Fortunately, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a team. Also fortunately, when the goalie doesn’t have his best game, the offense sometimes comes to the rescue. That’s exactly what happened last night when the Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators 6-5 in a fun game to watch, but probably not a fun game to coach for Sheldon Keefe. In the end, the North Division-leading Maple Leafs have now won six games in a row, are 9-0-1 in their last ten, and have improved their record to 28-10-3.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Spezza, Nylander, Matthews & Goalie Trade
We also saw that, after such a great streak of solid goaltending, Jack Campbell was human. It wasn’t his best game, but he still managed to win his NHL-record-setting 11th win in a row to start a season – topping the great Carey Price (who set the record in 2016-17).
We also saw that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have an amazing chemistry on the ice and really can find each other on the ice. Each player had a four-point night and now both are tied for third place with the Chicago Blackhawk’s Patrick Kane on the NHL scoring leader board.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the players accomplishments during the game and then engage in a bit of rumor speculation about what might be happening with the team as it heads toward the NHL trade deadline tomorrow.
Item One: Zach Hyman Is Playing Amazing Hockey
Nothing much needs to be said. No matter where he’s put in the line-up, Zach Hyman is playing well. In last night’s game he scored a goal and an assist and now has points in four straight games (in those four games he’s scored two goals and four assists). He seems to be everywhere, and he even seems to be gaining more confidence every game.
Hyman forechecks and engages the “hard places” without fear. But his play with the puck is improving. Last night he circled the net, held onto the puck, found a lane to the goalie, and just went for it. He didn’t score on that play, but it was amazing. His goal was the game-winner. He’s now having a career season (didn’t I say this last season, too?) and has 14 goals and 16 assists (for 30 points) in 39 games on the season.
Item Two: Alex Galchenyuk Is Showing Up Well
It seems to me that Alex Galchenyuk has played better than the score sheet suggests. However, the score sheet evened out a bit last night when he registered two assists in top-line minutes with partners Matthew and Marner. He certainly didn’t look out of place with those two great young players. Galchenyuk is fast and works hard. He isn’t at all the player I thought was coming to the team.
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Galchenyuk took advantage of the first-line minutes to showcase his offensive skills after coach Keefe did some line juggling to cover for the loss of William Nylander’s to COVID-19 protocol.
The 27-year-old Galchenyuk has been a home run for the Maple Leafs’ braintrust and has found a nice spot with the Maple Leafs in the short time he’s been with the team. It’s a position that the organization has tried to fill on the cheap with Jimmy Vesey and even Wayne Simmonds, but Galchenyuk looks to be the best of the multiple-choice answers thus far. As I might have said before, I love reclamation projects – so this is feel-good news from my perspective.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Registers Four-Point Night
Obviously, Mitch Marner’s four-point night helped the Maple Leafs win the game last night. But his determination on his goal to tie the game 3-3 was obvious. From my perspective it’s not just that Marner and Matthews are skilled, but it’s also that they’re “willed.” They are great in part because they are simply so determined.
Marner set up Matthews on every goal he scored, and Matthews set up Marner’s goal as well. As I noted earlier, they simply have great chemistry on the ice. That kind of chemistry can only be matched – at least in the North Division – when the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl play on the same line.
However, although the Oilers’ twosome are leading the NHL in points, what’s happening in Edmonton suggests why the Maple Leafs probably have the better team. The fact is that the Maple Leafs roster is strong enough to play Matthews and Marner on the same like. In contract, the Oilers’ seemed forced to separate McDavid and Draisaitl because they lack enough scoring depth to present an overall threat if the two played together on the same line.
Both Marner and Matthews four-point night put them over the 50-point mark in their 41st game of the season. In the history of the Maple Leafs’ franchise, it’s been almost 80 years (1942-43) since Billy Taylor and Lorne Carr hit the 50-point mark in fewer games for the Maple Leafs (they hit the mark in 39 games). By the way, the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup that season.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Ignites Victory
Auston Matthews scored the third hat trick of his career and added an assist for a four-point night. He has five straight 30-goal seasons to start his career. Matthews is making it almost impossible for anyone to catch him as he chases the Rocket Richard Trophy. He now has 31 in 38 games.
Currently, Matthews is on a four-game point-scoring streak that includes seven goals and three assists (for 10 points). He also has a goal in seven of his last eight games and has 10 goals in those eight games. Is 50 goals in 56 games even a thought? Who knows what his total might be had he not had the wrist injury that slowed him down?
Related: The Gordie Howe Hat Trick
Matthews four-point night was also the 38th multiple-goal game of his career. He’s now in elite Maple Leafs’ company and is the first player since Rick Vaive (in the 1983-84 season) to score so many goals so quickly. Vaive scored 34 goals in his first 38 games that season. Matthews is also the first US-born player to score 30 or more goals in each of his first five NHL seasons.
Item Five: Day-Before-Deadline Trade Thoughts
As I read what other Maple Leafs’ hockey writers were writing the day before the trade deadline, the consensus is that Taylor Hall is the player those writers are watching. In an article in TheLeafsNation, the panel almost universally suggested Hall as the one big fish out there.
One panelist (Jori Negin-Shecter) made the point that “based on all of the salary cap shenanigans that we have seen over the past 48 hours, it really does feel like “Taylor Hall or bust” for this team. There’s not a heck of a lot of reason to try to open up almost $8 million in space unless you are trying to make a big play for the biggest fish.”
Honestly, it looks as if the Maple Leafs have set up the opportunity for just that to happen. As I’ve said before, I hope it’s a deal the team doesn’t make; however, I can see how the move could play out well for the franchise. Hall might be the best pure rental out there and you can’t be a former NHL Hart Trophy winner (2018) without having strong offensive capabilities.
My concern is more about team chemistry, and I like this team’s chemistry. Whether Joe Thornton scores another goal or not – although I hope he does – I think this team has great internal leadership and strong chemistry. Personally, I’d like to see the team move forward as it is.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Matthews & Taylor Hall Trade?
If the team does make a move, I’d rather see the team shore up the goalie situation.For example, perhaps the Arizona Coyotes’ Darcy Kuemper is a long-term organizational solution and is this a good time to get him? Similar to Riley Nash, Kuemper is injured and out week-to-week so there’s no quarantine issue. He also wouldn’t cost the team a prospect going forward. I also think the Coyotes’ situation of relying on backup goalies and finances (the organization needs cheaper prospects rather than high-contract players) presents a unique opportunity.
That said, I agree with the panelist who asked the rhetorical question about why Dubas would make the salary-cap moves to create so much space without having some plan for it. Waiting out the Buffalo Sabres, who have to be desperate to move Hall, might be the reason things seem so quiet on the Maple Leafs’ front.
Something’s likely to be up, and the fun of it is for me is that I have no idea what that might be.