A win is a win. It seemed ugly to me, but Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock saw the 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings quite differently. Perhaps that’s the difference between the perspective of a fan and the perspective of a coach.
Babcock noted, ”Some people would think it was ugly. I thought it was beautiful. We need to figure out who we are, and the harder the game is, the better it is for us. Now, would you like to win by a touchdown and everyone relax and all that?”
Then he added, ”Yea, but we’re not getting anywhere like that.”
On Thursday evening, the Maple Leafs play the visiting Vegas Golden Knights, which is a considerably more difficult opponent this season than the Kings. It might be more difficult to play ugly and win. In the meantime, in this post, I want to share some of the news and rumors coming from the team.
Item One: Nylander Has First Multi-Point Game of the Season
After being benched last week, William Nylander has bounced back. He and teammate Auston Matthews scored 30 seconds apart during the third period to help beat the Kings on Tuesday. The young Swede scored a goal and an assist; however, perhaps more importantly, he looked confident on the ice.
I was surprised to read that it was Nylander’s first multi-point game since last Mar. 25, 2019, when the Maple Leafs beat the Florida Panthers by a 7-5 score. To my eyes, Nylander’s had a funny season. Early during the regular season, I thought he dominated; more recently, he seems to have disappeared. I hope Babcock’s tough love has prompted him to step up his game.
Item Two: Kerfoot Continues to Show His Value
Alexander Kerfoot scored his fifth goal of the season in the win over the Kings. His goal tied the game at 1-1 in the middle of the second period. It was an odd goal because, when two Kings’ players ran into each other, it allowed Kerfoot to snap a shot past Jonathan Quick.
There was some concern that Kerfoot might be injured after Jeff Carter hit him, but after time in the dressing room, he came back to the ice. Let’s hope the injury was nothing big. Kerfoot’s line has been strong.
Item Three: Barrie Still Hasn’t Scored a Goal for the Maple Leafs
Newcomer defenseman Tyson Barrie set a milestone in the Kings game, but it wasn’t for scoring. That part of his game has been simply AWOL. His milestone was that he skated in his 500th career NHL game on Tuesday night.
Although Barrie started the regular season with four assists in his first three games, he’s only had one assist in the last 13 games. Surprisingly, he hasn’t scored a goal yet in 2019-20. When you look at Barrie’s career log, unless things change quickly this season will be by far his worst scoring season ever.
Obviously, part of it’s that he was the power-play leader with the Colorado Avalanche during recent seasons. But, with the Maple Leafs, it’s tough to usurp Morgan Rielly’s power-play time. If Babcock might find ways to balance Barrie and Rielly on the power play, but that hasn’t happened to this point.
Item Four: Matthews Gets 100th Career Assist
Auston Matthews scoring a goal in a game has become a regular occurrence (he has 123 goals in 228 NHL games), but we don’t think of Matthews as much of an assist man. However, in the game against the Kings, Matthews recorded his 100th NHL assist.
Matthews was happy about reaching this assist mark. TSN’s Mark Masters tweeted that Matthews noted, “I’ve always been a shoot-first guy, but it’s always nice setting up your teammates.” Matthews added, “That last goal I knew whose hands I wanted to get it into.” (By the way, his assist was on Nylander’s fourth goal of the season.)
Item Five: Andersen Is Sneaking Up on a Decent Season
To my eyes, goalie Frederik Andersen has not been as steady this season as he was last season. However, after giving up only a single goal on 25 shots on Tuesday, he’s quietly re-cementing his value as the goalie that led his team to victory in so many games during the 2018-19 season.
For me, the 11-round shootout victory where he allowed only one shootout goal against the Philadelphia Flyers was the first time I noticed him playing with confidence. That could simply be me not noticing; however, I don’t think he’s stood out until more recent games.
With the victory against the Kings, Andersen’s record has improved to 8-2-2, with a 2.84 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. I’m certain those numbers aren’t where he wants them, but they are creeping upwards.
Item Six: Maple Leafs Expected To Waive Spezza
The biggest rumor emerging on Nov. 6 was a report that Jason Spezza’s time with the Maple Leafs was almost up. Because Zach Hyman is about ready to return to the lineup, a number of NHL commentators (including TSN’s Shawn Simpson) suggest that Spezza will be let go by the team.
If that’s true, it would be too bad. Spezza has been a respected player for many seasons. In fact, a number of teams were after him during the offseason, but he took a “hometown discount” to play for the Maple Leafs. For one reason or another, Babcock has limited his opportunities to play. And, it’s expected Spezza will soon be gone.
Where will he land? The Ottawa Senators, where Spezza spent most of his career, were one team after his services this offseason. There’s certainly room for him in the forward mix for D.J. Smith’s Senators. The Senators are a young, hard-working team. They could add Spezza without having to trade anyone. In addition, his contract is so cheap that even Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion would jump at it. Last, the Senators have not been drawing well and getting an old face back might be helpful at the gate.
Certainly, we’ve seen from Spezza’s short tenure with the Maple Leafs that he’s a willing teacher and mentor for his younger teammates. Having the ear of Brady Tkachuk, or Logan Brown, or even Thomas Chabot would not be such a bad thing in Ottawa.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The team plays the Golden Knights on Thursday, then the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday before heading off to Chicago on Sunday to play the Blackhawks on another dreaded back-to-back. The Golden Knights will be a test.
We’ll know more about Hyman’s return by then.