Let’s blame the Toronto Maple Leafs’ recent record on being exhausted. After winning 15 of their previous 17 games before a recent skid, the Maple Leafs have now lost three of their last four games. Not only that, starting goalie Jack Campbell is allowing more than a goal each game. That’s not the way it should be.
Obviously, all NHL teams go through skids during the season, and perhaps this is the Maple Leafs’ time. But it hasn’t been pretty. During the Winnipeg Jets’ game last week, the team gave up odd-man rush after odd-man rush. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their last game, the defensive pairings were consistently making turnovers. As Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe notes, it’s a tired team.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the news surrounding the team as it prepares for its game this evening.
Item One: Congratulations to Two Blackhawks
The Maple Leafs hope to end their streak of frustration tonight against a Chicago Blackhawks’ team that has recently seen a couple of noteworthy accomplishments. Although I usually don’t cover the opponent’s players much, both Jonathan Toews and Marc-Andre Fleury are worth mentioning.
Toews is one of the recent greats of the game. The 33-year-old is currently in his 14th season with the Blackhawks, but it should have been his 15th season. That’s because he missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome (CIRS).
It hasn’t been easy for the player who has the nickname of being “Captain Serious,” because of his reputation for taking the game and his training to play it seriously. On Thursday evening in Montreal, Toews scored his first goal of the season when he potted the game-winner against the Canadiens.
Toews had gone 25 games this season without scoring. In fact, his last goal was scored during the first round of the 2020 playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s good to see Toews back on the scoresheet.
In that same game, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury reached a huge milestone when he won his 500th career game. Fleury, who’s from Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, grew up idolizing the Canadiens and has loved playing in Montreal throughout his long and successful career.
Fleury, who is truly one of the good guys in the game, noted that “It meant a lot to have so many people from Quebec, being proud of me being from here and achieving this goal.” Congratulations to Fleury as well.
Item Two: Petr Mrazek Will Start Tonight
Starting goalie Jack Campbell will get some of the rest he needs. Yesterday, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe told the media that, unless something showed up during practice this morning, Petr Mrazek would start against the Blackhawks. Looks like he’s in.
Mrazek was supposed to be goalie 1B when the season started, but that two-goalie plan didn’t pan out because of his recurring injury. Mrazek has started only two games on the season and hasn’t played since he met his old Detroit Red Wings’ teams on October 30.
Item Three: Ilya Mikheyev Is Close, But Isn’t Quite Ready to Play Yet
It’s sort of flown under the Maple Leafs’ radar all season, but there is a young Russian player – Ilya Mikheyev – who’s probably itching to play during this season. Well, the sun is starting to rise on Mikheyev’s hopes of finally getting on the ice. His broken thumb is healed enough to practice, but he’s not quite ready to engage in a game.
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Yesterday, Mikheyev practiced on the fourth line; however, he needs more time to get ready to return to the lineup. His season’s debut won’t be tonight against the Blackhawks.
The report is that the injury itself is no longer the issue. The bone and the ensuing surgery are fine. The problem is Mikheyev’s strength. In fact, Keefe noted that they would “continue to monitor that (the strength). When that gets to an acceptable level, he will be ready to play. In the meantime, he is going to continue to work out here to stay sharp.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
It will be interesting to see how Ondrej Kase will play tonight with center Auston Matthews and left-winger Michael Bunting on the team’s top line. It’s been a dramatic rise to the top for Kase, but well-deserved. Kase has been a good soldier and, according to reports, has been happy to play wherever needed on the team.
He’s been a shutdown third-liner with his fellow Czech-mate David Kampf and has done that job well. With Mitch Marner out for a couple of weeks, he’s been given power-play minutes and scored two honest goals against the Lightning. It will be fun for Maple Leafs’ fans to watch Kase play with Matthews and Bunting. It could become a crash-and-bang line.
I used the word “honest” in the previous paragraph because, if nothing else, Kase plays a working-class game that’s endearing to fans – at least to me. I like this guy’s game.
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The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf