This game and the few games that have come before it can’t be the way that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ coaching staff drew up the plan. That said, it was another exciting game for Maple Leafs’ fans to watch as their team came roaring back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the upstart New Jersey Devils by a score of 6-4 last night.
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First, just last Saturday the team engaged in a similar game when it came from behind to beat the Detroit Red Wings – then, last night it was the Devils. For the second game in a row, the Maple Leafs spotted their opponents a few goals and then made it hard on themselves.
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Both coaches had to be beside themselves with the game. But then, coaches have to be the worst hockey fans ever. All they seek is boring consistency. And hockey is a game made wonderful and exciting by its mistakes.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the events of the game and add commentary about what they might mean for the team moving forward.
Item One: Give Credit to the Devils for Their Strong Game
In some ways, the Devils might have flown under the radar of many Maple Leafs’ fans. However, they have the makings of a good young team; it just isn’t this season. The Devils came into last night’s game struggling badly and on a four-game losing streak. That streak eventually turned into five.
But they do have some strong young and developing talent. Three of the Devils’ top four leading scorers are 23 years old or younger. Right-winger Jesper Bratt is a 23-year-old who’s playing at almost a point a game pace with 40 points in 41 games. He leads the team in goals with 14.
Bratt’s center is 20-year-old Jack Hughes. Hughes was the first overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and is second on the team with 26 points in 27 games. Rounding out the top-four scorers is ex-Maple Leafs’ player Andreas Johnsson, who scored a goal last night and how has 25 points on the season. Finally, there’s 23-year-old center Nico Hischier, who’s also a fine young player.
If Maple Leafs’ fans wondered where the Devils’ big offseason signing Dougie Hamilton was, he’s not playing because he’s coming off surgery to repair a broken jaw he suffered when he took a puck to the face in a game against the Washington Capitals on January 2. Hamilton’s on the trip but has been practicing in a non-contact jersey.
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Both the Devils top two goalies – starter Mackenzie Blackwood and former-Maple Leafs’ Jonathon Bernier – are out with injuries. Last night’s starting goalie was 21-year-old Akira Schmid is on an emergency loan from the AHL’s Binghamton Devils. It was a tough game for the young goalie; but, in that way, he’s not so different than Joseph Woll was when this 2021-22 season began.
We’re not sure who the Devil’s goalie will be tonight. But likely Jon Gillies.
Item Two: Jack Campbell Pulled Before Half the First Period Was Completed
I tried to find out if Jack Campbell had ever been pulled from a game he started for the Maple Leafs. The only game I found was last April when Campbell was pulled, again in the first period, after the Winnipeg Jets scored three goals on six shots before the game hit the 14-minute mark. Last night it was three goals on nine shots and at the 10-minute mark.
The difference between those two games was that the Maple Leafs never recovered against the Jets last April and went down to a 5-2 defeat. Last night, Campbell’s team took him off the hook with a comeback led by Auston Matthews’ hat trick. (from “Campbell pulled, power-play slips further, as Maple Leafs fall to Jets,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 15/04/21).
Item Three: Are We Liking Petr Mrazek a Little Better Today?
When Campbell went out, in came backup goalie Petr Mrazek. Mrazek was what the doctor ordered, and he gave up only a single goal in 20 shots. He held his team in the game until they started to mount their comeback.
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Mrazek’s solid relief appearance was followed eventually by a shorthanded, game-winning goal by none other than Ilya Mikheyev, who had a great month and scored seven goals during January.
Give the 29-year-old Mrazek credit. He settled the game down and allowed the space for his teammates to rally. Last night was Mrazek’s third straight win and on the season he bumped his record to 5-2-0, his goals-against-average to 2.94, and his save percentage of .896.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Explodes with a Hat Trick to Lead the Team
The 24-year-old Auston Matthews scored three goals to re-establish himself back into the Richard Trophy race. His 28th goal on the season now puts him three back of the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl and the New York Rangers Chris Kreider (who both have 31 goals). Just ahead of him is the great Alex Ovechkin with 29 goals.
Matthews also has 21 assists to total 49 points in 38 games on the season. Of those points, he has 19 power-play points and is now averaging 1.29 points each game. Funny, when Matthews began last night’s game he was mired in a four-game goal-scoring drought.
Matthews also contributed an assist to his linemate Mitch Marner’s goal in his sixth straight game. But perhaps Matthews’ most accurate goal was his empty-netter that he shot from near his own goalie. What a shot.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’m tempted to say that the Maple Leafs “need” to start tonight’s game differently than they started last night’s game. But, perhaps they don’t. Still, it’s hard to think of the team being able to match their last two games for third-period scoring. The team has scored a whopping nine goals (some empty-netters) during their last two third periods.
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Thus far, the starting goalie is unconfirmed for the Maple Leafs. I’m anxious to see if head coach Sheldon Keefe goes with Mrazek again or heads back to starter Campbell.