Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Two Needy Teams, Power Play & Matthews

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t met for what seems a very long time. Typically, this Original Six game would be something to look forward to, especially with players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane facing off with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. However, the turmoil within the Blackhawks organization by the resignation of general manager Stan Bowman and the struggles the two teams have faced recently might make this meeting a bit less exciting than an old rivalry might otherwise be. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs Mitchell Marner and Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

However, the two teams meet tonight with both currently struggling on the ice and needing a win. Maple Leafs’ fans know too well their own team’s issues; still, if anything, the Blackhawks have it worse. During the six games Chicago has played this season, they have yet to even hold a lead in a game. The result is an 0-5-1 record. The Blackhawks have given up at least four goals in every game they’ve played. Not much is working.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at these two needy teams facing each other and offer a small bit of good news from the Maple Leafs’ current road trip.

Item One: Two Low-Scoring Teams Face Each Other

In six games this season, the Blackhawks have only scored only 12 goals. That said, if anything that number compares favorably to the Maple Leafs. Toronto has scored only 12 goals in seven games. The Maple Leafs’ futility has been even more pronounced lately, with the team being outscored 18-6 during its last four winless games. Their record during that four-game span is 0-3-1.

One of two things has to happen tonight. First, one of the two teams must score more goals than the other. Second, one of the two teams must hold the other to fewer goals. Either there’s a breakout or a shutdown. Even the rare event of a 0-0 overtime shootout victory improves both teams’ numbers. It’s that bad for both teams.

Item Two: The Maple Leafs’ Power Play Isn’t Working Again This Season

For all the planning of moving Mitch Marner to a new and more creative role on the Maple Leafs’ powerplay, it isn’t working. Toronto’s power play started the season looking better but now hasn’t scored during its last 14 power plays. Given the team’s potential, it’s as confusing this season as it was last season. 

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The difference is that, last season, the team was scoring five-on-five. Not so much this season. The team isn’t scoring enough either with or without the extra attacker. A frustrated Auston Matthews suggess that, on both the power play and during five-on-five, the team just needs to play simpler hockey. 

Matthews, who at least scored his first goal of the season against the Hurricanes on Monday after missing three games of the season with an injury, noted that the team has “to get (the puck), find a lane, and get sticks on it.” 

Matthews, in speaking about the team’s five-on-five play, noted that he and his teammates were “just kind of looking a little bit too much for the pretty play instead of just keeping it a little more simple and just shooting some pucks and then getting those ugly goals.” 

Item Three: Auston Matthews Gets Into the Goal-Scoring Column

As I noted, there is some good news from the Maple Leafs. Matthews scored in his fourth game of the season. Unfortunately, for the Maple Leafs, it was their only goal during the 4-1 loss. It wasn’t one of Matthews’ typical one-timers; instead, he swept around Andersen and tucked the puck into the net. 

Thank Michael Bunting for doing the heavy lifting with his hard forechecking. Bunting, for his part, looks as if he fits on the first line. 

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

For Matthews, it was the 200th of his 338-game career. With that goal, Matthews became the fastest player to score 200 goals since Alex Ovechkin did it in 2009. Ovechkin, who’s now chasing Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record, needed only 296 games to score his 200th goal.

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Still, although it’s a positive thing that Matthews scored, his game just isn’t back to normal – for some reason. He skated over 20 minutes during the game but had only two shots on goal. Something’s up. It was Matthews’ first point in the four games he’s played this season. He doesn’t have an assist.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Thinking about tonight’s game, my mind goes back to Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Everything seemed ripe for a Maple Leafs’ win, and look what happened. Tonight, there’s a similar alignment of the stars. Currently, a number of Blackhawks’ players are in COVID-19 protocol and might not be able to play. That group includes Kane, Jujhar Khaira, and Riley Stillman. 

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In addition, the Blackhawks are truly having a poor start. To date, they’ve set an ongoing NHL record for most consecutive time played without holding a lead (360:57 minutes). However, since the 2014-15 season Chicago has an 8-0-3 record during their last 11 games against Toronto.

Tonight, something has to give.