The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a frustrating time of it recently. In fact, so frustrating that the even-tempered John Tavares smashed his stick in disgust on Friday night after the loss to the Boston Bruins.
It was a frustrating game for both fans and, I’m sure, players. The team plays well enough to win on most nights, but can’t sustain the good play for 60 minutes. In fact, preventable mistakes have cost them two games in a row. I’d probably smash my stick, too.
It’s going to be a difficult stretch for the team because the Maple Leafs are suffering a number of injuries. Certainly, losing young star Mitch Marner is difficult. And, just today – as you will read below – the team reported that Alexander Kerfoot is out after facial surgery and he, too, missed Friday night’s loss against the Bruins.
As the team gets ready to play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night as the team’s second game of its back-to-back, the following news is coming from the team.
Item One: Hyman Back on the Ice
In a bit of good news, Zach Hyman played his first game of the season against the New York Islanders and was on the ice for 17:37. It was good to see him working to dig pucks out for his teammates. Hyman missed the first 19 games of the season recovering from surgery on a torn ACL he suffered in the playoffs but played through.
He’s the kind of tough and determined player the team needs to lead it when offensive skill alone gets stymied. Hyman reunited in his regular partnership with John Tavares, and Kasperi Kapanen was added at even strength. That move makes sense to me, and Kapanen has looked good back being back in the role of the speedy-winger who flies down the ice and shoots on goal as often as he can.
Item Two: Holl Scores First Goal of the Season
Justin Holl, who to my eyes has played better than most expected this season, scored his first goal of the season in the 5-4 loss to the Islanders. Sadly, his goal was a bit too late to make a difference for the team, but it did ramp up the excitement. Holl, who’s not really known as a scorer (with three goals and six assists in 31 total NHL games), has scored six points in 18 games this season. This season is by far his best so far.
Item Three: Kerfoot Out Indefinitely
The Maple Leafs PR reported that Alexander Kerfoot suffered a facial injury against the Los Angles Kings on Nov. 5. He’s tried to play through it, but apparently, it’s been decided – and rightfully so – that he’s too injured to continue playing.
Kerfoot has been a surprise this season with the Maple Leafs and has really played well with partners Ilya Mikheyev and Kasperi Kapanen. Although he’s a strong defensive player, head coach Mike Babcock has focused on Kerfoot’s offense. Combine Kerfoot’s injury with Mitch Marner’s injury, and that spells more trouble for the Maple Leafs.
I’m hoping the team doesn’t panic and make a trade, which some hockey commentators suggest might happen. Instead, I hope that Nic Petan gets a chance to show what I believe are his offensive skills. I’m also hoping to see the Toronto Marlies Jeremy Bracco get his first NHL start sometime this season. Would this be a good time for it?
Item Four: Looking Back at Elliotte Friedman’s Column from Last Week
Looking back at Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts post of Nov. 5, it was interesting to see that he believes other teams are looking at the Maple Leafs to move a big salary. Given the manipulations general manager Kyle Dubas had to engage to put this roster together, I can’t believe he’s quite ready to second-guess himself. And, basically, Friedman is agreeing: the team will want to see its full roster in action prior to making any moves.
As poorly as the team has been playing to this point in the season, Dubas isn’t likely to panic into rash moves. As Friedman suggests, the team isn’t likely to move Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, or Frederik Andersen. Word is that they’d like to move Cody Ceci’s contract ($4.5 million) but there might not be many takers.
Friedman noted that forwards Alexander Kerfoot ($3.5 million), Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million), or Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million) are drawing interest from other teams. But, as Friedman suggests, because Dubas recently re-signed them he’ll likely be reluctant to move any of them in a trade. Muzzin is becoming a core piece of the team’s defense and has recently shown some team leadership that, perhaps, no one expected and that is needed.
Finally, I hope the Maple Leafs don’t blink on Tyson Barrie as a player. Although he has only five points in 19 games, he’s started to really fire the puck on net in ways that I didn’t see him doing earlier in the season. That sort of slap-shot offense can produce rebounds and, from there, anything can happen.
Item Five: Former Maple Leaf Leo Komarov Dressed for the Islanders
Former Maple Leafs player Leo Komarov, who many Maple Leafs fans always liked, was brought off the injured reserve by the Islanders to play against his old team. Komarov, a 32-year-old forward who played five seasons with the Maple Leafs, scored 26 points in his first season with the Islanders last season, but will not likely reach that level this season because injuries have limited him to only eight games this season. But, it’s good to see him play.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Tonight the Maple Leafs meet the Bruins for the third time this season. So far, each team has won its home game of the home-and-away series games on Oct. 19 and Oct. 22. Both teams are coming off a series of losses. The Bruins have lost four in a row (0-2-2) and the Maple Leafs three in a row (0-2-1), both losing 5-4 games in their last outings.
Something’s got to give on Friday night. If the Maple Leafs lose, for the moment, they’ll be out of the playoff picture. Of course, the season is young, but that isn’t a good sign.