The Toronto Maple Leafs get to try to pull a thorn from their sides when they play the Buffalo Sabres tonight on home ice. The Sabres, for all their lack of success this season, have beaten the Maple Leafs the last two times the teams have played.
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Given that the Maple Leafs (a) just clinched the playoffs in their last game by beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-2, (b) have been playing well over their last several games, and (c) have a much better record than the Sabres, does this mean they’ll take this game for granted?
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Three things might militate against the Maple Leafs not coming out full-steam. First, Auston Matthews is heading toward 60 goals and two would give him that mark tonight. Second, the team has to remember being embarrassed by the Sabres and that can’t sit lightly. Finally, the team has to crave home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. It’s going to be tough enough to run the gauntlet that’s the Atlantic Division for any team that wants the crown this season.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the news surrounding the organization as the team prepares to play this evening.
Item One: Two Marlies Players Make AHL Debuts
Max Ellis and Graham Slaggert both made their AHL debuts with the Toronto Marlies earlier this week. Both played well.
Ellis, an undrafted player who just signed with the organization last week, had just finished his NCAA career with the University of Notre Dame. He’s smaller at 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, but he’s offensively gifted. According to reports, Ellis wasn’t fazed by the fact that Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore tried him out on three different lines during the game. Ellis was also reported to have played with confidence and even a little swagger. He took a team-high five shots.
Coach Moore noted that “You can see the craftiness and playmaking ability of Ellis. He is a pretty smart player.”
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Slaggert, like Ellis, just finished his NCAA career – also with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He’s a 5-foot-11, 185-pound center, who completed four years at Notre Dame. During his first Marlies game, Slaggert played on the fourth line. The report is that his game was simple and effective. Coach Moore noted that Slaggert played well defensively and with a noticeable work ethic.
Moore shared that “Slaggert’s 200-foot game and responsibility in all areas of our structure, and even his breakout play off the wall … takes a lot of skill.”
Item Two: Rasmus Sandin Skated Before Practice Yesterday
Rookie defenseman Rasmus Sandin has been out since March 19 with a knee injury. Although there’s no word on his immediate return, it seems that Sandin’s knee injury is sufficiently healed to allow him to skate. He was on the ice before Monday’s practice.
According to a tweet by the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that there was no timeline on Sandin’s return. “He seems to be progressing well, but he is still a ways away.”
Coach Keefe added, “I don’t know that he’s going to be available before the regular season ends. If anything, I suspect it would not be until that final week.”
For Sandin fans, the report is good news. It’s possible he could return to the active roster before the playoffs. He certainly seems to be trending towards playing in a game or two before the season is completed.
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The addition of two effective defensemen in Ilya Lyubushkin and Mark Giordano has created some good problems for the coaching staff. The team’s defense is much more ready for the postseason than it’s been in the past.
Item Three: Jack Campbell Is Not 100%
Jack Campbell has played in four games since returning from a rib injury; however, he won’t be playing tonight. There’s no definitive word on what’s happening with Campbell, only a report that he’s not quite 100 percent. As a result, Erik Kallgren will get the start against the Sabres and Campbell will have a chance for additional rest.
Campbell will likely suit up and be on the bench as the backup goalie for the game. Coach Keefe justified the move by noting that Kallgren was “coming off a really good start and also Jack is a little bit below 100% at this point.” Kallgren has put together a 5-2-1 record this season with a goals-against-average of 2.78 and a save percentage of .904 in nine games played.
Coach Keefe was quick to note that this move had “nothing to do with his (Campbell’s) previous injury … a little bit below 100 is enough for us to give him an additional a couple of days.”
Item Four: Wayne Simmonds and Jake Muzzin Are Ill
Something is going around the team because a report was that both Wayne Simmonds and Jake Muzzin were ill. Simmonds didn’t practice yesterday, although Muzzin did.
It isn’t clear whether Simmonds will play tonight, but Muzzin has been scratched. Coach Keefe only would say that Muzzin was dealing with something unrelated to his concussion issues and wasn’t feeling 100 percent. However, as always the worry about COVID-19, the issue doesn’t seem to be that either. The word is that Muzzin would be back for the team’s next games.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
NHL hockey is filled with injuries and replacements for injuries. One player the team is missing is Ondrej Kase. He was diagnosed yet again with a concussion and he hasn’t played since March 19.
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There’s no timetable for his return, but he’s missed. He brings energy to the team and can be slotted into a variety of different roles and play all of them with skill and speed. Here’s hoping we’ll see him soon. However, a bigger hope for me is his return to health.