The Toronto Maple Leafs went into Minnesota and beat the Wild by a score of 4-3 yesterday. While that is great news, the team’s work is not over for the weekend. Tonight, they meet the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins for the third time in November.
The Penguins won the first game in Toronto the night of the Borje Salming tribute, then the Maple Leafs went into Pittsburgh and returned the favour behind Matt Murray’s first start since the season’s opening game. It was also Murray’s first game returning from his groin injury.
Today’s game should be a good one. With the win against the Wild, the Maple Leafs pushed their point streak to seven games (5-0-2). The Maple Leafs’ last regulation loss was the November 11 loss to the Penguins. However, the Penguins come into the game even hotter. Yesterday, they won their fifth game in a row yesterday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the two teams as they enter tonight’s game.
Item One: Erik Kallgren Will Start in the Net Today
Yesterday, Matt Murray registered his third-straight win and fourth in five starts since his return from injury. His first game of the season in Montreal was iffy, but since then he’s been exactly what the Maple Leafs dreamed he might be when they picked him up this summer and let Jack Campbell skate away to Edmonton.
However, Daily Faceoff reported this morning that Murray would not start against his old team today. Instead, Erik Kallgren will be between the pipes against the Penguins. Murray needed some rest and Ilya Samsonov’s knee injury has not healed enough for him to go. Samsonov is skating and travelling with the team, but there’s no news on when he might return to game action.
Kallgren himself has been solid enough this season; however, the team’s let him down defensively. His .891 save percentage in nine games this season would look much better if his team played with the same fervour they’ve played with recently. Kallgren enters this game with a record of 2-2-4 and a goals-against-average of 2.87.
Item Two: Sidney Crosby vs Auston Matthews
Entering today, three players are tied for the NHL’s goal-soring lead with 16 goals each. Missing among those names is Auston Matthews. Instead, the three players are Connor McDavid, Jason Robertson, and Bo Horvat.
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Matthews is seven goals behind, and on the season he’s scored nine goals and earned 12 assists (for 21 points) in his 22 games. He enters today’s game without a point in his last two games and “only” five points in his last six games.
Matthews’ counterpart as the best player on the Penguins is Sidney Crosby. Crosby leads his team with 11 goals and 17 assists (for 28 points) in 21 games played this season. He’s put together 12 points in his last six games. He was the NHL’s player of the week last week.
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Team-wise, the Penguins have the sixth-ranked offence with 3.55 goals per game. The Maple Leafs are 19th in the NHL with 2.95 goals per game. Defensively, the Maple Leafs have the NHL’s sixth-best defence with a 2.64 goals-against average and the Penguins sit 16th with 3.14 goals-against per game. Could be a well-matched game.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Keeps Adding to His Streak
Mitch Marner scored the first goal of the game for the Maple Leafs and now is heading toward the lofty ground. His 15-game and 20-point scoring streak grows more special every game. During that streak, Marner has scored four goals and added 16 assists to his statistical total. He now has five goals and 20 assists (for 25 points) in 22 games this season.
Marner’s streak is now the sixth-longest in Maple Leafs’ history. The only players who have longer streaks are Eddie Olczyk (set during the team’s 1989-90 season) and Darryl Sittler (set during the 1977-78 season). Both those former Maple Leafs hold the record of 18 games in a row. Three former Maple Leafs’ players – Dave Andreychuk (in 1993-94), John Anderson (in 1983-84), and Babe Dye (in 1921-22) – have 16-game point-scoring streaks.
Item Four: John Tavares Is on a Four-Game Point Streak
Although more minor than Marner’s streak, John Tavares is also on a streak of his own. His two assists against the Wild now give him seven points (three goals and four assists) in his past four games.
On the season, Tavares is better than a point-a-game player. In those games, he has 12 goals and 13 assists (for 25 points). Thoughts that Tavares was too slow to contribute before this season started seem to be vastly off the mark now.
Taveres’ offseason training has helped both him and the team. Father Time will have to wait until next season. He still has great hands, gets in a good position in front of the net, and seems to make the most of his partnership with Marner (and vice versa, it seems).
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
William Nylander’s goal yesterday was dedicated to Borje Salming. The team wore patches with Salming’s name on them. Ironically, Nylander’s 148th goal as a Maple Leafs’ player also tied him with Salming for the second-most goals ever scored by a Swede in the Blue and White Maple Leafs’ jersey.
Nylander is right at a point-a-game with 11 goals and 11 assists in 22 games. I look forward to the game today; without any reason other than a feeling, I expect Matthews to break out with a multiple-goal game.
For all the angst about this season’s team, there are only three NHL teams with more points heading into today’s action. They are the Boston Bruins, the New Jersey Devils, and the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf