Here’s the deal. The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to perhaps the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Thursday evening, 7-4. The score doesn’t lie: after a wild first period, the team was crushed thereafter.
The Maple Leafs hung around for a bit, but then folded like a cheap suit (a phrase which implies that a cheap suit would be of light material and, without a lining, would have little substance and would fold easily).
So, there’s the bad news. The Leafs have now lost three straight games, and I’m guessing many fans are looking for the edge of the bandwagon, if they’ve not already jumped off.
Several Oct. 11 posts by Maple Leafs commentators have picked up that pessimistic theme, calling for head coach Mike Babcock’s job. Some suggest Kyle Dubas set up his coach by an “uninspiring” summer’s work. And the pessimism builds. (from “Mike Babcock may be set up for a fall after Kyle Dubas’ uninspiring summer,” The Sun, 10/11/19)
In this post, I want to take an optimistic look at some of the players’ success during a time of difficulty for the team. Sooner or later, we hope, the tide will turn and the Maple Leafs will rise like a phoenix from the ashes (a phrase that implies emerging from difficulty stronger, smarter, and more powerful).
Thus, I want to take a look at some of the individual players’ successes in a time when the team, itself, has not thrived.
Player One: Matthews’ Game Has Reached a New, Higher Level
Auston Matthews had his summer of difficulties, but it hasn’t seemed to harm his game. He scored both a goal and his first assist during a high-scoring first period where both teams, together, had seven goals. The assist was actually only his first of the season, but the goal was his sixth.
Matthews’ game seems to have reached an entirely new level this season. If he’s lucky enough to stay healthy, I’m betting he’ll score more goals than any other NHL player this season.
Player Two: Johnsson Scores His First Goal of the Season
Andreas Johnsson got the monkey off his back when he scored a goal against the Lightning. He also had an assist in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. It took four games for him to score, but he’s been playing a different game as the left-winger this season on the Matthews and Nylander line.
One can hope his goal helps him regain and begin to surpass his offensive totals from last season when he had a breakout (43 points in 73 games). Why the scoring hasn’t come yet this season is a question, but it seems he’ll continue to play on the Maple Leafs’ top-six. So, I believe his scoring should improve throughout the season.
Player Three: Tavares Also Scores His First Goal of the Season
Using one of his classic moves, a beautiful tip-in, John Tavares scored his first goal of the season in the Lightning game. Tavares’ goal-scoring seems has come slowly this season. However, he’s coming up to game six and he has four points so far.
A couple of two-point games puts him on a point-a-game pace, then who’s even wondering any more? Because Tavares’ scoring seems to come in bunches, I’m looking for a high-scoring game soon.
Player Four: Ceci Is Playing Better Than Anyone Expected
Cody Ceci had an assist in the loss to the Blues on Oct. 7, but he had a relatively quiet game against the Lightning – which, given the outcome, wasn’t bad. He’s surprised many Maple Leafs fans with the higher-than-adequate level of his play. He now has a goal and two assists through five games with his new team.
Historically, Ceci has been a defensive player. However, given that he’s paired with Morgan Rielly and is now part of a high-powered offense like the Maple Leafs, there’s every chance Ceci will easily beat his career-high 26 points, which he had both last year and during the 2015-16 season.
Player Five: Nylander Is on a Point-a-Game Pace
Personally, I can’t recall seeing William Nylander play as well as he’s played this season. He chipped in an assist in the Lightning game and scored in the team’s loss to the Blues. He just hasn’t been a guy who plays well when the team is flying; he also plays well when the team is struggling.
So far this season, Nylander has a pair of goals and three assists. He’s on a point-a-game pace, although somehow that seems buried in the shadows of the team’s three-game losing streak. I’m still betting on him reaching over 80 points.
Player Six: Sandin Keeps Looking Good
Sandin is averaging about 12 minutes of ice time per game playing on the team’s third defensive pairing. He looked good during training camp and continues to look strong in games. From my perspective, he was one of the few players who played well (Justin Holl and Auston Matthews were the others) against the Lightning.
Sandin seems to consistently make the right play and is strong on the puck. Although he’s young, he plays bigger than his size. I’m hoping the organization keeps him with the big club.
The Maple Leafs play an early-evening Saturday evening in Detroit. The Red Wings have been a surprise in their first four games, with a 3-1 record. On the other hand, the Maple Leafs have surprised in the other direction with a 2-2-1 record.
It will be interesting to see if the Maple Leafs can play with some fire, after a bit of a three-game letdown.