Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kase, Campbell, Matthews & Mrazek

It was a game of many mistakes. And, because the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to make nearly all of them, the 5-3 loss to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning was all but ordained. 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the events of the game and comment upon what the near future looks like for the Maple Leafs. The next few weeks might just be an upset-the-fruit-basket kind of scenario, as the team tries to replace some of its key missing pieces. 

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However, the news isn’t all bad. Some of the new players this season are stepping up to handle the slack.

Item One: Ondrej Kase Has Been a Great Maple Leafs Signing

Ondrej Kase seems to be finding his form of a few seasons ago when he put up 20 goals during the 2017-18 season. Last night he scored two goals against the Lightning to run his total on the season to eight goals (with four assists). The 26-year-old Czech forward now is actually on pace to hit the 25-goal mark if he continues. 

Ondrej Kase Toronto Maple Leafs
Ondrej Kase, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Just a couple of weeks ago, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that Kase has been a real team player because he’d accepted his defensive role without complaint. At that time, Keefe noted that Kase had been used to getting time on the power play; but, at that point during the season, he had not played a minute of power-play time. 

That changed with Mitch Marner out. Kase was inserted into the power play and he responded nicely. His first goal of the game came as a power-play goal less than two minutes into the first period. His second goal brought the team to within one halfway through the third period. 

Kase’s also proving versatile. Last night, the Maple Leafs started him on the third line but moved him up to the John Tavares’ line when they needed more scoring. Although the Maple Leafs lost the game, it was a sage decision.

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Finally, Kase is getting hot at the right time. After a bit of a slow start, where he scored only a single goal in his first 13 games, he’s now scored seven goals in his last 12 games. With Marner out for the next two or three weeks and Jason Spezza sitting out his suspension, Kase could establish himself within the organization’s future – if he hasn’t already. 

Item Two: Does Jack Campbell Need Some Rest?

When you break down each of the five goals the Lightning scored against starting goalie Jack Campbell last night, it would be tough to really blame him for any of them. None could actually be placed under the “he’d sure like to have that back” heading. Still, giving up four goals on 26 shots during any game – even to the Lightning – isn’t something Campbell usually does. 

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The first goal by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was redirected. Then Steven Stamkos fired a screaming slapshot into the net on a power play. Then Ondrej Palat bounced one off William Nylander’s stick. Maybe Campbell had a chance on Tampa Bay’s fourth goal by Taylor Raddysh. [By the way, I can’t recall a game where half of both teams’ eight goals were scored by players with the first name Ondrej.]

If only for his mental health, here’s thinking Campbell needs a break for a few games. He’s played like a Vezina candidate all season, and now with the potential of Petr Mrazek returning from his groin injury soon, Campbell could have a chance to take a much-needed breather. 

Related: Today in Hockey History: Dec. 10

As I noted, even in a 5-3 loss, Campbell hasn’t played poorly. However, he’s allowed at least three goals in the last four starts. As it stands currently, he has a record of 14-5-2 with a goals-against-average of 1.99 and a save percentage of .935. 

Item Three: John Tavares Is Having a Solid Season

John Tavares added two assists to his point total against Tampa Bay and is now tied with Auston Matthews for the most points on the team with 29. At least to my eye, Tavares is playing as well as he has since his first season with the team. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Right now Tavares has 12 goals and 17 assists. Should he be able to score 24 more goals this season, and the season’s not quite one-third of the way through, he’ll hit the 400-goal mark for his career. Tavares has come back strong from his scary postseason injury that might have threatened his career. 

Item Four: Auston Matthews Didn’t Score a Goal, But Had an Assist

Auston Matthews’ goal-scoring streak ended at seven games. But he had an assist to extend his point-scoring streak to eight games in a row. He’s been hot, with 14 points in those eight games. Currently, Matthews is among the top three NHL players for goal scoring and continues to have a strong season after a slow start.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs EA Sports NHL 22
Auston Matthews cover of EA Sports NHL 22 (Image courtesy of EA)

With his main partner Marner on the shelf for a few more weeks, Matthews needs to establish chemistry with other players. To my eyes, he has. Michael Bunting seems all over the ice and present player in many aspects of the team’s offense. He and Matthews continue to build a strong partnership on the team’s top line.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Petr Mrazek is expected to practice today and should be ready to play, even on Saturday when the Chicago Blackhawks come into town to finish the Maple Leafs’ current homestand. 

The Maple Leafs’ forward units are a work in progress, but the team’s defense is struggling. It isn’t as if the Maple Leafs aren’t playing well; however, they’re also making really poor plays that cost the team goals. Against the Winnipeg Jets, it was the odd-man rush. Against the Lightning last night, it was give-aways by the defense. 

What will Saturday night bring? Every game seems to be an adventure.


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