Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Matthews, Marner, Campbell & Mikheyev

It seems that this is the second game in a row where I’ve pointed out that it was a game of swings. Whereas during the game against the St. Louis Blues, when the Toronto Maple Leafs won by a score of 6-5, there was a multitude of swings, last night there were only two. The Maple Leafs went ahead 3-1, then allowed five straight goals to lose to the New York Rangers by a score of 6-3. 

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Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was pointed in his postgame media interviews:

“I didn’t think we had anybody that played well tonight. The coaches didn’t coach well tonight. Tonight is a much different game than we have played than the others where we have given up leads and such. I just didn’t think we had nearly enough urgency or purpose.” 

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the player news and commentary that emerged from the 6-3 loss to the Rangers last night.

Item One: Auston Matthews Didn’t Tie the NHL Record, But It Was So Close

Auston Matthews did not get the big goal he was looking for. But, oh my, was it close – maybe by the five inches his skate moved when he directed the puck into the net. Matthews, who had scored in 10 straight road games, was looking to make it 11 games. It was not to be.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
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Item Two: Mitch Marner Is Warming Up

There’s a chance that Mitch Marner can and will return to his point-a-game ways. Last night, he scored his first power-play goal in 101 games and added an assist. For the 2021-22 season, Marner has now scored eight goals and added 17 assists (for 25 points) in 28 games. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Marner’s looked good during the past two games and is moving ever closer to the point-a-game pace that’s been the measure of his production over the past few seasons. Perhaps he’s just starting to warm up for the Maple Leafs, which would be a good sign. Marner has four points over his last two games since returning from COVID-19 protocols. 

Item Three: Jack Campbell Can’t Hold Early Lead

During his media exchange after the game, coach Keefe specifically reviewed Jack Campbell’s recent spate of allowing more than a single goal during a game. 

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As Keefe noted, “He is not playing to the same level. I think that is obvious. We have come to expect his ability to make big saves, not unlike the one he made midway through the third — another time we left him wide open in the crease, and he made a huge save. We have come to expect those from him.”

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It was the same last night. Campbell made only 21 saves on the 26 shots he faced against the Rangers. The 30-year-old Campbell has a 19-6-3 record; however, he’s allowed five goals in back-to-back games. He’s shaky.

Item Four: Ilya Mikheyev Just Keeps Scoring 

Perhaps the recent version of the Ilya Mikheyev we’ve been seeing is what the Maple Leafs have expected from the young Russian, but perhaps it’s even better. Mikheyev scored yet again to get his team on the scoresheet first last night. 

Mikheyev has been playing lights out since he’s returned from his thumb injury and from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols in mid-December. Last night he scored his sixth goal in his last eight games. His high shooting percentage (23 percent after last night) won’t last, but Maple Leafs’ fans are getting flashes of what he can do regularly; and, it’s a sizeable contribution to the team. Watching him is fun.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs play John Tavares’ old team when they take on the New York Islanders Saturday night. Surely, he’ll hear the wrath of the fans. That will be the last game for the Maple Leafs in a stretch of six straight road games. Who puts money on Matthews not scoring?

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It will be good for the team to get back home, and it will be good for the team to play some games closer together. I’m anxious to see if Petr Mrazek can reprise some of the success that he’s shown during his career. He’ll be needed soon.