The Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 8 was an exciting game and the team was fortunate to win a point in the contest. Late in the third period, goalie Frederik Andersen was pulled after a time out with only seconds left to play. The Maple Leafs won the faceoff in the Jets’ end and, before you knew it, the puck found Auston Matthews and he rifled a shot past Winnipeg’s goalie Connor Hellebuyck. It was an amazing goal, but perhaps no more amazing than a half-dozen similar goals he’s scored recently.
Frankly, from my perspective, Andersen – who’s often the best player on the ice for the Maple Leafs – struggled at the beginning of the game and then started stoning the Jets, even stopping two breakaways (one was a two on none). It was simply exciting overtime hockey.
Too bad Andersen had let in such a softie in the first period when he stumbled coming out of his net and couldn’t block a shot he would have had 99 times out of 100.
It was the first time Toronto had lost back-to-back games since losing to the Philadelphia Flyers and the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 3-4. That said, I detect no panic from the team. They played well, didn’t quit, and were beaten by other professional players. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
In this post, I want to keep Maple Leafs fans up-to-date on the news and rumors emerging from the team.
Item One: Could Matthews Score 60 Goals this Season?
I know it’s a long shot, but I’ve seldom seen a player as on-fire scoring goals than Matthews. He’s simply playing unbelievable hockey. He scored two goals, including the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left in the third period. These were his 30th and 31st goals of the season. He also, and it counts for nothing, had a great shootout goal. He’s absolutely oozing confidence.
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The 22-year-old Matthews has seven goals and four assists on his recent six-game point streak. He’s also scored 18 points in his last 10 outings. Currently, he stands at 31 goals, 23 assists, for 54 points in 45 games this season. I have no doubt he can reach the 50-goal mark this season, but I wonder if 60 goals are possible. He has the skill for sure.
With these two goals, Matthews became the first player in Maple Leafs history to score 30-plus goals in his first four seasons. He’s also jumped up there beside the Washington Capitals great Alex Ovechkin as the only active player to accomplish that milestone. I know it’s lame to say, but he’s a really good hockey player.
Item Two: Will the Real Frederik Andersen Please Stand Up
Against the Edmonton Oilers in the team’s 6-4 loss, Andersen simply didn’t play well enough and had to give way to his backup Michael Hutchinson. In the loss to the Jets, his game didn’t start well. It simply seemed as if he were stumbling around a bit. Still, when the game was on the line, Andersen stood tall and was the reason (with Matthews) the team salvaged a point in a game they probably should have lost in regulation.
Andersen now has a 21-8-5 with a goals against average of 2.74 and a .914 save percentage in 35 starts this season.
Item Three: Adam Brooks Is Setting Up Goals
Adam Brooks is making the most of his ice time. Although he’s averaging only about 6:30 per game, he’s collected assists in his last three games. He had an assist on Dmytro Timashov’s second-period goal. The 23-year-old has been a healthy scratch in four of nine games since he was recalled from the Toronto Marlies, but when he plays he contributes.
Item Four: Kapanen’s on a Point-Per-Game Pace
Kasperi Kapanen has points in six of his last seven games (totaling two goals and six assists in those games). All this scoring success comes in the wake of his being benched by head coach Sheldon Keefe late in December against the Detroit Red Wings.
Obviously, the benching helped. Kapanen now has 27 points (10 goals and 17 assists) in 45 games and has an outside chance of breaking the 50-point mark. (He had 44 points last season.)
Item Five: Rielly’s Been Playing Through an Injury
There’s been little campaigning this season for Morgan Rielly as the Norris Trophy winner and with good reason. The Maple Leafs defenseman is having an off-year compared to his usual standards. However, this week we heard one possible reason for that slow start to the season. Rielly admitted that he was playing through an injury.
When the usually prolific defenseman set up Matthews’ great goal at the end of the game, that assist halted a five-game drought and gave Rielly 26 points (three goals and 23 assists) in 45 games. However, even if he goes on a huge run, there doesn’t seem to be a chance he can come close to last season’s 72 points.
Item Six: Marner’s On a Streak
Mitch Marner’s on a six-game, point-scoring streak. When he assisted on Matthews’ first goal against the Jets, that gave the 22-year-old winger a goal and six assists over his last six games.
Since Marner’s returned from his ankle injury, he’s only been held off the score sheet in two games and he’s scored seven goals, 17 assists, and 24 points in those games. Marner’s played 34 games this season and has scored 42 points.
Item Seven: Maple Leafs Lose Out on Justin Williams
It was rumored that the Maple Leafs were after the Carolina Hurricanes Justin Williams; however, just this week Williams re-signed with the Hurricanes. Williams had been attractive because he saves his best play for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Although he re-signed with Carolina, it was speculated that both the Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins made him offers that he refused.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs next game is a brief one-game road trip in Florida on Jan. 12 against the Panthers. They then return home for three home games starting on Jan. 14.
It will be interesting to see how the team does after suffering two-straight losses. I think they are playing with confidence and won’t be fazed. But, we’ll soon see.