What an odd game this hockey is. Two teams played on two nights and looked like two completely different teams each night.
I’m sure that sounds confusing, but on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Toronto Maple Leafs were simply steamrolled by the Penguins by a 5-2 score. Two nights later, the Penguins were completely overwhelmed by the Maple Leafs by a score of 4-0. The teams completely switched roles and results.
It was exactly the bounce-back game the Maple Leafs needed as a team. Furthermore, it was exactly the bounce-back game that starting goalie Frederik Andersen needed as a player. To top it all off, the Penguins suffered their most lopsided loss of the season.
As a result of the win, the Maple Leafs aren’t firmly planted in a playoff spot, but they’re surely in much better shape now than they were yesterday. As the team waits to play at home against former Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner’s Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, I want to help Maple Leafs fans stay up-to-date on the news and rumors emerging from the organization.
Item One: Jake Muzzin Puts Exclamation Point on His Projected New Contract
In the win against the Penguins, Jake Muzzin scored a goal and two assists. Given the rumors about Muzzin’s probably re-signing with the team, this mini-breakout game had to put an exclamation point on any sentence that describes how valuable Muzzin is to the team.
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When Muzzin’s point shot rang off the post and into the net almost halfway through the second period, the Maple Leafs were in front to stay. Interestingly, Muzzin high-fived his new (and former) teammate, goalie Jack Campbell, on the bench before the traditional group-hug with the rest of his teammates on the ice.
That’s a nice part of Campbell’s personality Maple Leafs fans didn’t know much about before he moved to Toronto. He seems genuinely happy for his teammates and supports their successes. In addition, another new teammate Denis Malgin screened Penguins’ goalie Matt Murray on Muzzin’s goal.
With Muzzin’s three-point night against the Penguins, he’s now on a four-game scoring streak where he’s collected six-points (two goals and four assists). He’s emphasizing his good value to the team. Rumors suggest that Muzzin and the Maple Leafs have agreed to a four-year contract extension at around $5.5 million per year; however, there’s been no official confirmation on that deal. On the season, Muzzin has five goals and 16 assists in 51 games.
Item Two: Sheldon Keefe’s Confidence In Frederik Andersen Proves Valid
Maple Leafs fans learned something about head coach Sheldon Keefe after the loss in Pittsburgh. He doesn’t panic and he keeps the bigger picture in mind. He might have “rested” Frederik Andersen on Thursday night; instead, he showed confidence in his starter. It turned out to be the right thing to do.
Andersen stopped all 24 shots thrown at him. It was his second shutout of the season and the 18th of his career. By the end of the second period, the game had tilted in the Maple Leafs favor; however, Andersen made some strong saves in the first period to keep the game scoreless.
It was Andersen’s best game in recent weeks. If he can play like this over the remainder of the season, there’s not a chance his team won’t make the playoffs. Such solid play might even steal a playoff game or two as well. Funny how fans’ moods – mine, too – can turn on a dime when, if only for a game, the team plays like a contender.
Item Three: Is Tyson Barrie on the Trade Block?
Since defenseman Morgan Rielly’s been injured, 28-year-old Tyson Barrie has averaged about two minutes more ice time per game. The Maple Leafs are relying on him to fill lots of minutes on defense. However, will Barrie soon be leaving the team? That’s a rumor that’s being floated around.
On Thursday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie suggested that, because there are very few star defensemen left on expiring contracts, the Maple Leafs were getting calls about the possibility of their trading Barrie. Obviously, it’s general manager Kyle Dubas’ job to listen.
McKenzie reported that the Maple Leafs are not interested in treating Barrie like a typical rental and trading him for future considerations. He suggests that the team needs to either get a defenseman back who could help them make the playoffs or get draft picks or prospects they could trade right away for the right-handed defenseman they need now.
A few teams are noted to be interested, with one of them being the Vancouver Canucks, who have right-handed defenseman Troy Stecher signed to a $2.325 million contract. Stecher becomes an RFA next season.
Most hockey commentators suggest that the Maple Leafs moving Barrie is highly unlikely. However, I disagree and think it’s entirely possible and wrote about that possibility in a recent post. Furthermore, I think it makes sense to leverage other team’s needs as a way to move a player who’s almost certain not to come back next season and get something in return for him instead of losing him for nothing in the offseason.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs won a great game against a very strong team. As a result, the mood is high. Dubas looks wise to offer Muzzin a contract extension. Andersen seems back on his game in goal. As a result, the Maple Leafs had the bounce-back game the team needed after losing three of their last four games.
I’m quite interested to see what newcomer Denis Malgin brings to the team. I knew very little about him, but I read that he and assistant coach Paul McFarland had worked closely together in Florida and that McFarland speaks highly of Malgin’s competitive streak and ability to skate with elite playmakers. In the Penguins game, he skated on a line with Tavares and Nylander.
I also had heard that he and Auston Matthews had become friends when the two played together as youngsters in 2015-16 for the Zurich Lions and have stayed in touch since.
Malgin noted that he and Matthews “had some fun together.” Matthews notes that his new Maple Leafs teammate is small, skilled, and “really shifty and elusive.” He added that it was nice “to have a familiar face around the locker room.”
We shall see how that signing works out.