Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors: Marner, Bunting, Liljegren & Benn

When the Toronto Maple Leafs lost 3-1 to the New York Rangers last night, one quality NHL team beat another quality NHL team. That happens. The Maple Leafs had their chances to win the game, but couldn’t get their offense firing – especially on the power play. 

However, the team’s defense held the Maple Leafs in the game. The score was 2-1 Rangers until a late-game empty-net goal. The upside was that Toronto continued to play quality team defense and also got good goaltending. Both held them in the game.

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Those two facts bode well for the team’s success next time and the next. This does not seem like a team that is heading toward an implosion. In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the player news from last night’s loss as well as share some news emerging from the organization.

Item 1: The Maple Leafs’ Streak of Consecutive Games with a Point Is Over

Last night’s loss was the team’s first regulation loss in over a month. Nov. 11 against the Pittsburgh Penguins was the last. On that date, the Maple Leafs’ record was 7-5-3. 

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Over their 15-game streak, their record was 12-0-3. The team’s success has moved them up in the standings, and, as of today, only the Boston Bruins (with 48 points) have more points than Toronto’s 44. 

Item 2: Mitch Marner’s Personal Franchise Record Streak Ended

Mitch Marner’s 23-game point-scoring streak ended in last night’s loss as well. Not only was it the longest in Maple Leafs’ history, but it was the third-longest streak by an active NHL player, behind Patrick Kane (who put together a 26-game streak during in 2014-15 season) and Sidney Crosby (whose streak stopped at 25 games during the 2010-11 season). 

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Celebrate a Goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

Marner’s streak also pushed him up the NHL’s scoring leaderboard. He’s now inside the top 10 leading scorers with 12 goals and 25 assists (for 37 points) in 31 games.

Item 3: Michael Bunting Has Now Taken Marner’s Place

Given the Maple Leafs’ next-man-up philosophy that has helped them deal with injuries, perhaps the same might be true about consecutive-game, point-scoring streaks. If that’s the case, perhaps we can turn to first-line, left-winger Michael Bunting.

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Bunting extended his now team-leading consecutive point-scoring streak at 10 games when he popped in another first-period rebound to tie the game 1-1. It was the team’s only goal in the game. Bunting now has 12 points in those games (three goals and nine assists). Before this streak, he had bounced around the lineup, which resulted in his slow start on the season. In his first 21 games, he’d totalled only 10 points.

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Interestingly, while Bunting has benefitted from playing in the team’s top six, he was skating with third-line center David Kampf when he scored.

Item 4: Timothy Liljegren Leaves Game with Upper-Body Injury

After playing just over 10 minutes in last night’s game, Timothy Liljegren left the game with an upper-body injury. Little is known about the extent of the injury so far; however, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said he would be re-evaluated today.

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Liljegren’s been playing well with increased responsibility this season. He’s found success as a constant partner on the second pairing with Rasmus Sandin. He has two goals and three assists (for five points) in 20 games played.

Item 5: Jordie Benn Is Getting Ready for Game Action

Yesterday, Jordie Benn was removed from the IR (injury reserve). His upper-body injury has healed, and his return seems imminent.

Jordie Benn Toronto Maple Leafs
Jordie Benn, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Although Benn has been injured twice and has played only six games on the season, he’s played well when called upon. His success has been a surprise to both fans and pundits – the 35-year-old veteran defenseman has two points, 18 hits, and 15 blocked shots this season.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Yesterday, the organization made a move that will make them a bit more flexible. They placed Axel Rindell on unconditional waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. 

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It seemed pretty clear that Rindell was not going to find a pathway to the NHL in the Maple Leafs organization. He will probably not be claimed and will return to Finland to play in the SM-liiga, where he’s already experienced success.

Rindell was the Maple Leafs’ 50th contract, which is the maximum a team can have. They now have room to add another if need be.

The 22-year-old right-shot defenseman played six games with the AHL’s Marlies without registering a point. In five games with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers, Rindell scored two goals and added two assists. Good luck to him wherever he lands.

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