Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Khristich, Mrazek, Holl & Postseason Play

The expectations on this Toronto Maple Leafs’ team are growing. Given the past few games, before last night’s game, I would have been happy if the team went into Washington – one of the top NHL teams – and came out with a win. And, that’s just what happened. Toronto beat a tough Capitals team by a score of 5-3 and now are on a three-game winning streak.

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In the game, the goaltending held up. The team produced enough offense to win, the defense held, and the Capitals didn’t generate a lot of odd-man rushes. No, it wasn’t a boring, defensively-dominating, or low-event game. But it was a good win.

Related: Maple Leafs Need to Make a Decision on Mrazek

After the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the media and shared a number of upbeat comments about the game his team had played. Specifically, he noted that “I liked the game. I thought we were good in a lot of areas except the power play. Otherwise, I thought our guys did a good job.”

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share news emerging from the game as well as other news that touches the team. Specifically, although I haven’t touched on geopolitical issues in a post before, there are things occurring globally that impact former Maple Leafs’ players and I’ll share one here.

Item One: Former Maple Leafs’ Player Dmitri Kristich Fighting at Home in the Ukraine

As Maple Leafs’ fans watch their team play hockey, there’s always news from the rest of the world that goes on off-camera. We’ve learned that in the age of a pandemic. Now, Russia is warring with Ukraine and that touches close to home for the Maple Leafs. Specifically, former NHL and Maple Leafs’ player Dmitri Khristich is part of the conflict.

Khristich is a 52-year old former player who has more than 800 games under his belt. While he played most of his seasons with the Capitals, he played both the 1999-00 and the 2000-01 seasons with the Maple Leafs. The former player is in Ukraine fighting for his country against the Russian invasion. 

His plea, delivered through TSN’s Gord Miller, was to tell the Russian people what’s going on with the conflict. Given that the Maple Leafs have a number of Russian players on the team, there has to be much more going on in the heads of the players than is shared with the public. 

Related: Alex Steen Trade Revisited

The conflict raises a number of crucial issues for international and NHL hockey. What happens to Russian NHL players or the World Juniors? This story is far from over. Certainly, a lot of questions are going to come up soon.

Item Two: Petr Mrazek Wins Ninth Game of the Season

As noted, the expectations on this team are high. However, coach Keefe had several positive things to say about goalie Petr Mrazek. After the game, Keefe shared that he thought Mrazek “was really good” and should get “full marks for the win tonight.” The team needs to find stability in net.

Although other hockey writers thought Mrazek continued to struggle and was just so-so, Keefe reminded us all that there are “dangerous shooters” in the Capitals lineup and that, “on their power play, I thought he (Mrazek) was really good. He made a couple of big saves on some one-timers — not just (Alex) Ovechkin but some other guys.”

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Mrazek stopped all but three of the 33 shots he faced in last night’s win over the Capitals. That gives the 30-year-old Czech goalie his third win in a row and a 9-4-0 record on the season. Statistically, he now has a goals-against-average of 3.07 and a save percentage of .895  in his 13 games.

Related: Hilary Knight Continued Record Book Climb in Big Olympic Performance

Which goalie gets the start against the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow night on the road? My guess is Jack Campbell, but I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right recently.

Item Three: Justin Holl Is Showing Up Big

Recently, there’s so much negative news maligning Maple Leafs’ defenseman Justin Holl that it’s nice to offer an accolade when it’s deserved. Last night it was certainly deserved. Holl scored a goal and added an assist to help carry his team to a win in Washington. Holl also went plus-2 on the night.

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His goal in the dying two seconds of the first period had to have been a poison pill for the Capitals. They did come back to tie the game 3-3, but that goal was tough to swallow. 

It was actually a smart play because, with only a few seconds remaining in the first period, Holl had to know there was no chance the Capitals could score from so deep in their own end of the ice. So he crashed the net, hacking, and flailing. The puck found his stick and then the back of the net.

Holl also had an assist on Rasmus Sandin’s game-winning goal late in the third period. Over the past two games, Holl’s had two multiple-point games. He now has two goals and 11 assists (for 13 points) in his 42 games. He also carries a plus-15 rating.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Perhaps, after reading this post, you still find you’re a Maple Leafs’ fan with a very different perspective than coach Keefe. I admit I was hoping for a boring, low-event game. But, listening to Keefe talk about the game made me remember that, before the game started, I would have been happy with a win – really, any kind of a win. 

Sheldon Keefe and Manny Malhotra Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe and Manny Malhotra, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The team delivered and looked good enough in doing it. The fact is that both the Maple Leafs and the Capitals are playoff-bound. Although the team didn’t play the kind of confidence-inspiring game I might have wanted, they will land in the postseason. 

Related: 3 Former Maple Leafs Who Are Having Career Years, 3 Who Aren’t

When the season started, more than a few Maple Leafs’ fans would have been surprised by the high level of the team’s play. The Maple Leafs are overcoming the difficulties they need to and remain well-placed in the Atlantic Division.

In the postseason, it’s every team for itself. My view is that it’s one step at a time. The playoffs seem a certainty. That’s step one.