No Auston Matthews, no problem. On the second night of back-to-back games (including travel in between) the Toronto Maple Leafs eliminated the New York Islanders from this season’s postseason with a 3-2 win. In the process, the team learned it could win without the NHL’s leading goal-scorer and candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP for his team.
On the night, a number of other players stepped up for the team. Jack Campbell looked like his start-of-the-season self by allowing only two goals on 29 shots. He looked especially strong as he held off a furious push for the game-tying goal by the hard-working Islanders.
For the team’s offense, although it wasn’t another five-goal game, the four they scored were enough. Goal scorers included William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Pierre Engvall, and David Kampf.
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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at how the players stepped up to carry the team to the win. I’ll also look at some of the records the team set with the win as well as looking forward to seeing what individual players might accomplish by the end of the season.
Item One: David Kampf Is Having a Career Season
David Kampf scored into the empty net Sunday for his 10th of the season. Kampf has been one of Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas great finds on the season. He’s amazingly valuable for his $1.5 million contract and he’s coming back for another season.
Kampf’s score broke a nine-game goal-scoring drought. During those nine games, he only had a single assist. Although that’s not what he’s paid for and his value is as a defensive forward, it’s good to see him capitalize on his opportunities. The 27-year-old Czech native also has 74 hits on the season and carries a plus-9 rating in his 76 games.
As a bottom-six defensive specialist, his great defensive play gives head coach Sheldon Keefe a reliable presence at the end of the game an on the penalty kill. Kampf’s 24 points in 76 games this season are already a career season.
Item Two: Pierre Engvall Has Found His Game as a Two-Way Player
Not so much under the radar anymore this season, Pierre Engvall has become the player that his head coach Sheldon Keefe knew when he brought Engvall with him for his first game as the Maple Leafs’ head coach in Arizona in November 2019. Last night, Engvall scored his 14th goal of the season.
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The 25-year-old Engvall has become the strong two-way player his coach had envisioned. This season, he now has scored 14 goals and added 17 assists (for 31 points) in 72 games. That more than doubles his two previous seasons combined when he totalled 27 points. With his partner Ilya Mikheyev on the penalty kill, he’s grown into his size and speed. His secondary scoring bodes well for the postseason playoffs. (from “Maple Leafs report cards: The penalty kill provides the firepower in win over Devils,” Omar White, The Athletic, 23/03/ 2022).
Last night, with Matthews out of the lineup and John Tavares moving up to center the team’s first line, which was effective, Engvall jumped to the second line. With his goal, he ended a six-game goal-scoring drought. However, even though he hadn’t scored a goal, he’s had eight assists during his last 10 games. His goal tied the game in the middle of the second period.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Scored His 34th Goal of the Season
In the win, Mitch Marner scored his 34th goal of the season and his 26th goal over his last 40 games Marner is on fire offensively. With the goal, Marner extended his career-best for scoring goals and matched his career-best for points. It was the third goal he’s scored in his last two games and gave him six goals and nine assists (for 15 points) over his last nine games.
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The question for Marner’s season on the scoresheet is if he can hit 100 points. He missed a ton of games during the season, and his 1.4 point-per-game average is the best of his career. If he can average a point each game until the season ends, he’d hit the century mark in points. He’s been good enough, even with Matthews on the team, to earn a vote or two for the Hart Trophy.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
With the win over the Islanders, the Maple Leafs have once again shown that they have more than a single star on the team. It was a good win because, without Matthews in the lineup, other Maple Leafs’ players helped the team win the game.
In the process, the Maple Leafs set a number of franchise records. Those new records include victories for a season (now with 50) and points for a season (now with 106). The team looks as if they’ve secured second place in the Atlantic Division and have pushed the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins to the third and fourth spots.
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The word on Matthews’ undisclosed injury was that it was a result of a bump or bruise that happened Saturday night in Ottawa. The injury is believed to be minor. He’ll be back soon and will be shooting for 60 goals in the season.