Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs begin the first game of a back-to-back against the Ottawa Senators before they return to play the New York Islanders on Sunday night. It will be a full weekend of hockey, with the team starting two different goalies and Auston Matthews taking another crack at the 60-goal mark for the season.
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As the team gears up to play the Senators, in this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the player moves and other news that has emerged from the team and the organization.
Item One: Auston Matthews Is Looking for More Goals
Auston Matthews leads the NHL with 58 goals scored on the season. That’s the most goals any NHL player has scored in 11 seasons. Although he was shut down on the goal-scoring front in the 7-3 win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, he did register two assists for his 100th and 101st points of the season.
Even more impressive for Matthews, he’s scored 58 goals and added 43 assists in only 69 games this season. When asked about his scoring exploits, Matthews pointed at his teammates and noted that “It’s certainly not about me. It’s a team accomplishment.”
Matthews is only the third player in franchise history to record 100 points in a season. The other two are iconic Maple Leafs’ greats Darryl Sittler, who hit the 100-point mark two times (in 1975-76 and 1977-78), and Doug Gilmour, who also hit the 100-point mark two times (in 1992-93 and 1993-94).
Item Two: Jake Muzzin Is Out This Weeked, But It’s Not Concussion Related
Jake Muzzin will sit out both weekend games with an “undisclosed” ailment. However, the report is that this isn’t concussion-related. Muzzin came back to play a single game against the Capitals, but there seemed to be something wrong with him even during the game. He didn’t seem to be making the plays he usually made.
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Muzzin had already missed Tuesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres because a “non-concussion” injury (although I’ve also heard it noted as an “ailment”) had flared up again. Although Muzzin didn’t practice yesterday, he’s not likely to miss many games as the regular season closes. Although the organization is vague about whatever’s going on, they seem to be treating it as minor.
Item Three: Will Kristians Rubins Play His Third NHL Game?
With Muzzin out for the weekend’s slate of games, Kristians Rubins was recalled from the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies. He’ll be with the club on an emergency basis for the weekend. It would be nice to see him play against Ottawa.
Although Rubins has moved up and down between the Marlies and the Maple Leafs, the undrafted Latvian defenseman has only played three games with the big club this season. The organization has high hopes that the 6-foot-5, 227-pounder can turn into a Maple Leafs’ regular in the near future.
It looks like he might be an Ilya Lyubushkin-type defenseman – a good player on defense who doesn’t provide much on offense. With the Marlies, he’s scored a single goal and added nine assists (for 10 points) in 52 games this season.
Item Four: Player: Erik Kallgren Gets the First Game of the Back-to-Back
Rookie Erik Kallgren gets the start tonight in the first game of the back-to-back, with Jack Campbell getting the net back in Toronto on Sunday against the Islanders. On the season, Kallgren has put together a record of 5-3-1, a goals-against-average of 2.93, and a save percentage of .899.
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Regular reader and commenter in the discussion section (BossSause) offered a number of insights about why he believes Kallgren has some of the intangibles that would make him an “adequate” playoff goalie if he’s needed. First, he’s quiet in the net. Second, he puts himself in good position to block shots. Third, he doesn’t needlessly waste energy. Fourth, he plays his angles well. And, fifth, he’s improving in his ability to smother rebounds.
BossSause also likes the fact that Kallgren seems to be a quiet and serious young player who often appears to be deep in thought, which is probably an asset as well. He believes Kallgren doesn’t lack confidence; and, yet, he can put things that don’t go well behind him. (As I try to note often, I learn a great deal from readers who share insights. This time, my thanks to BossSause.)
Kallgren was last in net during the recent loss to the Sabres on Tuesday. He’s looking for a bounce-back game and a return to the win column against the Senators, who are only averaging 2.59 goals a game at home (that’s 28th in the NHL).
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There’s good news on the Ondrej Kase front. Although nothing has been reported about his returning to the active roster, he has been skating. Kase has bothered by the lingering effects of another concussion. So, it’s good news that he’s skated earlier this week before his team’s practices.
Should Kase be completely healed and able to return to the postseason lineup; he’s the kind of player whose game could translate into playoff success. I’m sure that the team will be careful with his health and would like to see him back.
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Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that he was encouraged to see Kase back skating.