What a month the Toronto Maple Leafs have had. On Nov. 11, they lost in regulation to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, since that game, the team has gone on a consecutive point-gaining streak for the ages. In fact, it’s been the longest streak for any Maple Leafs’ team since the 2003-04 season – 19 years ago.
The team has also been on a four-game winning streak; and, during that streak, the offense has come alive. The Maple Leafs have scored five goals or more in six of the last four games – outscoring their opponents by a margin of 21-4.
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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the tough game coming up tonight against the New York Rangers. First, I’ll look at the line combinations for that game. Second, I’ll report player news emerging from the team as it engages in a two-game road trip.
Item One: Line Combinations & Defensive Pairings
The line combinations and defensive pairings for tonight’s game against the Rangers, as per yesterday’s practice are:
|First Line||Michael Bunting||Auston Matthews||William Nylander|
|Second Line||Denis Malgin||John Tavares||Mitch Marner|
|Third Line||Alex Kerfoot||David Kampf||Pierre Engvall|
|Fourth Line||Zach Aston-Reese||Pontus Holmberg||Joey Anderson|
|Pairings||Left-Side Defenseman||Right-Side Defenseman|
|First Pairing||Mark Giordano||Justin Holl|
|Second Pairing||Rasmus Sandin||Timothy Liljegren|
|Third Pairing||TJ Brodie||Conor Timmins|
The only changes of note are that Denis Malgin will be on the second-line’s left-wing spot. Wayne Simmonds will be the extra forward. On defense, Mac Hollowell was an extra in practice. He was returned to the Toronto Marlies and might not be recalled for a while.
Item Two: John Tavares Puts His Finger on Maple Leafs’ Success
Why do the Maple Leafs’ players believe the team is on such a winning roll recently? In an interview yesterday, captain John Tavares gave his thoughts. He noted, “we’re really coming together with the identity of the team and how difficult we have to be to play against.”
Tavares added: “That starts with checking and defending and how that really sets the tone for our game in other areas. It’s getting more and more connected.” (from ‘Marner hits 23 games in point streak, Samsonov with another shutout as Leafs crush Ducks, Terry Koshan,’ Toronto Sun, 13/12/2022).
Item Three: Matt Murray Will Get the Start vs. the Rangers
Tonight, Matt Murray draws the first start of the team’s two-game road trip. He’s confirmed to go against the Rangers. Not yet confirmed is who the Rangers’ goalie might be. The guess is that Igor Shesterkin will likely draw in. However, the Daily Faceoff hasn’t yet confirmed that to be the case.
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In his last start, although Murray made some great stops on the night, he wobbled a bit in the 5-4 overtime win against the Calgary Flames. On the night, he saved 22 of 26 shots during the game, but the team came through to pull out the win. Murray’s record remains solid at 7-1-2, with a goals-against-average of 2.50 and a save percentage of .926 in the 10 games he’s played this season.
Item Three: Ilya Samsonov Will Be Starting Against the Capitals
Ilya Samsonov heads to Washington and will get the start against his old Capitals’ team on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada. Samsonov hasn’t let in a goal in his last two games – first against the Los Angeles Kings and then against the Anaheim Ducks.
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The 25-year-old Russian goalie is on a personal winning streak. He hasn’t lost a game since Nov. 2. However, the Capitals are on a hot of their own. They’ve won five straight games. It will be hard for him to continue his shutout streak.
Signing Samsonov during the offseason looks like a stroke of genius. He currently leads all NHL goalies in both goals-against-average at 1.70 and save percentage at .939. Over the entire regular season, he’s faced 295 shots but has given up only 18 goals.
Item Four: Mac Hollowell Is Loaned Back to the Toronto Marlies
Mac Hollowell, who’s been playing well but is a player the organization has to be careful with insofar as waivers go, was returned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies yesterday.
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The Big Mac Attack (as Auston Matthews calls him) has registered two assists in his six Maple Leafs’ games this season and has averaged 12:56 of TOI. But over the past four games, newcomer right-shot defenseman Conor Timmins has taken Hollowell’s place as part of the team’s third pairing with TJ Brodie.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The team’s next three games are all tough. Can the team continue its streak of consecutive games with at least one point? Can Mitch Marner continue his own point-scoring streak? Can Samsonov get his third shutout in a row?
There are a number of questions the team will answer over the next three games. If they do well, they might even take over first place in the current NHL standings. Who would have thought that at the beginning of this regular season?