Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Mrazek, Matthews, Marner & Amirov

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll talk a look at some of last night’s game highlights as they pertain to two players specifically – goalie Petr Mrazek and center Auston Matthews. The Maple Leafs beat the Minnesota Wild by a score of 3-1 in what was a very boring – in a good way – game for the team.

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I’ll also share news about the team’s collective message to prospect Rodion Amirov as he’s currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumor in Germany. That message is a sign that the team is pulling together to support one of its own.

Takeaway One: Petr Mrazek Has His Best Game of the Season

Petr Mrazek played his best game of the season last night when he only let in a single goal in the 30 shots he faced. If ever there were a game that reminded Maple Leafs’ fans of an early-this-season Jack Campbell win, last night’s game was it. 

Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The game was the boring kind of game that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe would have liked. Not much happened, except that your team had the best player on the ice – which was Auston Matthews. How many games did the Maple Leafs win 2-1 or 3-1 early in the season? Lots of them. 

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The fact that the game was won by the Maple Leafs didn’t make it an easy win – not by a long shot. After the Wild scored first, Mrazek had to be on his game. Less than a half-a-minute later, Matthews tied the score 1-1. Then Mrazek stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period.

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Both Mrazek and the Maple Leafs’ team defense did their parts. The difference in the offense was Matthews, which I’ll talk about later in this post. On the season, Mrazek’s record has improved to 7-4-0. His goals-against-average has improved to 3.16. And his save percentage has improved to .890 in 10 games. 

Takeaway Two: Auston Matthews Moves It to a New Level

Auston Matthews simply plays the game at a different speed. He can catch up to people from behind on the back check. He can turn up-ice quickly from the neutral zone. He’s dominant both offensively and defensively. And, he scores goals – lots of them. Last night he tallied both the game-tying and the game-winning goal. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matthews’ face is looking better from his crash with the crossbar in the Pittsburgh Penguins game. He also looks like he feels better. After two games of zilch on the scoresheet, Matthews has now scored five points in his last two games. Better yet, he lifted his team out of its three-game losing streak.

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His two goals jumped him into the NHL’s lead in goal-scoring with 36 on the season. He’s now one ahead of the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl. On the season, he’s now is up to 36 goals. With his 28 assists, that’s 64 points in 48 games.

Matthews seems a lock to break Rick Vaive’s single-season Maple Leafs’ goal-scoring record of 54 goals he set in the 1980-81 season. He needs only 19 goals in the next 31 games to set that team record. Is there a chance he can even hit 60 goals on the season?

Takeaway Three: A Salute to Rodion Amirov from the Team

Every once in a while, we’re reminded that the hockey players we cheer for (and even against) are humans. After Matthews ran into the goal post the other night and talked about how painful it was, I thought about his time in the dentist’s chair and getting stitched up. I realized that I sometimes take it for granted just how tough it is to play hockey at the NHL level.

After the game last night, Maple Leafs’ fans had a chance to be part of an even more real-life moment. Both Matthews and his line-mate Mitch Marner went out of their way to remember young prospect Rodion Amirov, who’s in Germany now getting treated after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Without any questions asked, Marner simply started his postgame comments with the statement: ”Rodion, our hearts and thoughts are with you.. ‘We hope you get through this. We’re beside you and with you.” It’s pretty real stuff, and kudos for the Maple Leafs to remember and send a message to Amirov. 

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At the start of their morning skate yesterday, all the Maple Leafs’ players got together to send a video message and stick salute to Amirov. Who knows what to say in such difficult times? Captain John Tavares added that Amirov was ”in good spirits, fighting hard. We believe in him, and he’s a big part of our family here. He has tremendous talent and potential, but as a human being, we know he’s very motivated to beat this.”

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs face the Detroit Red Wings at home on Saturday night. I can’t know, but I would suspect that coach Keefe would start Mrazek again. First, he’s on a one-game roll. Second, the Red Wings are his old team and that’s probably a good thing to do.

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Last night, the Maple Leafs’ newest team member defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin had a strong game. He partnered on the top two pairings with Rasmus Sandin and looked strong in front of the net and in the corners. He seemed much more confident and relaxed in his second game. He might be exactly what the team needs.