In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Nick Foligno’s first game with the team his father once played for. I’ll also look at some of the highlights of the much-needed 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Finally, I’ll comment about how this particular game and the success of the players might fit into the whole of the Maple Leafs’ season.
The Jets seem to be the Maple Leafs’ biggest contender for first place in the North Division. As well, the Maple Leafs’ goalie play has been less than stellar of late. It was good to see a bounce-back game by Jack Campbell, who seems from my perspective to spend too much time beating himself up after not playing well.
Item One: Nick Foligno Looks Happy to Be in Toronto
By his own admission, it took Nick Foligno a period to get untracked; however, when he did he seemed to fit well with his Maple Leafs’ first-line partners of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. In short, after sitting out with both an upper-body injury and to take care of the quarantine, he had a nice debut with his new team.
Foligno made is Maple Leafs debut Thursday in the 5-3 win over the Jets. And, during the process, he scored a selfless assist on Marner’s empty-net goal in the third period. He also engaged in the physical side, delivering a few hits in his 16:12 of ice time.
One thing Foligno didn’t do was to get any time with the man advantage. What Maple Leafs fans saw in Foligno’s play was the bit of an edge he plays with and his willingness to go to the net. He also has great hands. Finally, he seems to be genuinely happy to be on the Maple Leafs’ roster. In every interview I’ve seen him in since he’s been in Toronto he’s been smiling broadly and seems easy in his own skin.
Foligno might not have been that offensive machine recently with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but his numbers might get a boost playing with Marner (especially) and Matthews. Just my call, but if John Tavares played with Marner regularly he’d average at least a point-a-game.
Item Two: Wayne Simmonds Had His Best Game in a Long Time
Wayne Simmonds hadn’t scored in six game, but ended that point-scoring drought last night with a goal. With the Maple Leafs engaged in line-shuffling as the team tries to cover for both Zach Hyman’s knee injury and Foligno’s first few games with the team, Simmonds might be a player who’ll assume a variety of different roles.
Simmonds is way faster on the ice than I expected, and seems able to keep up with any line he plays on. Although I love the idea of an “old-guys” (Simmonds, Joe Thornton, and Jason Spezza) fourth line, I also can see Simmonds filling in a lot of different places. He brings an edge that most Maple Leafs players don’t play with that often – although Alex Galchenyuk’s hit removed Adam Lowry from the game (no penalty was called) last night. Galchenyuk seems to have an edge I didn’t expect either.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Rises to Third in NHL Scoring
Mitch Marner has joined an elite group of NHL players that includes his own teammate Matthews and the Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Kane. These three are now tied for third in the NHL-scoring race with 58 points. The Edmonton Oilers twosome of Connor McDavid (with 77 points) and Leon Draisaitl (with 64 points) currently lead the league. [Interestingly, Matthews has played four fewer games than either Marner or Kane on the season and still ranks as high.]
Marner scored two goals and an assist in the 5-3 win over Winnipeg and now has 16 goals and 42 assists on the season. I was surprised when I looked that this was his first multiple-point game in his last six games and only his second multiple-point game in his last 11 games. He seems always to be hitting the score sheet, but in truth he’s “only” had 12 points in his last 11 games with seven of those points being scored in just two games.
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As I noted, he’s one of those players (Hyman’s another) who makes every line-mate better who plays with him. I know it’s a bit “duh” to say this, but Marner’s really a good player.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Also Scores Three Points in Victory
Is it my imagination, or is Matthews getting better every game? He seemed to be all over the ice in last night’s game and added three points to his season’s total. In addition, he presents a problem for the Jets’ defense that they seem to have no answer for. Last night, Matthews scored his 34th goal and two assists in a 5-3 win.
By the way, Matthews also is second in the NHL in shots with 181. The Ottawa Senators’ Brady Tkachuk ranks first with 189 shots. The big differences is that Matthews is shooting at an 18.8 percentage, and Tkachuk is only at 8.9 percent. For those who – like myself – like statistics, the only other NHL player with more than 100 shots on net with a higher shooting percentage is the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand who’s only shot 107 times but has 25 goals. It’s amazing that 23.4 percent of his shots cross the goal line.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs play the Jets again on Saturday night. I’m anxious to see who’ll play in goal for the Maple Leafs. Will goalie Jack Campbell – who had a nice rebound game and stopped shots effectively when the Jets made pushes late during the first period and in the third period – play? Or does head coach Sheldon Keefe give David Rittich another chance? I’m thinking it’s an easy choice to go with Campbell again. However, I’m sure Rittich is anxious to redeem himself as well.
The other thing I’m interested to see is whether the Jets seek some retribution for Galchenyuk’s hit on Lowry. It was a higher hit, and it did knock Lowry out of the game. However, it also seemed that Galchenyuk tried to slow down when it was obvious he had the Lowry lined up. The hit could have been much worse. In addition, Lowry is a huge 6-foot-five and Galchenyuk 6-foot-one.
There’s a chance it might be a bit of a testy game on Saturday.
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