Eight days ago, when the Toronto Maple Leafs left on a difficult four-game road trip, if someone said the team would come home with a winning record of 2-1-1, I’m guessing most Maple Leafs’ fans would have been more than satisfied. I’m not so sure that would be the case this morning. Indeed, the team’s record was 2-1-1, but the way the team put together that record leaves some questions unanswered.
The Maple Leafs scored 15 goals in those four games, but they also gave up 15 goals. They gave up big leads in three games. Some of the games they lost, and some they won. The record on the four-game road trip looks more solid than the team’s play.
Has their lack of depth on the fourth line been exposed with Mitch Marner, Pierre Engvall, and Ondrej Kase out? Is goalie Jack Campbell showing signs of getting tired? Is the team’s defensive play good enough? Is the team too sloppy, or is it COVID-19 catching up to everyone? Is the team just gassed and in need of a solid rest?
Finally, should the team just shove this road trip into the bottom drawer of their dresser and simply move on? As I noted, there are a lot of questions, but not many answers right now. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the player news that has emerged from the team.
Item One: Has Mitch Marner’s Streak Begun?
Mitch Marner scored a goal and an assist in his return to the team after coming off the COVID-19 protocol. That would seem to be a good re-boot for the NHL player who ended with 67 points, which was fourth place in total points in last season’s NHL scoring race.
Marner has not had the kind of scoring season most Maple Leafs’ fans expected. Thus far in the 2021-22 regular season, he’s scored only seven goals and added 16 assists (for 23 points) in 27 games after Saturday’s game. Over his past three seasons before this current season, he’d played 196 games and had 228 points. That’s a 1.16 point-per-game pace. He needs to start putting up points in bunches for him to reach the point-a-game pace he’s used to.
About his game last night, Marner said: “I was pretty happy with coming in here and playing the game I did. I know I have (goal scoring) in me. Throughout the game, your confidence gets higher and higher. It’s something I want to make sure I keep going with, is being a threat. Whenever I’m called upon to shoot and try to score, make sure I’m doing it, not trying to look for that extra pass.” (from “Marner returns, contributes to enthralling Maple Leafs victory in St. Louis, Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 15/01/22).
For someone who’s not known as a goal-scorer, Marner’s goal was of highlight-reel quality. He stole the puck from a St. Louis Blues’ player, circled quickly towards to goalie to free himself, and snapped the puck over the top of Jordan Binnington’s glove. It looked as if Marner had tons of energy on the night.
Interestingly, although Marner doesn’t score goals regularly, the team is successful when he does score. The Maple Leafs have won 11 games in a row over the past two seasons when he scores.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Extends Goal-Scoring Record on the Road
Although I hadn’t known of Auston Matthews’ streak of scoring goals on the road, since I learned of it with everyone else I’ve been tracking it. Last night, Matthews scored a goal and added an assist to extend his franchise record with his 10th-straight goal scored in a road game. Now he’s only one game short of the NHL record for most games in a row scoring on the road.
The holders of that record are two NHL greats – Pavel Bure and Steve Yzerman. Matthews also set another franchise record with his 25th goal for the sixth season in a row. He’s now the first Toronto Maple Leafs’ player to ever start his career with six straight seasons of scoring at least 25 goals.
While Marner’s goal was of highlight-reel quality, Matthews’ assist had the same quality. On a set play from the face-off circle early in the first period, instead of drawing the puck backward, Matthews fired it toward the net. Binnington made the initial save; but, while the puck was free in the goalie’s crease, Michael Bunting slid it into the net. It was a beautiful bang-bang play.
Matthews’ power-play goal tied the game at 5-5. His 25th goal was his fifth goal in his last four games; and, he now has seven points in five straight games. On the season, Matthews has scored 25 goals and added 15 assists (for 40 points) in 33 games.
Item Three: Jack Campbell’s Teammates “Hero” Him in 6-5 Win
I used the word “hero” as a verb because, for so often this season, Jack Campbell has played the hero keeping his team in games they probably should have lost. Last night, it was the reverse. Campbell allowed five goals past him, but his team came back to score six.
How often does Campbell give up five goals? Hardly ever is the answer. And to do it on so few shots is even rarer. However, at the end of the season, the game will simply look like another win on his record.
Campbell’s had nothing short of a great season, and perhaps this game was one of those games that happens every once in a while. The Maple Leafs took a 3-1 lead before the first period was half over. Then they blinked and went behind by one score. Finally, the Maple Leafs came back to win with the last two goals of the game, including Ilya Mikheyev’s odd-angle goal in the third period.
What’s Next For the Maple Leafs?
After finishing this four-game road trip, the schedule looks interesting for the Maple Leafs. The next two games on the team’s schedule are two more road games in New York City. On Wednesday, they play the New York Rangers and on Saturday they play the New York Islanders.
Actually the team’s schedule isn’t that busy between their next game on January 19 and February 1, which would have been the beginning of the Olympic break. But the big question is how the team will reschedule the nine games that were postponed.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price
It would be possible to fit nine games into 22 days, but it would be tight. That’s something that will be decided over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf