Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kallgren, Muzzin, Steeves & Simmonds

Even with Auston Matthews missing for the second game of his suspension, the two games could not have gone better from a Toronto Maple Leafs’ perspective. The team won two games in a row.

First, the Maple Leafs shut out the Dallas Stars by a 4-0 score, and rookie goalie Erik Kallgren stopped 35 shots. Last night, the Carolina Hurricanes went down to defeat by a score of 3-2. Once again, it was at the hands of Kallgren who won his second straight start and stopped 34 shots in the process. 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the news coming from the game as well as other news emerging as the team heads to Nashville to play the Predators on Saturday night.

Item One: Back to the Defensively Sound Games at the Start of the Season

Few would have predicted the two-game outcome. To win these games, the team did a lot of things right – things that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe had been preaching for many games. It was not a 7-4 game; instead, it was tight defensively. It took the team a few minutes to get going both offensively and defensively, and Kallgren stopped the initial Hurricanes’ onslaught. 

Throughout the game, the Maple Leafs played a tight defense and took advantage of their breaks. The team killed Hurricanes’ plays before they started; and, after early in the first period, there were few if any odd-man rushes. Without Matthews there to score goals, the rest of the Maple Leafs were forced to play responsible defensively. They did.

The team was motoring. And, in the end, the Maple Leafs frustrated the Hurricanes, who to their credit never quit trying. 

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It was the Maple Leafs taking advantage of the team’s depth. The Ilya Lyubushkin with Morgan Rielly pairing looks like a perfect match. The Ondrej  Kase, Pierre Engvall, and Ilya Mikheyev line looks as if it could be a difference-maker in the playoffs when the opponents work hard to shut down the Maple Leafs’ top two lines.

Item Two: Is Something Happening with Wayne Simmonds?

The Maple Leafs didn’t dress Wayne Simmonds for last night’s Hurricanes game. Nor did the team dress Travis Dermott. At first, it seemed as if both were – yet again – healthy scratches. But is something more going on?

Wayne Simmonds Toronto Maple Leafs
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Late yesterday, Simmonds was placed on the non-roster list but no reason for his absence from the roster has been given. Alex Steeves was recalled from the AHL Toronto Marlies in a move that was linked to the Simmonds’ move.

Item Three: Alex Steeves Brought Up as an Emergency Recall 

As noted, on Thursday Alex Steeves was recalled under emergency conditions. Steeves will likely not play but will become depth insurance while he’s with the Maple Leafs. 

Item Four: Jake Muzzin Remains Out for Another Week

Jake Muzzin is skating but is still a week from returning to the team. He practiced yesterday with the team, but the effects of his concussion are expected to hold him back for at least another week. 

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Muzzin has been out since February 21 after he was re-injured during a game with the Montreal Canadiens. The 33-year-old defenseman has had an up-and-down season, with just 12 points. It hasn’t been the steadiest season for the physical blue-liner. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

So the big question now is likely to be whether Kallgren gets another start in goal on Saturday. Is it time for the organization to let Kallgren play until he fails? He’s a rookie goalie with two and a half games of NHL experience, but what a showing he’s made in that short time. Better yet, he’s inspiring his team because he acts so confident in the goal. 

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He simply stood tall against two very good teams. And his teammates played well in front of him. He’s showed up to help his team at exactly the right time. To date, he hasn’t let in a single soft or momentum-killing goal. His save percentage is .963 as opposed to Petr Mrazek’s .884 save percentage. What am I missing? He’s been solid.

We’ll see what the Maple Leafs’ coaching staff decides.

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