Give Auston Matthews credit for being a good quote. After the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Saturday afternoon for their fourth win in five games to end February, Matthews talked about the surprise hero of the game, rarely-used defenseman Martin Marincin who scored his first goal of the season as the game-winner.
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“It’s not every night you see a guy who’s 6-foot-5 who plays a shutdown role do something like that. I’ve seen it before, yeah. You don’t see it often, but when he brings it out it’s usually a treat.” Matthews noted.
But perhaps Matthews’ best line post-game was about his linemate, left-winger Zack Hyman, who equaled his career-high 21st goal of the season with an empty-netter to seal the deal.
“They call him the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5.”
You also have to love Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who’s able to understand and voice his players’ perspectives. He coached Marincin for three seasons with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Toronto Marlies. Keefe said he wasn’t surprised to see Marincin score.
Keefe admitted, ”Got to love the initiative of Marty to finish it. He takes a lot of heat around here, up and down (to the minors) but when you call upon him he gives you everything he has and it’s all you can ask for.” It’s nice when your coach publicly appreciates your contribution.
In this post, as the Maple Leafs begin a three-game California road trip on Tuesday, I want to help Maple Leafs fans keep up-to-date on news and rumors coming from the team.
Item One: Frederik Gauthier’s Rare Goal
Although most Maple Leafs players have played better under Keefe as coach, arguably one player who hasn’t is fourth-liner Frederik Gauthier. However, in less than three minutes, Gauthier scored the game’s first goal. It was his first goal in 14 games and just his second point in those games.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Is Growing as a Two-Way Player
Matthews is not just one of the NHL’s goal-scoring race leaders, he’s starting to dominate both offensively and defensively. Against the Canucks, he scored his 47th goal of the season, which moved him two goals behind the Boston Bruins David Pastrnak for the NHL lead.
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Every game, Matthews seems to show me something – against the Florida Panthers, it was how he used his body to enter the offensive zone: against the Canucks, it was his checking. Not only can he score, but he’s becoming one of the best two-way centers in hockey. I might be biased, but my money’s on Matthews to win the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Item Three: Martin Marincin Scores His First Goal of the Season
I noted Marincin early in this post, but he’s spent so much time in the press box (it was only his 23rd game this season) that it’s great to see him have on-ice success. His rare goal put the team ahead to stay.
Marincin started the game with only four goals in 223 career games, but he potted his own rebound off the end boards to beat Canucks’ goalie Thatcher Demko and put the team ahead 3-2. It was only his second goal since 2016-17.
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The 28-year-old Marincin was obviously happy and noted, ”First goal this season, so I was excited for that. It’s not my role (to score) but I like it. I can do it. I have to be more active.”
Item Four: Tyson Barrie Is Starting to Score Again
When the trade deadline arrived and Tyson Barrie became a likely candidate to leave the team, his defensive shortcomings were discussed redundantly. But, he’s still with the team and, like him or not, he’s leading the crew of young defensemen the Maple Leafs are throwing into the fray every game.
Against the Canucks, Barrie scored two assists for his third two-point game in his last four games. The team needs him, and he’s delivering. When you think of the defense the Maple Leafs are icing each game, you have to give the players credit. Perhaps only the Winnipeg Jets defense has had more injuries this season than the Maple Leafs. But both teams are in the playoff hunt.
Item Five: Frederik Andersen Keeps Starting Games Slowly
Yet again, Frederik Andersen started slowly but recovered for a victory. Over his last seven games, he’s had a save percentage lower than .900. Still, he’s won his last three games because his team scores more than the other team. Honestly, that’s still how wins and losses are measured.
In the Canucks game, both goalies had shaky starts but settled down when the game was tied 2-2. The difference? Andersen’s teammates scored two more and Demko’s teammates didn’t. Andersen is 4-1 in his last five starts but hasn’t been his stop-everything self. Still, the team’s in a playoff spot and that means something’s going right.
Item Six: Maple Leafs’ Injury Updates
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that both Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly will travel with the Maple Leafs on their California road trip. That’s good news because neither player was expected back this soon. There’s no certainty Muzzin or Rielly will play, but it means they’re expected to play soon. Originally they had been slated for a late-March return.
In other injury updates, Cody Ceci skated at Saturday morning practice for the first time after suffering his ankle injury. Ceci should be playing by mid-March. Also, Ilya Mikheyev is expected to return to practice two months after suffering a severe laceration that cut tendons in his wrist. It’s only his first step in a long recovery and he still might not play during the regular season.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
With the victory over the Canucks, the Maple Leafs now lead the Florida Panthers by five points for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout.
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As noted earlier, the Maple Leafs start a three-game California road trip in San Jose on Tuesday night. They’ll return home to play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Mar. 10. Toronto fans are already gearing up for that game because, interestingly, the cheapest ticket for the Lightning game is $124.33. In California, tickets can be had for under $17. That says something about the Maple Leafs fan base.
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