There were a couple of good things about the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 victory last night over the Chicago Blackhawks. First, it was a victory and it moved the team to a tie for first place in the NHL in points with 40 (tied with the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals). Second, the team was able to offer beleaguered starting goalie Jack Campbell a bit of rest from the heavy lifting he’s been doing over the past while. He, like the rest of his team, has looked tired.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the game action and team news and comment upon the team as it goes forward into the second one-third of the 2020-21 regular season.
Item One: Shedon Keefe’s Surprising Three Takes on the Game
After the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe had a different take on the game than probably many fans who watched the game from home might have guessed – well, at least on one of the three points he made to the media.
When talking about the team’s performance, Keefe noted that “It was the same story that it has been here: Too many chances against, too many freebies, and too many guys in behind us. Same issues that were hurting us when we weren’t winning games early in the season.”
Then he noted that, “The fact that we won tonight is a good thing; we obviously got a fortunate bounce there, but we won the game on special teams and goaltending and got outplayed pretty badly at 5v5.”
To wrap up Keefe’s points, he noted that:
(1) The team was guilty of making too many “freebies,” which has also been true for three games in a row now. There’s been too many odd-man rushes; too many defensive giveaways; and, too many chances against. Check – that’s what everyone else would say, too.
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(2) The Maple Leafs didn’t play well five-on-five, but the special teams helped win the game. Check – the power-play units have played with confidence and success. They just seem to believe they’re going to score every time they have a man advantage. The penalty kill has been playing well, too.
(3) The team’s goaltending – last night Petr Mrazek – helped win the game. That’s the surprise. As I suggested earlier, I’m sure many fans would suggest Mrazek let in a soft first goal – which he did; but, he played well for a stretch in the middle of the game, which he did. But, Keefe’s perspective might differ from many fans, who probably believe Mrazek’s play went south and that allowed the Blackhawks back into the game.
Not so much. Interesting insight on Keefe’s part. He’s saying it was the team in front of the goalie.
Item Two: Petr Mrazek’s Plays Well in Return to Action
Petr Mrazek won his first game back with the team after going 19 games between starts. Mrazek, who’s only played three games with his new team this season, was tested both by the Blackhawks and by the fact that he had to make saves that might have re-injured his groin. He survived both and finished the game healthy.
In total, Mrazek stopped 31 of 35 shots. There’s no doubt he looked a bit shaky from a lack of work and perhaps needs a few more games to get his groove back. Four goals aside, for a long period of time during the middle of the game, Mrazek shut the door and helped stake the team to a 4-1 lead.
During the Blackhawks’ comeback, the Maple Leafs had only three shots in the middle frame. In addition, although Mrazek let in two long-range goals, he was acrobatic enough to make some good saves on several breakaways and 2-on-1 chances. Perhaps his best save was his stop on Patrick Kane’s breakaway. Kane’s a scorer, so good on Mrazek.
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Should the team play better in front of him, Mrazek could find continued success. That would allow Campbell to find the rest he needs to stay fresh on the season.
Item Three: William Nylander Puts Up Three Points
William Nylander tends to start games quickly, and that’s good for his team. Last night he scored an early goal and had three points in the first period. His first assist came on John Tavares’ power-play goal that tied the game 1-1. He then scored the team’s second goal of the game and finally had an assist on Auston Matthews’ 18th goal of the season just before the end of the first period.
Nylander’s two best seasons were both 61-point campaigns. He’s more than likely to push far past those career highs this season. Already the 25-year-old winger has scored 13 goals and added 17 assists (for 30 points) in 29 games played. Last night was his second multiple-point game in his last three.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs head into Edmonton to play Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, and the rest of the Oilers’ players. The Oilers are on a five-game losing streak and, even more surprisingly, they’ve only scored eight goals in those five games. That’s not the Oilers we’ve come to expect.
Then, the Maple Leafs haven’t been playing like they did a couple of weeks ago either. As coach Keefe noted, his team was “outplayed pretty badly” five-on-five.
That poor play began as soon as the Maple Leafs went on the road for games against the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. Even more to the point perhaps, it’s the same exact time the team lost Mitch Marner to his shoulder injury.
The Maple Leafs don’t look like the same team without Marner in the lineup; and, unless that changes they won’t likely win 15 of 17 games any time soon.
Both the Oilers and the Maple Leafs need some redemption. Likely the Oilers need it more. Tuesday could be fun.
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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