After losing the night before to the Montreal Canadiens, the betting money was probably that the first-place Florida Panthers would take last night’s back-to-back game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But hockey’s a funny game, and things can turn quickly. In fact, the Maple Leafs needed only 49 seconds into the game to score, when Morgan Rielly put home a great pass from T.J. Brodie for a 1-0 advantage.
Even a goalie who was battling can pull things together quickly. That was the case for Petr Mrazek, who put together a nice performance to earn his second victory in a row. It was also the case for John Tavares, who scored two power-play goals (both in the second period), to help his team score a 5-2 win over the Panthers last night. Tavares had only five goals since January and none in February.
Not to forget Mitch Marner, who had three assists and the other goal scorers — Rielly, Ilya Mikheyev, and (of course) Auston Matthews. The gods must be with Matthews, whose goal entered the Panthers’ empty net with literally a split-second left in the game.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the news emerging from the game as well as what the implications might be moving forward.
Item One: Mitch Marner Just Keeps on Putting Up Points
As noted, Marner put up three assists in this game. He’s been on a scoring roll that is helping him average an incredible two points each game. Two of his assists came with the man advantage. He was also a plus-3 on the night.
Marner sure helped the second line combo of John Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev, setting up two Tavares goals and Mikheyev’s single goal. He’s currently on a hot six-game point streak, where he’s scored four goals and added eight assists.
The 24-year-old Marner is part of a dominant first-line unit that includes center Matthews and winger Michael Bunting. Marner now has totalled 74 points on the season, including 19 points on the power play alone. And, quite different from any season before, Marner’s become a shooter. He’s fired 169 shots on the goal and now has a plus-17 rating in 56 games on the season.
Marner’s three assists helped him become the fastest player in Maple Leafs history to reach 300 career assists in his 411th game.
Item Two: Morgan Rielly Also Collects Three Points
Morgan Rielly scored three points with a goal and two assists in last night’s win over Florida. It was a great team win, but Rielly led the way when he scored early. He also assisted on both Tavares’ goals.
Related: 7 Fun Facts About Dustin Byfuglien
Rielly, a 28-year-old defenseman whose contract was extended earlier in the season, now has scored seven goals with 45 assists (for 52 points) in the 65 games he’s played on the season. His best season to date is 2018-19, when he scored 72 points.
Item Three: Petr Mrazek Is Back on His Game
Talk about a turnaround, Petr Mrazek stopped 33-of-35 shots against the first-place Panthers. He allowed a goal each during the first and the second periods, but nothing in the third. After games where his play was so poor that the team gave every other team in the NHL a crack at picking him off waivers, Mrazek now has put together back-to-back starts where opponents have only scored two goals in those starts.
Until those two games, Mrazek had yielded an average of four goals a game (five starts where opponents scored 20 combined goals). The 30-year-old Mrazek now has pushed his season’s record to 12-6-0, with a goals-against-average of 3.31, and a save percentage of .889 in 19 games. Even his numbers are improving.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs’ special teams were the difference in the victory. The team had two power plays and scored on both. They gave the Panthers three power plays but killed off all three. What a positive change since last season.
As I noted at the start of this post, in hockey things can turn quickly. In fact, that’s what Mrazek said after he beat the New Jersey Devils the other night. “That’s how hockey is. Things turn around quick.”
Now, will it be Mrazek or Erik Kallgren who gets the net when the Maple Leafs play their rival Boston Bruins on Tuesday?
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