbell seems a bit “fragile” right now. Like they did against the New Jersey Devils, the Maple Leafs need to protect him better than they did last night. The team especially let him down in the second period. It would be a bit of an overstatement to say that the team will only go as far as the goalie can carry them, but that statement might have a hint of accuracy to it.
Confounding Question Three: How Can the Maple Leafs Look So Good, Then Not So Much?
We can only imagine the focus it takes to be a really good hockey player. The game is so fast and mistakes are so prevalent that it would seem tough to keep up. However, what we do see over and over is that, when this team focuses and plays as it can, it’s a hard team to stop.
Watching the penalty kill last night was a case in point. The Maple Leafs had better scoring chances killing penalties than the Flames did on the power play. The Maple Leafs’ penalty kill looked amazing. Even during five-on-five rushes, a number of times it seemed that the Flames had odd-man rushes started but the Maple Leafs forwards hustled back really well to negate them.
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However, right after the Maple Leafs scored that hard-working style seemed to change. For whatever reason, they stopped skating without the puck. It’s the “for whatever reason” that might come back to haunt this team.
Confounding Question Four: Are Sandin and Liljegren Ready for Prime Time?
In last night’s game, Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren played well. In a game where the opposing team scored five goals, with four of them at even strength, surprisingly they were two players who were plus/minus positives. Both finished the game at plus-1.
In fact, both players played key roles in each Toronto goal. Sandin scored the Maple Leafs’ first goal to help the team go up 1-0. Later, Liljegren had the secondary assist on Michael Bunting’s goal during the third period. Are they ready for prime time?
Confounding Question Five: How Valued is Travis Dermott to the Team?
With Wayne Simmonds not with the team because his wife gave birth, Keefe went with a lineup that included only 11 forwards but seven defensemen. The way Keefe doled out the ice time for the seven defensemen demonstrates where Travis Dermott is on the Maple Leafs’ depth chart.
The defensemen’s time on ice was Morgan Rielly 23:30, Muzzin 19:21, Holl 19:12, T.J. Brodie 18:07, Sandin 14:30, Liljegren 13:10, and Dermott 8:38. Dermott even had a shift at forward late in the third period. Where does he stand?
How Important Are Answering These Questions?
As we noted above, some of these questions are simply those borne by the curious nature of fans like us wondering about their team. However, a number of these questions seem to be crucial for the team’s success as it moves into the second half of the season.
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Losing last night’s game really isn’t a big deal over the course of a season. The Maple Leafs lost their six-game winning streak to a team that extended its own winning streak to five games. That happens when two good team’s meet. But, every game offers an assessment of where the team is and where it could go – especially when expectations are so high.
We’ll have a second assessment on Saturday when the team heads into Vancouver to play the Canucks.
[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.]