Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Nylander, Liljegren, Matthews & Marner

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs dominated the game but had to go into a shootout to win by a score of 4-3 over the Anaheim Ducks. That’s what happens sometimes when you face a stubborn goalie; and, last night that goalie was the Ducks’ John Gibson. Often earlier in the season, that goalie has been the Maple Leafs’ Jack Campbell and the skate’s been on the other foot.

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Gibson’s going to the All-Star Game, and with good reason. He was on top of his game last night; and, in the end, he stopped 41 of 44 Maple Leafs’ shots on net. As I watched the game, I had to think I was having a similar feeling to fans from other teams who earlier in this season had watched their own team fire shots at Campbell without success.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Campbell held a 3-1 lead, but the Ducks waddled back to tie it 3-3 and send the game into overtime. Gibson was good then, too. Only shootout goals by Jason Spezza and Auston Matthews carried the team to a victory. Campbell stopped two of the three shots he saw in the shootout. 

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the news emerging from the game as well as other news, rumors, and commentary about upcoming games and decisions the team must make.

Item One: Is John Tavares Emerging from a Bit of a New Year’s Slump?

Although Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares has had one of his most productive seasons in a few years, he’s entered the new calendar year a bit slower than he’d probably hoped. He was over a point-a-game player throughout the end of December 2021, but he’s only had six points in nine games in 2022. 

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That changed last night. Tavares took his part in a power-play unit that was really humming and scored a goal and added an assist. He threw six shots on the net and likely would have had another marker had Gibson not been so hot. As it stands currently, Tavares has played 38 games and has 38 points.

Should Tavares continue at a point-a-game pace, it would be the fourth time in his career he’s achieved that mark. His last was his first season with the Maple Leafs when he also scored a career-high 47 goals and registered 88 points in 82 games.

Item Two: William Nylander’s Already Matched Last Season’s Goal Total 

William Nylander’s power-play goal was his 17th of the season and matched his entire goal total of last season. He also registered an assist. Because the Maple Leafs only scored on the power play, obviously both his points were with the man advantage. 

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Nylander’s assist came on Mitch Marner’s power-play goal in the first period. He quickly followed up with his own goal shortly afterward. To date, Nylander is second on the team in scoring (after Auston Matthews) and has 40 points (on 17 goals and 23 assists) for the season. He’s scored 24 points in his last 19 games.

Item Three: Auston Matthews Is Dominating the Ice Nearly Every Shift

In last night’s 4-3 shootout win, not only did Auston Matthews score the second and winning shootout goal but he also had a pair of assists on teammates’ goals. To my eyes, Matthews just plays a bit quicker, a bit better, and is a bit more present than other players on the ice. He just seems to be everywhere and I always seem to see where he is.

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Matthews’ assists came on Nylander and Tavares’ goals. Those two assists give him nine points (five goals and four assists) in his last seven games and he now has 25 goals and 18 assists (for 43 points) in 36 games for the season. The game marked Matthews’ 14th multiple-point game this season.

Item Four: Timothy Liljegren’s Injury Might Not Be Serious

The Maple Leafs played a defenseman short for almost the last 50 minutes of the game after Timothy Liljegren hit his head during an awkward fall in the middle of the ice during the first period and had to leave last night’s game. Although no definitive diagnosis was released, what we do know is that he didn’t return to the ice for “precautionary reasons” and that, after the game, head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that Liljegren was “trending in the right direction.” 

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those comments suggest that Liljegren might not be injured too severely and could possibly return to the ice as soon as the Saturday game in Detroit against the Red Wings. While I’m not an expert on the rules of hockey, it also seemed pretty unlucky that Liljegren was injured on his fall and was also assessed a tripping penalty. It wasn’t the 22-year-old’s luckiest game.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Given Gibson’s stellar performance in the net, in one way the Maple Leafs escaping with the win was a good sign. They had dominated a similar game – also against a hot goalie – in Arizona exactly two weeks ago on January 12 when rookie goalie Karel Vejmelka stoned them. That can happen.

I’ve got to think that Sheldon Keefe starts Petr Mrazek in goal on Saturday night, which is perhaps why Mrazek didn’t get the second start in a row. Mrazek spent six seasons in Detroit – it was his first NHL team – so it would be a nice gesture.

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In addition, I’ve also heard rumors that Steve Yzerman – the Red Wings’ general manager – is hot after signing Jack Campbell; and, if I were the Maple Leafs’ brain trust, I might not give Campbell a chance to have a lights-out game right in the Red Wings’ arena and fuel that fire any hotter. 

But, then, I’m probably being silly.