Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs lost their second-straight road game. This time the Washington Capitals beat them 5-2. After such a good run of consecutive games collecting points, it’s tough not to expect the team to simply show up and win. But that isn’t the way life is in the NHL.
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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the player news from the game and what it might mean for the future.
Item One: Has Auston Matthews Begun Another Point Streak?
With only two Maple Leafs goals scored on the night, there were a maximum of six points to spread around. Mitch Marner did not get another point; and, after a 23-game point-scoring steak, he has now gone two games without a point.
Auston Matthews, on the other hand, whose eight-game point streak also ended against the New York Rangers, might have begun another as he scored a goal and added an assist in the loss to the Capitals last night. Those two points give him 16 points in his last 10 games. Of those 16 points, seven are goals, and nine are assists.
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What is most interesting is that, while earlier in the regular season Matthews was scoring lots with the man advantage and not so much five-on-five, he’s flip-flopped that trend. He has only registered a single power-play point in those 10 games.
Item Two: William Nylander: Pads Team-Leading Goal Count
William Nylander just isn’t slowing down. Last night, he scored his 18th goal of the season and is well on his way to surpassing his career-best goal total set last season of 34 goals. In fact, is it possible that Nylander could become the next Maple Leafs’ player in franchise history to hit the 50-goal plateau?
Interestingly, in doing my research for today’s post, I read an article noting that one day soon Nylander’s current contract, which at one time was seen as a huge overpayment and Maple Leafs’ mistake, would soon expire. Specifically, how will the Maple Leafs afford to pay him what he’s worth?
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Nylander’s $6,962,366 contract expires after the 2023-24 season, and he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA). By the way, Matthews’ $11,640,250 contract also expires on the same date. So, assuming it’s Kyle Dubas still in control, both those contract negotiations come due at the same time. Currently, Nylander is two goals ahead of Matthews for the team’s goal-scoring lead.
Item Three: Last Night Wasn’t Ilya Samsonov’s Best Game
After two shutouts in succession, Ilya Samsonov gave up five goals in the loss to his former team. Until last night, he hadn’t allowed a goal in December. Although Samsonov didn’t play badly during the game and made some key athletic stops, it was a bad night for him all-in-all.
He could have stopped the first two goals he allowed; and, those two goals figured in on the game’s outcome. For the first time in a long time, his save percentage was below .900. Giving up five goals in 28 shots will do that.
The question is how Samsonov will rebound. That’s one thing we don’t quite know yet about the newcomer to the team. I’m expecting him to be just fine in his next start.
Item Four: Conor Timmins Remains a Point-a-Game Player
How good is Conor Timmins going to be for the Maple Leafs in the future? Thus far, he’s looking good. He’s generated six points in six games and doesn’t seem out of place at all. The defense had a bit of a tough ride against the Capitals last night; however, the pairing of Timmins and TJ Brodie seemed to be the best Maple Leafs’ pairing on the night.
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When asked about Timmins’ progress with the team, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that “There are lots of things he (Timmins) needs to work on, but he plays with his head up. If you are a forward and you get your stick available, he is going to find you.”
Keefe added, “He has been a really nice addition. You can see the difference it makes with a guy who just finds sticks and finds plays for us on the offensive side of the red line especially. He has really helped us that way. He has been getting rewarded and his confidence is growing.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
What about the Maple Leafs’ power play? Last night, they had two power-play chances and didn’t score on either. Against the Rangers, the power play went zero-for-three. That prompted Marner to call the group’s effort “horrible.”
Last season the power play operated at 27.3 percent efficiency. This season, they’ve scored only five goals in their past 40 chances. That’s 12.5 percent. The team is under 23 percent on the season. It’s simply not as dangerous.
What happens with the power play will be something to watch over the next few games.