In a month from now, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ six-game road trip will look like a success. And it has been, in its own way. I’m sure that Maple Leafs’ players go into each game believing they will win and even being surprised when they don’t. Still, the team won’t win every game; and, on this road trip they didn’t.
But a 3-2-1 record after playing teams like the Colorado Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, the Arizona Coyotes, the St. Louis Blues, the New York Rangers, and then last night the New York Islanders is nothing to scoff at. What will have to be forgotten is that on the trip the team repeatedly lost leads in the final periods of games. The 3-1 victory over the Islanders last night, where the team controlled most of the game, will go a long way toward that end.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the unique aspects of the game as they apply to the players on the team. I’ll also look at the team moving forward into the remainder of the season.
Item One: Petr Mrazek Gives Partner Jack Campbell a Rest and the Team a Win
I know that the mood of Maple Leafs’ fans has been to jettison Petr Mrazek as a lost cause. Until last night’s game, it was the first time in (only) five starts for his new team that he’d given up less than two goals in any game. Still, one thing I’ve come to trust is that the Maple Leafs as an organization have reasons for bringing in certain players over others. And, they choose Mrazek over other options. I have to trust that choice.
Of course, the same could be said for Nick Ritchie; because, in retrospect, that signing didn’t work out as expected. However, Ritchie’s had his chance at full health, while Mrazek has not. Mrazek was injured and left in his first game for the team and has struggled to rehab and get ready to play. Last night, he looked ready.
Mrazek tested his groin by moving from side to side well; and, perhaps too well. To my eye, not being a goalie coach, he seemed to have a lot of extra movement in his game. If that’s true, these can be worked on with coaching. But he looked healthy; and, I hope he stays that way.
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The team could use him at his best. To my eyes, he was really solid during the last two periods. I’m thinking head coach Sheldon Keefe will come back on Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks with Campbell, but is there a reason to give the next start to Mrazek?
There was a vision about how the season and the goalie situation would work out before the seasoon started, and that vision made sense at the time. Could it be that last night’s game was the first step in making that vision a reality?
Item Two: Mitch Marner Keeps Up Solid Play
Mitch Marner got the scoring started last night with his shorthanded goal in the first period as the Maple Leafs beat the Islanders 3-1. It’s the third straight game Marner has scored a goal since he’s come back from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. He’s now on a three-game, five-point scoring streak.
Marner now has nine goals on the season. He also has 17 assists for 26 points in 29 games. For Marner, that’s a lousy season. Since the 2018-19 season, until this season Marner had scored 32 more points than he’s played games. He’s too good to stay under that point-a-game pace for the season. It will be fun to watch him carry the team and his line partners if he can get on and continue the point-scoring streak he’s currently on.
Item Three: Morgan Rielly Continues His Solid Season
Morgan Rielly keeps proving that the Maple Leafs were right in extending his contract earlier this season. He scored one goal and assisted on another last night. His assist came on Marner’s second short-handed goal of the season. For the season, Rielly has now scored five goals to go with his 28 assists (for 33 points) in the 38 games he’s played.
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Rielly leads the Maple Leafs in assists, with William Nylander six behind at 22 assists for the season. Rielly’s game last night was his eighth multi-point game of the season; and, while he’s not likely to get serious Norris Trophy consideration, you have to think the organization is glad to have him on board.
Interestingly, Rielly is now seventh in scoring among defensemen. The Rangers’ Adam Fox leads defensemen with 45 points in his 42 games, and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman has registered 44 points in 43 games for second place. Rielly’s on track for the second 70-point season of his career; but, can he too reach a point-a-game pace?
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have an easy week before things start to happen more quickly. They play the Ducks at home on Wednesday and then travel to play the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Things really start cooking for them after February 7.
In studying the box score of last night’s game, I saw what I thought was an oddity and wondered if readers might want to weigh in on it. To my eyes, Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting had strong nights both offensively and defensively; however, both players were minus-1 on the night. I was surprised when I read the box score. Did I miss something?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf