The Toronto Maple Leafs have won four of their last five games, a stretch punctuated by the hockey gods intervening with the feel-good story of David Ayres, the emergency-goalie event against the Carolina Hurricanes (which is a story for the ages and will soon be a movie near you).
As the team heads to California for a three-game road trip, in this post, I want to keep Maple Leafs fans up to date with some of the general news and rumors emerging from the team.
Item One: Zach Hyman Nears Dave Keon’s Maple Leafs Record
Zach Hyman, in one of Auston Matthews’ best lines of the season, was called “the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5,” will soon be passing a Maple Leafs franchise mark set by the great Dave Keon, who in 2016 was voted the best Maple Leafs player in the first hundred years of the franchise.
When Hyman scored against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, it was his 12th career empty-net goal which tied Keon for the franchise lead in that category. As Hyman noted, “That’s crazy, pretty cool. That’s a huge honor. Any time you get a chance to be mentioned in the same breath as Keon is pretty special.”
Interestingly, Hyman has only played 298 games with the Maple Leafs while Keon played 1,062. That says a lot about how different games were played back in the day (in the NHL, we’re speaking of the 20th century) when teams didn’t pull their goalies as often, nor as quickly in close games. In fact, in today’s game, sometimes the goalie remains on the bench after an empty-net goal has been scored.
Regardless, that Hyman is almost always on the ice when the Maple Leafs are protecting a lead speaks volumes to his skillset. He’s in full-check mode and usually carries the puck to the opponent’s net before he scores. He rarely shoots from a distance to avoid an icing call.
Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers
Hyman noted that he didn’t “think about (the record) too much, I just take pride in it because that’s what seals the game 99.9% of the time. I’m happy that it results in a win, (from “Leafs winger Hyman running on empties,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 03/01/20).
Item Two: Nick Robertson Scores 50 Goals with the Peterborough Petes
If fans need proof that the Maple Leafs were right to draft prospect Nick Robertson in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft last summer, they only need to look at this season’s OHL scoring. The 18-year-old, playing in his third OHL season, has become a goal-scoring machine for the Peterborough Petes. With a hat-trick against the Barrie Colts on Mar. 1, he became the first player in Canadian major junior hockey to score 50 goals this season.
Robertson’s three goals also made him the first Pete to score 50 goals in 28 seasons. In 1992-93, both Jason Dawe (58 goals in 59 regular-season games) and Mike Harding (54 goals in 66 regular-season games) scored 50. What’s also interesting is that Robertson only needed 43 games to reach the 50-goal milestone.
He missed time this season recovering from a broken finger (in November) and when he represented the United States at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship (in early January). Robertson is so prolific that there have only been nine games in which he hasn’t scored a goal; he’s scored multiple goals in 14 games, and he had a 14-game goal-scoring streak from Jan. 9 to Feb. 8.
Item Three: John Tavares’ Frustrations with Shootouts
The Mar. 2 Hockey News Newsletter I received discussed NHLers’ success with shootouts. The Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews was noted as a whiz at shootouts and became the first NHL player in history to score 50 shootout goals. The article then noted stars who don’t have a strong record. Surprisingly, Maple Leafs star center and captain John Tavares was mentioned as unsuccessful at scoring shootout goals. (I encourage fans to sign up for the free email newsletter.)
It seems crazy that Tavares is unsuccessful. Few players are as good as he is with the puck on their stick and he’s an elite goal scorer. I’m amazed at how quickly and accurately he can fire the puck on net.
That said, when he’s one-on-one against a goaltender, he usually emerges empty-handed. He’s only scored once on nine tries during his last three seasons and, over his career, his conversion rate is only 25.4 percent. He’s also had three penalty shots in his career and hasn’t scored on any of them. Both stats are interesting and surprising.
Item Four: Will Auston Matthews Break the Maple Leafs Goal-Scoring Record?
Unless something drastic happens, it seems likely that Matthews will score 50 goals this season. There’s a chance he sets the team record for goals scored in a season.
It’s been a long time since a Maple Leafs player scored 50 goals in a season. That season was 1993-94 when Dave Andreychuk scored 53. Toronto players have scored 50 goals four other times: Rick Vaive scored 50 three times (in 1981-82 he scored 51 goals, in 1982-83 he set the team record with 54, and in 1983-84 he scored 52 goals); Gary Leeman was the other Maple Leafs player to reach that mark when he scored 51 goals in 1989-90. Tavares came close last season when he scored 47.
With 16 games left to play, Matthews should not only hit the 50-goal mark but will likely pass Vaive to become the single-season, goal-scoring leader in franchise history. To date, Matthews has scored 45 goals in 66 games and needs 10 to set the record.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As noted, it will be fun for fans to track the team’s success towards the playoffs and see if Matthews can set the franchise record for goals in a season. As I noted in a previous post, Matthews will win the NHL goal-scoring title this season.