In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ commentary, we’ll look back at the team’s win over the New York Islanders on Sunday night and comment on what the events of that game mean to the team moving forward to the end of the season.
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We’ll also look at the team’s final road trip. That trip might have some consequences about who the team will play in the upcoming playoffs. Before the playoffs, there are some issues about the defense the team will face – or will have to decide – when that time comes.
Comment One: David Kampf Is Setting Records
David Kampf’s empty netter was his tenth goal of the season. As we noted in a previous post, this is the first time Kampf has reached double digits in goals in his career. Interestingly, it’s also ten times the amount of goals he scored last season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kampf has also added 14 assists for a total of 24 points, which is also a career-high. This season is the first season Kampf has topped the 20-point mark. His previous best was 19 points in the 2018-19 season.
Kampf has scored some of the strangest goals this season. We look forward to watching his 2021-22 season highlight video when this season is over. We do feel it necessary to mention that Kampf’s role on this team is not to score. Instead, it’s to help keep the puck out of his own net. It’s a job he’s done very well for the Maple Leafs.
Despite starting over 75 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, Kampf is third on the team in goals-against at five-on-five per 60 minutes played. Pierre Engvall leads the team at 1.71; Jason Spezza is second at 1.86; and, Kampf is third at 2.14.
Comment Two: Pierre Engvall Doubles His Goal and Point Production
Pierre Engvall’s goal that tied the game at 2-2 in the second period was his 14th of the season. That goal doubled his seven-goal output from last season. With his 14 goals, Engvall has added 17 assists for a total of 31 points. That number of points is also more than double his previous high of 15 points in the 2019-20 season.
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After the Islander game, Keefe stated the following when asked about Engvall’s play, “He is coming into his own for sure. That offensive confidence is coming. He is recognizing what he is capable of with his speed and strength to get to good spots on the ice. He is becoming a really important player for us.”
Keefe added that “Even when Kase was playing for us, Pierre was starting to really solidify himself for us within the top nine. Certainly now, since Kase has not been in, he has gotten even more opportunities, and he has been great.”
Comment Three: Mitch Marner Edges Closer to 100 Points
Mitch Marner opened the scoring in the Islanders game; and, if Nylander was the best player on the ice for the Maple Leafs, Marner wasn’t far behind. Marner’s goal gave him 34 on the season, eight more than his previous best. It also ties him for his highest point total at 94, which he did in the 2018-19 season. Amazingly, Marner has done all this scoring in 15 fewer games this season; and, he still has up to six more games to play.
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If Marner scores at his seasons’ pace of 1.4 points per game, he would become the fourth Maple Leafs’ player in the history of the team to score 100 or more points in a single season. To only have two players ever accomplish that feat in the previous 100+ years of this franchise and then have two players do it in one season demonstrates the talent level of this team.
Comment Four: Defensemen Battle For Playoff Roster Spots
There seems to be a good battle brewing for the sixth roster spot on defense on the team between Justin Holl and Timothy Liljegren. Neither player seems to have the edge. That is, providing Jake Muzzin is healthy enough to start the playoffs.
Liljegren seemed to get a leg up on Holl in March when he had a six-point in a seven-game stretch, and then in early April when he scored four points in five games. Now Holl has come on strong in recent games, scoring four points in his last five games, and seven in his past eleven games.
Having T.J. Brodie able to play strong on both sides of the rink gives the Maple Leafs more options when it comes to sorting out the defensive pairs. It also creates a situation where having a healthy Muzzin almost counts as a luxury. If Rasmus Sandin is healthy enough to be available for the playoffs, it arguably gives the Maple Leafs the strongest defensive lineup they have had since the early 2000s.
What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have a three-game road trip on the horizon after they play the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. First the head to the Sunshine State for games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. Then, on Saturday they play the Florida Panthers. On Sunday, they fly to Washington to play the Capitals in a quick back-to-back.
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The game that worries us the most on this trip is the Washington game. We aren’t worried about winning or losing the game. Our concern is with player health. The Capitals might look at this game as a revenge game after the Maple Leafs embarrassed them 7-3 in Toronto last week. If ever there was a game to rest key players, this may be the one to do it in.
After the Capitals game, the Maple Leafs only play two home games in six nights to end the season. One game is against the Detroit Red Wings. The other is against the Boston Bruins, which could possibly decide who the Maple Leafs meet in the first round. The game will be the Bruins’ second game of back-to-backs and third in four nights.
It will be interesting to see how Maple Leafs’ head coach Keefe splits up the goaltending in the remaining six games. The two games we would expect Jack Campbell to start are the Lightning and the Bruins games.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]