Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kessel, Engvall & Aston-Reese

Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Vegas Golden Knights on the road. New Vegas head coach Bruce Cassidy had the team off to a 4-1 regular-season’s start until the defending Stanley Cup champ Colorado Avalanche rolled into town and beat them on Saturday by a score of 3-2. 

Related: Phil Kessel – A Biography of the NHL Star

The Maple Leafs are coming off a 4-1 win in Winnipeg, and this will be their second game of a five-game western road swing. In that Jets’ game, Maple Leafs’ John Tavares scored twice on the power play. Auston Matthews, although he has only a single goal on the season, chipped in with three assists and newcomer Ilya Samsonov stopped 30 shots to win his fourth game in a row.

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news about the upcoming game both from a Golden Knights’ perspective as well as the Maple Leafs perspective.

Item One: Former Maple Leafs’ Phil Kessel Will Make NHL History Tonight

Phil Kessel, for all his so-called antics like a hot dog-eating contest, will make NHL history tonight when his new Golden Knights team takes on his old Maple Leafs’ team. This is one streak where the person setting the record simply doesn’t look the part. 

Kessel might not look like an ironman; however, tonight the Golden Knights’ forward will tie retired defenseman Keith Yandle’s NHL record of 989 consecutive games played. And, Kessel is heading toward 1000 games in a row. It’s quite an amazing streak actually.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel, last season with the Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For the 35-year-old Kessel, it doesn’t seem complex. He noted, “I try to play no matter what. I’m a hockey player, you know, that’s basically what I am. Just a hockey player, you know? They come in all shapes and sizes.”

Indeed they do. Kessel is listed at 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, but that girth hasn’t stopped him. He hasn’t missed a game since October 31, 2009. His former Arizona Coyotes’ teammate Shayne Gostisbehere noted that, although “the knock on Phil is that he doesn’t work out, blah, blah, blah. However, when he does go to the gym, I swear to God, he has the strongest legs of anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Item Two: Pierre Engvall Draws Back in Against the Golden Knights

Maple Leafs’ head coach made a number of key moves to help his team win against the Jets on Saturday night. Among these changes, he replaced Nicolas Aube-Kubel with Wayne Simmonds. He then added Kyle Clifford to the lineup and took Pierre Engvall out. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ Engvall No Longer in Keefe’s Good Graces

The moves worked. Keefe will ride the hot hand for now. Because Simmonds, Clifford and David Kampf combined for a goal and had such high metrics on Saturday night, they’ll start tonight again in Vegas. However, unless there are last-minute changes, Engvall will be returning to the lineup. Zach-Aston Reese will join Aube-Kubel and Denis Malgin in the pressbox.

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Being a healthy scratch was a wake-up call for Engvall. He had played the first five games of the season. But he hadn’t registered a point. Perhaps it was a slow start because Engvall had missed much of training camp with a foot/ankle injury.

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe shared that he wanted Engvall “to clear his head. I know he has more ability to impact our lineup positively. He had a good [15-goal, 35-point] season last year, and we’re looking for him to build on that.”

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs Sign Zach Aston-Reese to a Professional Tryout

Keefe added that “It hasn’t gone the way he (Engvall) or I would’ve liked to start the season. He’s an important guy, and we need to get him going.”

Item Three: Zach Aston-Reese Doing Some Key Things, But …

According to Keefe, it wasn’t as if Aston-Reese was playing poorly. In fact, Keefe pointed out some of Aston-Reese’s contributions to the team in the areas of team defense and penalty killing. However, with the salary-cap relief he has with Matt Murray out, Keefe wants to take advantage of the flexibility he has with his lineup. 

Zach Aston-Reese Anaheim Ducks
Zach Aston-Reese, when he was with the Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe specifically noted that “We’re trying to keep people involved, get Engvall back in (on the third line with Alex Kerfoot and Calle Jarnkrok). Simmonds and Cliff did a good job, (and) made their presence felt. You see the way teammates are responding to those two.” (from “Auston Matthews finding new ways to help Maple Leafs, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 23/10/2022).

Keefe believes the speedy Engvall and his size will be a better match against Vegas. The Golden Knights can be an intimidating home team.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

With all the moves on the team, according to Daily Faceoff, the line combinations for tonight’s game against the Golden Knights are now:

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: Could Mete be the next Bunting?

First Line: Michael Bunting – Auston Matthew – Mitch Marner

Second Line: Nick Robertson – John Tavares – William Nylander

Third Line: Pierre Engvall – Alexander Kerfoot – Calle Jarnkrok

Fourth Line: Kyle Clifford – David Kampf – Wayne Simmonds