For some reason, when I watched the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks game, I started with the sound off. I was intrigued, so I watched the entire game without sound. It was a different experience and, although I appreciate hockey analysts, I felt I saw a different game.
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True, the Maple Leafs won, but the Canucks looked strong on offense. It made me appreciate the Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen in goal even more.
With the victory over the Canucks, the team is now 2-0 on this difficult road trip. As they head into Calgary to play the Flames on Thursday evening, I want to keep everyone up-to-date on the news and rumors about the team.
Item One: Ceci Has Two Assists in Three Games
Don’t look now, but Cody Ceci scored two assists in his last three games. In the 4-1 win against the Canucks on Dec. 10, he had an assist and was plus-2. Although that might not seem like a lot, it is for the unpopular defenseman.
Ceci went 22 games without a single point prior to these assists, with six points in 32 games this season. His lack of offense isn’t a surprise.
Item Two: Holl Helps on Two Goals Against the Canucks
Justin Holl scored two assists in the win over the Canucks and, with those assists, he reached 10 points. It was his first NHL multi-point game. For someone not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of the season, the young defenseman is playing well.
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He has a plus-10 rating and is taking advantage of the second-pairing ice time he’s getting. He’s also holding his own both offensively and defensively.
Item Three: Marner Keeps Setting Up Tavares
It looks like Mitch Marner is back to his old self. Against the Canucks, he assisted on both of John Tavares’ goals. It was Marner’s second two-assist game in a row. He also set up two goals in the team’s 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on the team’s first road game.
With his recent success, Marner is now scoring at more than a point-per-game clip, with 22 points in 21 games. Although he missed almost a month with a high-ankle sprain, over the last few games he hasn’t seemed tentative at all. Clearly he’s playing at full strength.
Marner’s playmaking is what makes him special. Most NHL players love scoring goals, but he doesn’t need to score that much to have a positive impact. He is also a great penalty-killer and one of the Maple Leafs’ best special teams players. Like Zach Hyman, when Marner’s on his game he isn’t afraid of doing the tough, dirty work needed to win.
Item Four: Is Hyman Becoming a Goal-Scorer?
Speaking of Hyman, he’s becoming a bit of a scoring machine. He’s scored four goals in his last three games, and his latest was typical Hyman. He was checking late in the game, picked the pocket of the Canucks’ J.T. Miller and tucked the puck into the empty net to seal the victory. He was plus-3 in the 4-1 victory.
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Hyman also scored twice Saturday against the Blues in the team’s 5-2 victory, including the winning goal, which was shorthanded. After rehabbing an injury, he is starting to look like his old, puck-hawking self. That he’s also scoring goals is a huge plus for the team.
In his short season, he’s scored six goals and seven points. He’s perfect in a top-six role and makes the team’s offense even more potent.
Item Five: Matthews Has Left His Goal-Scoring Drought Behind Him
Over the Maple Leafs’ past two road games – both victories – Auston Matthews scored three goals after a five-game scoreless drought. The young center has 19 goals and 15 assists in 32 games. If he stays healthy, he’ll record his fourth 30-goal season, but I’m optimistic that the team is turning around under new coach Sheldon Keefe, who has the offense scoring.
Keefe also tends to play his stars longer minutes than former head coach Mike Babcock, which means Matthews has more ice time. It’s logical to equate extended ice time with extended scoring. I’m betting Matthews will total 40 goals by the end of the season.
Item Six: Tavares Missed Practice, But It Didn’t Harm His Play
Many were worried when Tavares missed practice for an undisclosed reason, but he didn’t miss a game and has been in top form. He sniped two goals against the Canucks and also had an assist on Matthews’ goal that started the team’s scoring.
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Tavares has had four multi-point games in his last seven and now has 12 goals and 23 points in 25 games. A broken finger is slowing him down no longer, and he’s close to engaging a point-a-game pace.
Item Seven: Andersen Is On Top of His Game
Frederik Andersen is looking calm, confident, and strong in goal. Against the Canucks on Dec. 10, he faced a lot of rubber and came out ahead. Specifically, he stopped 38 of 39 shots. The Canucks peppered the elite Danish goalie, but he held them out of the net until well into the third period – giving up a goal on a goal-mouth battle that former Maple Leafs Josh Leivo finally won. That was it.
Andersen has always had success against the Canucks. In 15 games, he has a .940 save percentage. It’s his second-best save percentage against any NHL team.
He now has 15 wins in 25 games this season and has dropped his marks to a 2.48 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Finally, he’s 6-2-0 in his last eight appearances and has given up only 15 goals, which is less than two per game.
It looks as if Andersen will reach two milestones this season: First, and this is quite common for him, he’ll likely play 60 games for the fourth straight season; second, and this is uncommon, he’ll be seeking career win no. 200 if he plays against and beats the Flames this coming Thursday.
Item Eight: Are the Maple Leafs After Pietrangelo?
I thought the Alex Pietrangelo rumors were over, however, James Mirtle of The Athletic recently rekindled them when he “wondered” if the Maple Leafs should go after the Blues defenseman and captain. Others have speculated that the Maple Leafs will need help on defense next season because both Tyson Barrie and Jake Muzzin – who are are on expiring contracts – might test the free-agent market.
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Mirtle makes a good point in that the Blues will have limited cap space for next season and might find it difficult to re-sign Pietrangelo.
Mirtle noted: “Negotiations with the Blues have basically been nonexistent. They didn’t go anywhere in the offseason and they haven’t continued during the year. And Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston has reported that GM Doug Armstrong and his staff have been sniffing around Leafs games of late,” (from ‘Mirtle: Should the Maple Leafs pursue Alex Pietrangelo to fix their blue line, now or in the summer?’ James Mirtle, The Athletic, 12/06/2019).
It might make sense for the Maple Leafs during the next offseason, however, would the Blues really give up on such a strong player, especially if they are interested in winning more Stanley Cups?
If the team subtracts Muzzin, Barrie – who may leave via free agency – and Ceci’s – whose contract might not be renewed – salaries, that would open up more than $11 million in cap space. Speculation is that Pietrangelo would seek at least $8.5 million per season on a long-term deal.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs might want to stay on the road. Under their new coach, they have found the road to their taste with victory after victory. They have two games left before they return to Toronto. Should they be able to bring home victories, they will be back in the playoff hunt and that has seemed out of reach recently. We’ll see where the team is by this weekend.