The Toronto Maple Leafs won six of eight points over the last week of play. That is undoubtedly good and somewhat amazing when you consider how rough a week it was in Toronto.
The week started with confirmation that Nick Robertson would be out for an extended period. The 19-year-old injured his knee in the series with the Ottawa Senators. The injury bug was just starting. Joe Thornton left the game in the third period against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. He is out for four weeks with a fractured rib. Then matters got worse when another piece of the top line, which had just started clicking, was out of the lineup. Auston Matthews left practise on Thursday and missed Friday’s rematch game against the Oilers. But returned to the lineup on Sunday.
The injuries lead to a roster shake-up. The Leafs had to put Jason Spezza and Aaron Dell on waivers. Spezza said he would retire if he was claimed by another team. He cleared waivers and was back in the lineup the next day. However, Dell was claimed by the New Jersey Devils. The injuries allowed for some taxi squad players to get into the lineup. Alexander Barabanov, Pierre Engvall and Adam Brooks got a chance to shine. Brooks scored his first NHL goal at a pivotal time in Friday’s win over Edmonton.
The 7-11 Strategy
The Leafs used the roster adjustments as a chance to try the seven defencemen and 11 forwards strategy. Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas have been planning on utilizing this strategy for a long time. It allowed Mikko Lehtonen to get into the lineup for his first taste of NHL action. The system also gave the top forwards more ice-time.
Despite the victory the first time it was deployed in the game against Winnipeg, Keefe was on the fence if the pros outweighed the cons. He decided to try it again. The Maple Leafs put up a dud of a game against the Oilers on Wednesday. Keefe called it disjointed and disconnect. He has gone back to the more traditional six defencemen and 12 forwards.
The season is young, but some Maple Leafs passed some pretty significant career marks.
Frederik Andersen has now surpassed Curtis Joseph for fourth on the all-time wins list by a Maple Leafs’ goalie. He is now just 22 games shy of Felix Potvin’s third-place spot with 160 wins. Turk Broda holds the record with 304 wins, Johnny Bower is second with 219 wins.
Mitch Marner grabbed his 300th point in Sunday’s win over the Calgary Flames. It was just Marner’s 307th game. This makes him the third-fastest Toronto player to reach the 300-point mark, behind Charlie Gonchar, who did it in 294 games and Syl Apps, who took just 284 games to get to the mark.
Wayne Simmonds scored his first goal as a member of his hometown Maple Leafs. The goal against Calgary was also his 500th career NHL point.
As mentioned earlier in the article, but it bears repeating, Adam Brooks scored his first NHL goal in a win over Edmonton.
The Toronto Maple Leafs organization lost one of its greatest players and a fixture of the franchise. George Armstrong played 21 seasons with Toronto. He signed with the team in 1946 and was with the club for the next 75 years, either as a player, coach, assistant general manager, scout or ambassador. Armstrong was 90 years old.
Keefe expressed some heartfelt words for the legendary player, while also expressing his importance to today’s team. “Leaf Nation is as strong as it is because of the efforts of people like George and, in particular, that era when they were winning the Stanley Cups. Generations of Leaf fans were bred through those efforts,” said Keefe. “We feel the efforts of people like George and the efforts that they put forth in that era. We feel that every day here with the Leafs and are grateful for that.”
The Week Ahead
The Maple Leafs will spend the week in Alberta. They have a rematch with Calgary on Tuesday, and then it’s up to Edmonton for games on Thursday and Saturday.
The Alberta swing will test Toronto. They’ve played nearly every other night since the season opener. After Saturday’s game in Edmonton, the Maple Leafs will have four much needed days off.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.