It’s pretty tough to take when you think of it. The Toronto Maple Leafs couldn’t beat 42-year-old emergency goalie David Ayers on Saturday, but on Tuesday they beat the goalie who leads the NHL in wins in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy has 32 wins this season and is five wins ahead of the St. Louis Blues’ Jordan Binnington who has 28 after his win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The final score in the game was 4-3 for the Maple Leafs. Beat Vasilevskiy they did and by doing so registered a much-needed victory to keep them two points up on the Florida Panthers for the prized third spot in the Atlantic Division’s postseason playoff race.
In this post, in the light of that victory, I want to keep Maple Leafs fans up-to-date with news and rumors coming from the team. On Thursday evening, the Maple Leafs play a showdown game against the Panthers and a Toronto win would move them four points up.
Item One: Was Saturday’s Loss to the Hurricanes a No-Win Situation?
In speaking to the media after Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas claimed the organization was in a no-win situation against the Carolina Hurricanes when emergency goalie David Ayres entered the game.
Perhaps, he’s right. But, if that’s the case, it underscores how truly outlandish the entire game was. First, it was the first emergency goalie victory in all of NHL history.
Second, having your own practice goalie suit up for the opposing team simply seems ludicrous. Honestly, I was pleased that even the Maple Leafs players saw past the immediacy of the situation and congratulated Ayres with pats on his pads at the end of the second period when he was leaving the ice.
Still, it’s odd that Dubas recounted the game on Monday by claiming the team was caught in a lose/lose situation. As Dubas noted, “We were in a no-win situation.”
Not that Dubas was necessarily wrong, but it might be the oddest excuse ever given for not winning a game.
Item Two: Dubas’ Grade at the Trade Deadline
First, I’m not inclined to rip into Dubas for not making a deal at the trade deadline. I think he did well earlier in the month when he traded for goalie Jack Campbell and tough-guy winger Kyle Clifford. He also brought in David Malgin, who’s looked decent in a Maple Leafs uniform.
I also happen to agree with Brian Burke who, on Feb. 24’s edition of the Tim & Sid Show, noted that he believed the Maple Leafs could win if they worked hard. That, I believe. The team showed it during the second Pittsburgh Penguins game and showed it against the Lightning in their 4-3 victory. Is it that simple? Does the team need to commit to that work ethic?
I believe Dubas wanted to trade Tyson Barrie because it just made sense to do so; however, if Jake Muzzin is injured and can’t play, in hindsight Dubas might be glad the trade didn’t happen.
I also think the team started from behind and for the most part, plays better under coach Sheldon Keefe than it did under Mike Babcock. They are on pace for 100 points this season. With 18 games remaining, the team must go 13-5 to reach that goal. It’s doable.
Dubas upgraded his backup-goalie situation when Campbell came early in February, and Clifford came with him. Dubas also signed Muzzin to a four-year contract extension on what will probably be seen as a team-friendly deal over the next few seasons. Muzzin brings size, capable defense, and leadership.
In short, watching the Maple Leafs as I have this season, I don’t think what troubles the team could have been fixed by a trade. For me, it’s simple – and I noted this in a post I wrote in November titled “Why Aren’t the Toronto Maple Leafs Trying Harder?” The work ethic needs to be fixed. We’ll see if this team can take it to the Panthers on Thursday.
Item Three: The Maple Leafs Tried to Move Barrie at the Deadline
Bob McKenzie shared a rumor on Monday, Feb. 24 that the Maple Leafs’ really tried to trade Barrie. The team was seeking a first-round pick and a prospect for Barrie leading up to yesterday’s NHL trade deadline but no other team ponied up for that price. When asked if he were interested in re-signing Barrie, Dubas offered a vague response, noting that the team would use the rest of the season to see if Barrie fits.
McKenzie believed Dubas wanted, “to try to do a deal like St. Louis did with Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals three years ago.” Dubas simply wouldn’t give Barrie away for free and other teams refused his asking price. That’s the business.
Item Four: Jake Muzzin Was Injured in the Tampa Bay Game
Jake Muzzin scored the first Maple Leafs goal of the game but then missed the entire third period after Victor Hedman’s shot bounced off his right hand late in the second period. Head coach Keefe reported that Muzzin would have “tests” on Wednesday to ascertain the severity of the injury.
The goal was his sixth of the season. Ironically, what bad luck for Muzzin, who signed a four-year, $22.5 million contract extension on Monday. If he misses much time, that might become that straw that broke the team’s back as far as the playoffs go.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As I noted, the Maple Leafs have a showdown against the Panthers on Thursday. In a surprising move (to me at least) the Panthers traded Vincent Trocheck to the Hurricanes. I admit it made me wonder if they were sellers this season.
Obviously, the Panthers didn’t get the memo. They beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on the road on Feb. 25. So, they’ll likely show up and play the Maple Leafs tough later this week. How the team responds will be telling. There just isn’t time to yo-yo between a good game and a bad game for the remainder of the season.
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