Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, O’Reilly & Ballard’s Curse

Talk about a game that was a double-down on bad luck. And, that bad luck seemed to all be pointed toward the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On Saturday night the Maple Leafs lost by a score of 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks. Okay, that happens. Teams do lose games. But the bad luck with the play and the injuries would seem to suggest the “Curse of Harold Ballard” might be in full force.

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The Maple Leafs dominated the first period, outshooting the Canucks and generating more high-danger scoring chances. Despite Vancouver having two power plays, Toronto was able to control the play and extend their lead in shot attempts.

In the third period, the Maple Leafs were able to tie the game on the power play with a goal from John Tavares. But luck was not on their side in this game. Despite their strong play in the first period, they were unable to score. 

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In another bounce of bad luck, the Canucks were able to take the lead in the second period with a deflection goal that was partially the result of an unlucky ricochet off Justin Holl who was protecting the front of goalie Matt Murray’s net.

The bounce was just bad luck in general but specifically for Holl. Because it was Holl and not, for example, fan-favorite Mark Giordano, it will have some of the Maple Leafs’ faithful calling for Holl’s head.

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl has been a target for many Toronto Maple Leafs fans.
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the third period, the Maple Leafs gave up two shorthanded goals during a single power play. Ultimately, the Canucks secured the win with a goal from Nils Aman in the third period. That was the game. But the bad luck didn’t stop with the final score.

Item One: The Maple Leafs Played with an 11/7 Deployment

Once again, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe decided to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. That choice was obviously meant to give the team a better chance to figure out how to incorporate new players on the blue line. While this strategy might have worked well in terms of allowing the coaching staff to experiment with lineups, it also unfortunately created an issue when players got hurt during the game.

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Keefe’s decision to go with one less forward came back to haunt him. With 1:18 left in the first period, Auston Matthews took a slap shot to the inside of the left leg just below the knee. He lay on the ice for a couple of minutes before leaving the game. 

Matthews did return late in the second period and finished the game. However, he admitted afterward that he was in significant pain the rest of the night. Good for Matthews to return to the game; however, what happens next? It’s possible he might miss some time in the near future either because he needs to recover from this injury or because the team decides to prioritize his health.

Item Two: Unfortunately, Ryan O’Reilly Was Injured

Call this game unlucky on many counts. After Matthews returned to the game, he fired a shot on the Canucks net that hit Ryan O’Reilly in the hand. It hurt him badly enough that he left the game and did not return. 

Ryan O'Reilly Toronto Maple Leafs
Ryan O’Reilly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Coach Keefe stated an update on O’Reilly’s injury would be given when more is known. If it is a broken bone and the timeline for such an injury is about six weeks, then he could miss the first round of the playoffs. That would be a tough loss to the Maple Leafs. Hopefully, the injury will not be that serious.

Item Three: Matt Murray’s Performance After Time Away

Ironically, Murray’s performance in his first game back from injury was encouraging. The 4-1 score didn’t mirror how well he played in the game. He might have lost, but he showed he can still make impressive saves.

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It’s possible Keefe might decide to give Murray another start on Tuesday in New Jersey to help him get back into a rhythm before the playoffs start. It is a road game, and playing Ilya Samsonov on the road often seems iffy.

Alternatively, Keefe might decide to split the remaining games between Murray and Samsonov to keep both goalies fresh and give them both some playing time. For as goofy as Murray’s season has been injury-wise, when he’s healthy, he is usually solid.

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Although I’m personally finding Murray’s season with the Blue and White frustrating because of his injuries, he does have a strong playoff record. He’s won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If he can find his form and stay healthy, he could be a valuable asset for the Maple Leafs in the postseason. 

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

At the same time, Samsonov displays a sort of frenetic athleticism in the crease. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in his season with the team, and he could also play a significant role in the playoffs.

It’s really been an interesting goalie situation for the Maple Leafs this season. The team will need one goalie to be at his best if they hope to make a deep run in the playoffs. To my mind, both are capable. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

What happened on Saturday night shows the iffiness of any postseason. Injuries, especially to key players, potentially impact a team’s chances in the playoffs. If O’Reilly ends up having a broken bone in his hand, the timeline for recovery is certainly not ideal for the Maple Leafs.

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Losing O’Reilly for the first round of the playoffs would definitely be a blow to the Maple Leafs. Even in his short time with the team, he’s shown that he could be an important player for them in the postseason. Hopefully, it’s not as serious as feared and he’ll be back on the ice soon.