Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Nylander, Matthews & Special Teams

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, we want to take a look at two of the past week’s road games against the Vegas Golden Knights and the Arizona Coyotes. While we’re doing that, we’ll share some of the news from those games. 

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In this post, however, we want to add a category to our reviews to offer what we believe is a realistic aspect of the team’s play. Typically, we discuss the good news aspect of the team’s play. However, we’d also like to introduce news in two new categories – the bad and the “ugly.” 

Our job is not to criticize the team; however, we feel there’s a way to talk about players we appreciate but to add a more balanced discussion of their body of work. We’ll see how it goes. You’ll tell us, thank you.

Three Items of Good News

Item One: William Nylander 

Against the Golden Knights, William Nylander continued his amazing season by starting and ending the game with a goal. Currently, he’s second on the Maple Leafs in points with 36 in 35 games. He’s also second on the team in goals with 16. Auston Matthews leads in both those categories. In Nylander’s last 15 games, he has nine goals and 11 assists (for 20 points).

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Against the Coyotes, Nylander led everyone with eight shots on net tonight. He might have been a little more selective, but shooting’s never a bad idea. He had a couple of chances alone in front of the net but couldn’t cash in. 

Item Two: Auston Matthews

Against the Golden Knights, Auston Matthews scored his 23rd goal of the season and moved to third place for goals this season, three behind Draisaitl and one behind Ovechkin. He added another goal during the Coyotes. At that point, Matthews had played three fewer games than Draisaitl and six fewer than Ovechkin. Against the Golden Knights, he could have easily had two or three more goals. 

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Against the Coyotes, Matthews was by far the best skater on the ice. It was as if the puck were magnetically attached to his stick. We were surprised to see he was only credited with five shots because he seemed to have several more. When he was on the ice, the majority of it was in the Arizona zone. 

Item Three: Rasmus Sandin

Rasmus Sandin’s hit on the Golden Knights’ Evgeny Dadonov was a classic. In fact, Sandin was credited with 10 hits during the Vegas game and played 19:08 minutes. That was the third-most ice time he’s had this season. 

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keefe even put Sandin out on the three-on-three overtime. According to the game stats, the Maple Leafs outhit the Golden Knights 41 to 22.

Three Items of Bad News

Item One: The Maple Leafs Special Teams Struggled

Against the Golden Knights, the Maple Leafs lost the special teams battle going 0-2 on the powerplay and giving up two goals in five power plays to Vegas. One of those goals was on a five-on-three.

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On Vegas’ first power-play goal, the only Maple Leafs’ player who wasn’t behind the net was goalie Jack Campbell. Justin Holl, Jake Muzzin, Alex Kerfoot, and David Kampf were all behind the goal line when the pass came out front to Keegan Kolesar.

Item Two: John Tavares Didn’t Have a Good Game Against the Golden Knights

Against the Golden Knights, John Tavares didn’t have a great game. The phrases “hot potato” and “hand grenade” come to mind when thinking of his handling of the puck. He made a terrible cross-ice pass for a giveaway on a shift when all five Maple Leafs’ players got stuck on the ice for about two minutes. 

Item Three: Travis Dermott & Timothy Liljegren Looked Shaky

During the Coyotes’ game, the Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren pairing looked shaky at times. They got crossed up on the first goal. A bad bounce off the glass right in front of the net led to the goal, but a cleaner play with the puck from Dermott behind the net and a better cover by Liljegren in front of the net could have prevented the goal.  

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Dermott’s defense, he was criticized for his pass into Liljegren’s feet. We’re not sure Dermott intended that pass for Liljegren. It looked like he could have been attempting a hard-around-the-boards pass to Spezza, and Liljegren got in the way. 

Three Items of Ugly News

Item One: Sheldon Keefe Fell Back into Old Habits

Sheldon Keefe was without two regulars (Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall), and the Maple Leafs have not played a lot of games of late; however, Keefe needs to depend on Matthews much less than he does. In the two back-to-back games, Matthews played over 48 minutes. The Maple Leafs are a team with more than one superstar. A number of players can put the puck in the net. 

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Matthews played eight minutes more than Tavares and nine minutes more than Nylander in the two games against the Golden Knights and the Coyotes. That’s too many minutes, we believe.

Item Two: The Maple Leafs Lost Their Sense of Urgency

From the start of the Coyotes game to when Matthews scored at 19:46 of the third period, the Maple Leafs outshot Arizona 36 to 12. Once the Maple Leafs scored to tie the game they took their “foot off the gas.” 

The next 12 minutes and 28 seconds – until Arizona scored to go up 2-1 – the shots on net were six to five for the Maple Leafs. Maybe it was fatigue setting in on the back-to-backs, but the Maple Leafs lost their sense of urgency once they tied the game. Instead of keeping the pressure on the Coyotes, they relaxed. 

The ugly in this game was the fact that the Maple Leafs were playing a team that is in danger of having the worst season in the NHL in 25 years (and probably hope to end the season with a bad record). Yet, the Maple Leafs failed to beat them. 

Yes, the Maple Leafs dominated the game; and, yes they got “goalied” when little-known Czech goalie Karel Vejmelka “stole the game.” Finally, yes it was the second of back-to-back games. Yet, it was a game the Maple Leafs should have won, period. They didn’t.

Item Three: Even Great Players Make Bad Mistakes

Even great players make mistakes. Although Matthews played a great game overall in Vegas, on one play he stopped skating and coasted back into the zone. That left William Karlsson open in front of the net on Vegas’ second goal. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As well, T.J. Brodie, who we believe is a great defenseman, made a crucial mistake when he failed to cover Ryan Dzingel on the game-winning goal. Brodie has been playing such great hockey as of late, we can forgive him for this error. Still, he made it.

We Hope You Like This Good, Bad, and Ugly Format

We hope you like this new format of being clear about our continued support for the Maple Leafs’ players while, at the same time, talking about some errors they’ve made during games. We really like the players on this team, but we don’t mean to engage in ignorant or one-sided coverage. If you do, give us a comment in the discussion section of the post – either way, actually.

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Our goal is to bring a measured support for the team, without throwing anyone under the bus. 

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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