Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Rielly, Campbell & a Statement

There was more to last night’s game than the summary. The summary would tell fans that the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 4-1. It would report that the Maple Leafs’ goals were scored by Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, David Kampf, and Michael Bunting and that goalie Jack Campbell made 45 saves in the win.

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However, the summary wouldn’t say that this win was a statement that the Penguins didn’t have the Maple Leafs’ number and that, when the Maple Leafs kept their heads thinking and their skates moving, they could play hockey with the best teams in the NHL.

It might have been the most important win of the season for the Blue and White.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the events of the game and what these might mean for the team as it moves more deeply into the second half of the season.

Item One: Morgan Rielly Re-awakens Old Timers’ Memories

In ESPN’s game review, I read that Morgan Rielly’s power-play goal reminded the reviewer of Bobby Orr. In fact, the comment was so well-written that I’ll share it all.

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In ESPN’s Spin the spinner wrote: “Honestly, the goal was Bobby Orr-esque. Rielly took it end-to-end, dancing around wingless birds as though they were lost on land. It blew up Twitter with Orr comps, so you know it was impressive.” 

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As defensemen do when they begin the attack on the power play, Rielly gathered the puck behind his goalie’s net to proceed up the ice. However, instead of passing to either Mitch Marner or Matthews in the neutral zone as he would usually do, he held onto the puck. When he saw an opening, he sped past Penguins forwards, split the defense, and fired a seeing-eye shot off the bar for the goal. It was quick and efficient.

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Better yet, it increased the Maple Leafs’ lead to 2-0. Rielly later added an assist on David Kampf’s short-handed goal. He now has scored six goals and added 36 assists (for 42 points) in 47 games. He’s not likely to win a Norris’ Trophy, but he’s certainly gaining on the rest of the NHL’s defensemen.

Item Two: A Wounded Auston Matthews Jumps into the Race for the Richard 

If head coach Sheldon Keefe had prayed for a quick start, Auston Matthews answered those prayers. He took a beautiful stretch pass from T.J. Brodie and used his quick from the backhand to the forehand hands to rifle a shot past Tristian Jarry to put his team on the scoresheet just 21 seconds into the game. That early goal extended his point streak to nine games, in which he’s totalled eight goals and 10 assists (for 18 points). 

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

At the time, his 33rd goal of the season tied him with the New York Rangers Chris Kreider and the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl for the NHL lead. (Draisaitl later in the evening scored two goals to jump to 35 on the year.) On the season, Matthews has scored 33 goals and added 26 assists (for 59 points) in 44 games.

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Better yet, Matthews seems to have escaped his run-in with the crossbar without extensive injuries. Chasing Penguins’ great Sidney Crosby behind the goalie, Matthews smashed into the crossbar mouth-first just seven minutes into the third period. He left the game, but did return. 

Coach Keefe noted that, ”He has some wounds. But as far as I know, he’s going to be fine.”

Item Three: Jack Is Back

Is it too much to hope that the angst that Maple Leafs’ fans might have dissipated a bit with Jack Campbell’s performance in the crease last night?  It might have been Campbell’s best game of the season; and, at the start of the season, he played some really good ones. But last night, he registered his career-high save total to carry the team to the 4-1 win.

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

Campbell’s 45 saves were his season’s high. It was a great game and perhaps a great sign for the team. Jack is back, at least for the moment. His mediocre play over the past few weeks had moved him out of Vezina consideration, but he’s still had a great season and his record now stands at 23-7-3, his goals-against-average at 2.33, and his save percentage at .924.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As I noted, the game was a bit of a statement. The Penguins had come into the game with the NHL’s second-best penalty-killing unit, and the Maple Leafs with the top power play. In the war of the special teams, the Maple Leafs’ won easily last night.

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The special teams’ play has been a key to the season’s success. Another key has been the play of the newcomers. Last night was no exception. Michael Bunting has been a great addition to the first line, and David Kampf has been a great addition to the team’s overall defense. Last night they both scored.

It was a great game for the Maple Leafs.