Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Holl, Ho-Sang & Bunting

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share the good news that star center Auston Matthews will be returning to the Maple Leafs’ lineup tonight against the New York Rangers. I’ll also bring Maple Leafs’ fans up-to-date about the injury reports and who will be in the lineup on the team’s defence tonight.

Related: Maple Leafs Hope Ho-Sang Can Overcome His History

Third, I’ll review the first two games the Toronto Marlies played this season; and, finally, I’ll take a look at what Michael Bunting brings to the team.

Item One: Auston Matthews Will Be in the Lineup Against the Rangers Tonight

The good news of the day is that Auston Matthews will be playing his first game of the year against the Rangers tonight. Matthews has been nursing his wrist after he had successful surgery on August 13. The organization, not wishing to risk another season of Matthews being in and out of the lineup with a wonky wrist, has been cautious about putting him in a game to start the 2021-2022 regular season. But he’s ready.

Matthews has historically been a quick starter, and might just light up the scoreboard tonight a few times. Although he’s three games behind other NHL players, it would be a fool’s bet that he won’t once again win the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goal scoring. Last season, in only 52 games with his impaired wrist, he scored 41 goals and added 25 assists (for 66 points).

Item Two: Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl Will Both Play Tonight

Jake Muzzin will take his usual place in the lineup tonight against the Rangers and will be joined there by his usual partner Justin Holl. 

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Muzzin missed Sunday’s practice, but it was a maintenance day. He skated with the team this morning. Holl had been ill and his place in the lineup was taken by Timothy Liljegren. Holl didn’t practice on Sunday, but he skated today and will probably suit up instead of Liljegren.

Item Three: Toronto Marlies Win Game 1 of Their Season, Then Lose Game 2

​​When I saw who was moved from the Maple Leafs to the Toronto Marlies, I had a sense that the team was going to both be good and exciting at the same time. Now that the team is two games into their season, I was spot on for one game and missed it in the second game. So, I really don’t know for sure what the Marlies are going to be like. That said, I still think it’s going to be an exciting team.

The Marlies had a perfect start to their 2021-22 season and whomped on the Manitoba Moose by the score of 5-1 on Saturday. Then, they couldn’t get anything going and lost big to the same Moose team by a 5-0 score. Odd game, hockey. Same goalie for the Marlies – Erik Kallgren – same players, but a completely different game.

Obviously, when the team wins by a 5-1 score, everyone plays well. When it loses by a 5-0 score, it’s a different story. Most Maple Leafs fans – I know I do – have their eyes on at least two players with the team. One is Josh Ho-Sang and the other is Nick Robertson. Both of those players played well during the first game. 

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Ho-Sang played with great confidence and chemistry with his first-line partners of Kirill Semyonov and Robertson. He scored  twice and the top unit was strong. One of the things I was looking for was whether Ho-Sang would engage defensively. He did.

Robertson makes mistakes on the ice, as young players do. Still, there’s nothing in his skillset that would make any Maple Leafs’ fan blink on his future with the team. He had five shots on net and recorded two assists in a strong game. 

By the way, Robertson suffered a lower-body injury in Sunday’s game against the Moose. Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore reported that “I don’t know to the extent yet. He’ll get assessed, and we’ll know more tomorrow.” 

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The other young player I’m going to start tracking is Semyonov. In the first Marlies’ game, he was particularly strong. He has a good offensive upside and makes smart on-ice choices. He’s sound on defense. He plays well on special teams. In total, the young Russian got on the scoresheet with three assists.

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The Marlies play again at home on Saturday night. 

Item Two: Michael Bunting Is Playing Well After Three Games

Michael Bunting goes to the net and gets knocked down. Then he goes to the net again and gets knocked down again. It seems like a redundant pattern, and that spells success for the Maple Leafs. Although it wasn’t a tip in or a front-of-the-net goal, Bunting scored his first Maple Leafs’ goal on Saturday and looks like a consistent threat when he’s on the ice.

Was Bunting happy about the goal? He commented after the game that it was “A moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It was a cool experience to be able to get one at home for my first time and celebrate in front of that crowd.”

Bunting’s goal was his second point in three games. He plays a 200-foot game, and had four hits in addition to his three shots on goal. He even got time on the power-play unit.

With Nick Ritchie off to a slow start, I’m sure there’ll be some talk about moving Bunting to the top-line’s left-wing position now that Matthews will be back tonight. Perhaps that’s where he’ll land, but I’m anxious to see how Ritchie does with his net-front bulk and with Matthews firing pucks like we know he can. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

It’s game four of the 2021-22 regular season, and the Maple Leafs will be playing a team from the United States for the first time after 72 games (counting regular season, playoff, and preseason games) against only Canadian-based teams since January. I’m looking for a great game from Matthews and hoping that Ritchie can tip one home.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Biggest Problem Is Not the Core Four

Mitch Marner noted that, “It will be great to hear two anthems again.”

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