I was a Michael Hutchinson fan and hoped he might have fared better. Alas, he didn’t and now he’s likely gone. After his tough night in goal against the New York Rangers (a 5-3 loss) on Wednesday night, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas pulled the trigger to bring in goaltender Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings.
The bet is that Campbell will be an upgrade on Hutchinson. Time will tell. However, rumors that Dubas would likely have to overpay when he traded for a reliable backup goalie didn’t materialize. I thought the trade he made was a good one.
Hutchinson’s demise came after he gave up four goals on 34 shots against the Rangers. It was his first start in place of the injured Frederik Andersen and it simply wasn’t good enough. Even given the timing of the trade announcement, it might have been a done deal anyway.
However, after head coach Sheldon Keefe’s announcement that his team had played solid defense in the loss to the Florida Panthers by a similar 5-3 score, the same could not be said for the team’s defense against the Rangers. It was Hutchinson’s loss, but it was also instigated by poor team defense.
As the Maple Leafs allow the dust to settle on these changes, I want to bring fans up-to-date on what’s happening with the team.
Item One: Tavares Hits 20 Goals for the Season
Scoring 20 goals in a season is the same-old stuff for Tavares because he’s scored 20 in each of his 11 NHL seasons. During the loss to the Rangers, he had a goal and an assist. He’s also become a bit of a savant in the faceoff circle over the past two games.
On Monday against the Panthers, he won 11 of 18 draws and on Wednesday against the Rangers he won 14 of 19. Tavares now has 44 points in 47 games and is close to a pace that would fetch him his third 80-point season in a row.
Item Two: Matthews Scores Goals #38 and #39
Auston Matthews is near the 40-goal mark for the season. In Wednesday’s game, he scored twice and almost carried the team back into the game by himself. He scored 40 goals in his rookie season (2016-17), but hasn’t reached that number since. He simply keeps scoring, whether the team wins or loses, and during his five-game point-scoring streak he’s scored five goals and two assists.
Matthews commented on the team’s (including his own) bad play, ”I thought we started well, but we continue to have these lulls throughout the game … The first period we gave up five odd-man rushes, so I wouldn’t say that was on (Michael Hutchinson). We’re just not playing at our best.” (from “Leafs test Keefe’s patience with breakdowns, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 02/06/20)
Item Three: Andersen Likely Won’t Play on Friday
It looks as if Frederik Andersen’s upper-body injury (a concussion) hasn’t responded as well as first expected, and he isn’t likely to be ready for Friday’s game. At first, the injury didn’t seem serious; but, currently, Andersen hasn’t made enough progress to get back into action after leaving the Panthers game. I’m guessing Hutchinson gets the start on Friday against the Anaheim Ducks, but who knows?
Item Four: Ceci’s Ankle Injury Forces Him Out for an Extended Time
Cody Ceci injured his ankle on Wednesday night against the Rangers and, according to general manager Kyle Dubas, will be “out for a while.” The much-maligned Ceci only has a goal and seven assists all season, but he’s averaged over 20 minutes on the ice this season (20:38 to be exact), and replacing him will test the Maple Leafs’ depth at defense.
The team simply didn’t need another injury. The 26-year-old defenseman will be placed on injured reserve.
Item Five: Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell Picked Up from the LA Kings
As noted earlier, veteran Kyle Clifford was traded to Maple Leafs with goalie Jack Campbell for pugnacious forward Trevor Moore, a 2020 third-round draft pick, and a conditional 2021 third-round pick. Obviously, most Maple Leafs fans suggest that the backup goalie situation was a key aspect to the trade; however, Clifford will also add some ugliness and physicality to Maple Leafs roster. That seems to address a need that was obvious when the Rangers roughed up some of the Maple Leafs players (Zach Hyman and Tavares) during Wednesday’s games.
Campbell, who came with Clifford from the Kings, noted in an interview on Feb. 6 that, “Cliffy is a warrior and he has that edge to his game that any team could use.”
Campbell added, “I think he brings even more than just the edge. He can put some points up.” (from “Clifford, Campbell pumped to become Maple Leafs’ newest members,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 02/06/20)
Clifford, who grew up just over 100 kilometers west of Toronto in Ayr, Ontario, was a die-hard Maple Leafs fan as a kid and Mats Sundin was his idol. Hearing he would become a Maple Leafs player he admitted,“It’s no secret — I’ve got a real love for this team. It’s a childhood dream to be able to put that jersey on.”
Campbell has played in 20 games this season with the Kings and owns an 8-10-2 record, a goals-against-average of 2.85 and a .900 save percentage. If he can get located quickly enough, he could play in Friday’s game. However, it seems more likely that, if Andersen can’t play in either game, Campbell would play the second game of the back-to-back.
If I were coach Keefe, I’d consider giving the team a chance to make it up to Hutchinson because they let him down badly on Wednesday night. Regardless of the immediate choice, Campbell will undoubtedly become the Maple Leafs’ No. 2 goalie down the stretch when Andersen comes back from his injury.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As the team waits for their new goalie and a new forward to arrive for a back-to-back on Friday at home to the Ducks and in Montreal on Saturday against the Canadiens, there are a few questions- can Matthews extend his hot streak on Friday night? Who will play in goal? What will Clifford add to the team?
Although there’s a lot of stress about sitting outside the playoffs, there’s lots of excitement around the team as well. I know I care to see what happens.
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