Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Mikheyev, Anderson & Kase

The Toronto Maple Leafs have now finished a few days of rest since the Anaheim Ducks game on November 28. Can the team move its winning streak to five games and stop its home losing streak at one? In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news emerging from the team as it prepares for the Colorado Avalanche tonight.

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The Avalanche are one of the top NHL teams and come to town with a 7-2-1 record in its last 10 games. It should be a good contest between two good teams. In the latest CBS sports Power Rankings, the Maple Leafs were given the top spot and the Avalanche were ranked eighth.

Item One: Auston Matthews Reaches Almost $150,000 and Shaves Moustache

Auston Matthews made a commitment and he kept it. This morning, Matthews shaved his signature mustache to keep a pledge that he gave to support the charity Movember, which encourages supporters to grow facial hair as a way to raise awareness for men’s health.

Matthews has worn his mustache so long that it’s become his trademark. However, he vowed that he’d shave if fans donated $134,000. They did; and, he complied. 

Matthews noted just before the “event” that “It’s been an amazing month, but a deal is a deal, and the time has come to shave off this mustache.” (from “Auston Matthews shaves trademark mustache after Leafs star reaches fundraising goal, Kevin McGran, St. Catherines Standard, 1/12/21).

Item Two: Ilya Mikheyev Is Getting Closer to a Return

Yesterday after practice, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was asked about the status of Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev. He noted that “Today was the first day that he was progressing to be on the ice with our players. The skill session — I think that is going to continue to progress as he gains more strength in this hand.”

Ilya Mikheyev Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Mikheyev, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s still a way to go; however, Mikheyev’s rehabilitation from his broken thumb is progressing and he should be back with the team in the near future. His return will give the Maple Leafs one more weapon, especially when it comes to shutting other teams down. Mikheyev’s shot hasn’t been going in recently; however, he’s as speedy and defensively oriented as ever. Given the team’s collective focus on solid defensive play, his return can only help.

Item Three: Ondrej Kase Will Miss Another Game

Ondrej Kase’s “upper-body” injury will keep him out of tonight’s game lineup against the Avalanche. However, the good news is that Kase has skated during recent practices and has reported that things are going well with his injury. 

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Because of Kase’s history with concussions, any note of an “upper-body” injury provokes fear of losing him again for a long period of time. However, given how things are unfolding with practice and the fact that no notes about concussion protocols have been forthcoming, it’s likely Kase’s injury is not concussion-related.

Item Four: Joey Anderson Will Make His Season’s Debut

Joey Anderson was recalled by the Maple Leafs in the same move that sent Kirill Semyonov back to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Tonight will be Anderson’s season debut for the Maple Leafs.

The 23-year-old former New Jersey Devils’ player, who came in a trade for Andreas Johnsson in October 2020, has been a solid goal scorer for the Marlies. This season, he’s totaled five goals and seven points in 13 AHL games. 

In speaking about Anderson’s debut, coach Keefe noted that “​​Joey is a guy who works extremely hard. He is a versatile player. He has good defensive instincts and a great work ethic. We think he can help on the penalty kill.”

Keefe said about Anderson: “We liked his camp. We liked his start to the Marlies‘ season. He has been up here a few times with us now, and he has done well in our practices. We haven’t gotten him into a game yet, but with Kase’s absence in the lineup, getting another right-winger in there helps us. With his skill set, we think it is a good fit.”

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tonight, the  Maple Leafs will meet up with former third-line center Nazem Kadri, who’s been carrying a heavier offensive load this season with the Avalanche. The game tonight suddenly got more interesting when it was announced that center Nathan MacKinnon would be back in the lineup. 

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Although the Avalanche had a 7-1-0 record in the games that he missed and averaged 5.4 goals a game, they’re a better team with him in the lineup. The Maple Leafs have been playing tough teams well, beating the Vegas Golden Knights and the Tampa Bay Lightning recently. Tonight’s game will be another test of their team’s resolve to win difficult games.

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