So far, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ current road trip has been a huge success. Last night, the team went to Pittsburgh and beat a Penguins team that had won five straight games. It seemed surprisingly easy.
The Maple Leafs dominated the game and went on to a 4-1 victory. Mitch Marner quickly extended his points-scoring streak to 16 games, with his beautiful first-minute goal. The Maple Leafs then went to work and delivered a business-like win over the Penguins.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumours, I’ll take a look at some of the aspects of the game from a Maple Leafs’ point of view.
Item One: Maple Leafs Play Total Team Defense
With a decimated defensive core, the Maple Leafs have been playing a dedicated, hard-working defence that has resulted in shutdown hockey. It isn’t as if individual Maple Leafs’ players didn’t make mistakes on the ice. They just covered for each other well.
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In fact, as I watched the game I began looking for what I thought were mistakes. I saw a number of them. However, it seemed that almost every mistake was picked up and corrected by the next Maple Leafs’ player down the line.
From the eye test, it seemed as if the Penguins time after time had to go through three or four different Toronto players on their way to the net. If the first Blue and White uniform didn’t take care of business, the second or third one did.
Item Two: Erik Kallgren Has a Strong Game in Goal
As a result of his team’s shutdown style, young Swedish goalie Erik Kallgren didn’t have that busy a night. However, it wasn’t as if he wasn’t tested. He made numerous outstanding saves among the 25 shots he stopped.
Kallgren played well. One closeup near the end of the game showed Kallgren with a huge smile on his face. For the normally taciturn goalie, that said a lot.
Sadly for him, the goal against him was a bad bounce off Pierre Engvall’s skate that went straight to Rickard Rakell whose perfectly-placed wrist shot just flew past the right post on its way into the net. Otherwise, he might have logged a shutout.
In November, Kallgren made six starts and has put together a record of 3-1-2. However, this might be Kallgren’s last Maple Leafs’ start for a while if all goes well. With Ilya Samsonov practicing and due back soon, Kallgren should make his way soon back to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Item Three: Michael Bunting Is Playing Hard and Well
The new Maple Leafs’ lineup seems to suit Michael Bunting well. If there were any questions about his work ethic, last night erased them. His assist on Auston Matthews’ 200th even-strength goal of his career was a thing of beauty.
To set up that goal, Bunting had to fight three Penguins’ players down the ice, moving the puck ahead with his stick and protecting it with his body. He finally lost his balance and fell to the ice; yet, while he was down, he was able to sweep the puck to Matthews, who collected it about 18 feet in front of Casey DeSmith and then wired it home.
On the night Bunting picked up two assists. He now has registered three assists in two games. He isn’t yet at his pace from last season, but he’s digging pucks, making plays, and working his tail off for his team. Who knows if he will hit his 63-point mark from last season? But he’s playing well.
Item Four: Matthews Is the Same Yet (Somehow) Different
Auston Matthews is the same gifted player he was last season, but somehow he’s different, too. Last night he scored a goal and added two assists to help lead his team to the win. He’s also playing solid defence. Something just seems different to me, but no bad different – just different. [If someone has ideas about what might be happening, I’d love to read your thoughts.]
Last night, Matthews stood out in the game and wrestled away from some of the tight-checking he’s been receiving. His goal makes him just the seventh player in franchise history to score 200 even-strength goals. The goal also tied him with the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin for the most in the NHL since the start of the 2016-17 season, which was Matthews’ first season.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
All in all, the win against the Penguins was amazingly satisfying for Maple Leafs’ fans. Who would have thought that the team, especially after coming home from a very poor Western Road Trip, would start to reel off win after win?
Currently, only three NHL teams have more points than the Maple Leafs as we enter action today. The Maple Leafs travel into Detroit on Monday to meet a surprisingly strong Red Wings’ team. Should they be able to pull off a victory in the Motor City, it will be a perfect 4-0 road trip.
Samsonov will be back in the Maple Leafs’ crease soon. I’m anxious to see how this goalie tandem works when both players are healthy.
Finally, hats off to a Maple Leafs’ defence that is playing really well – even with the team’s top three defensemen down.
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