Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Kallgren, Tavares & Vaive

Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs evened their season’s series with the Montreal Canadiens two games to two with a 3-2 win over their long-time arch-rival. The Canadian-based Original Six teams have been going at it for many seasons. 

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews Is Undergoing a Transformation

In fact, as Maple Leafs’ fans remember so well – even those who were not alive yet – the two NHL teams met during the 1967 Stanley Cup Finals, which was also the centennial year of Canadian Confederation. Although the Canadiens were the heavily-favored team in that final, the underdog Maple Leafs pulled out the Stanley Cup victory. It was, as some readers tell Maple Leafs’ writers regularly, the last time the Maple Leafs won the Cup.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll comment on some of the key happenings of the game and suggest what they might mean for the immediate impact on the team. I’ll especially add a note about Rick Vaive’s accomplishments with the team.

Item One: Takeaway Two: Auston Matthews Is Determined to Hit 60 Goals Soon

Auston Matthews clearly plays the game at a different speed than almost anyone else. Everything he’s been able to accomplish this season, in my opinion, is based upon three things: (a) speed, (b) skill, and (c) determination. Last night, Matthews scored two more goals in the first period to give his team a cushion and help lead them to the win. 

Matthews’ goals came 27 seconds apart during the first period; and, honestly, my first thought was about the poor Matthews fan who happened to be in the Scotiabank Arena washroom at the time and missed them. With those goals, Matthews became the first player in 25 years to score 50 goals in a 50-game stretch. 

Over the season, Matthews has now scored 58 goals and added 41 assists (for 99 points) in only 67 games. Unless he’s suddenly injured and can’t play, he’s easily going to win the Rocket Richard Trophy. But how can he not be part of the consideration for both the Hart Trophy (the NHL’s MVP) and the Selke Trophy (for the NHL’s best defensive player)?

Related: 11 NHL Teams Without a Stanley Cup

The last NHL player to accomplish the feat of hitting 50 goals in 50 games was the great Mario Lemieux and he did it 26 seasons ago in 1995-96. His two goals pushed Matthews’ point-scoring streak to 16 games. In those games, he’s averaged almost two points each game (with 31 points on 21 goals and 10 assists). 

The other key milestone of the game was that the Maple Leafs secured a playoff spot for the sixth straight season. They also hit the 100-point mark in the standings.

Item Two: Erik Kallgren Has His Best Game of the Season in Goal

Erik Kallgren was injured during Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, but he showed no trace of that injury last night against the Canadiens. He was more than ready to go and made some great stops during the game. Kallgren stopped 24 of 26 shots during the 3-2 win. 

That’s an improvement over his last four starts where he had surrendered exactly three goals in each start. During the first two periods, when the Canadiens were pushing, Kallgren made a number of key saves. The only goals he gave up were goals I didn’t think he had a chance on – a Joel Edmundson one-timer and a seeing-eye shot by Cole Caufield over his blocker. 

Erik Kallgren Toronto Maple Leafs
Erik Kallgren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I think it was Kallgren’s best NHL game. He’s been great playing at home and a bit less-great playing on the road. At home, he has compiled a 4-0-1 record, with a goals-against-average of 1.78, and a save percentage of .939. On the road, his record is 1-2-0,  with a goals-against-average of  4.11, and a save percentage of .859. 

Item Three: John Tavares Is on a Mini Scoring Streak

John Tavares scored the game-winning goal last night and is now on a modest three-game, four-point scoring streak. It was a typical Tavares’ goal and demonstrated his quick reflexes and his great hand-eye coordination. 

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Tavares’ goal was also the kind of lucky goal that seems to happen when there’s a lot of action in front of the net. This one bounced off a player’s skate and past goalie Sam Montembeault into the net. With the goal, Tavares now has 11 points in his last nine games (six goals and five assists).

Item Four: Former Record-Holder Rick Vaive Was in the House

In all the (rightful) hoopla about Matthews’ single-season franchise record for goals scored (now with 56, and heading toward 60), the player who had held the record earlier – Rick Vaive – has been mentioned regularly over the past two weeks or so.

Vaive had held the franchise mark of 54 goals in a season for 40 years. Yesterday, he was at Scotiabank Arena to personally congratulate the 24-year-old Matthews on breaking his own record. 

Gary Leeman Rick Vaive Dave Andreychuk
Until Auston Matthews joined them, only Mats Sundin, Rick Vaive, and Dave Andreychuk had scored 50 goals for the team.

In this post, I thought I would take some time to note some of Vaive’s accomplishments. He was the first Maple Leafs’ player to score at least 50 goals in a season; and, as most fans know well, the 54 goals he scored in the 1981-82 season had been the team record until Matthews broke if this past week.

Vaive was chosen by the Vancouver Canucks during the 1979 NHL Entry Draft (fifth overall). He was traded to the Maple Leafs in February 1980. In his rookie season with the team, he scored nine goals in 22 games. Then his scoring began to take off. He scored 33 goals in 1980-81, then he scored his record-setting 54 goals the next season. He didn’t stop scoring; and, over the next three seasons, he scored at least 50 goals. He was also the team’s captain. 

It was nice to see him being honored with Matthews over the past week. From what I’ve heard, Maple Leafs’ President Brendan Shanahan is a class act at treating Maple Leafs’ alumni well. Good on the organization.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Beating the Canadiens extends the Maple Leafs’ roll of solid play. The last time the Maple Lears had lost in regulation was on March 26, and they lost to this same Canadiens team by a score 4-2. 

It was good to see the Maple Leafs not play down to an opponent. They started the game hard and eventually beat a hard-working Montreal team. Next up is the Buffalo Sabres. 

Related: Maple Leafs Face a Dilemma with Alex Kerfoot

Given the fact that the Sabres have beaten the Maple Leafs in the last two games the teams have played; and, after the last game the teams played, Matthews’ was suspended, it could be a tough game for Toronto.