Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Postseason Plan, Matthews & Murray

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share some thoughts about the Maple Leafs’ season thus far. In these thoughts, I’ll consider whether the Maple Leafs are better this season than last season. That seems to be a key question moving forward for this team. 

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In the second part of this post, I’ll take a look at some news emerging from the team as it prepares to play the Buffalo Sabres tonight. 

Item One: Is This Team Built for the Postseason and Not the Regular Season? 

Are Maple Leafs’ fans trying to have it both ways? On one hand, fans have complained for seasons about the team doing so well during the regular season, but not doing well during the postseason. Now, when the team is struggling in the regular season, they accuse the team’s management of being complacent with being in the top-middle of the pack.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Perhaps the fanbase needs to consider that the Maple Leafs’ management is trying a new strategy. That is, the team might be playing differently during the regular season as a way to try to win in the playoffs and change the narrative that previously this team was only really built for the regular season. 

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The truth is that right now the Maple Leafs have more points than either of last season’s Stanley Cup finalists. Is the sky falling on them, too?

For the most part this season, the team has played both down and up to its opponents. It lost to some very bad teams and, in some cases, actually played brutally while doing it. The western road trip is a case in point. 

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On that western trip, the team suffered a stretch of games that made fans wonder if the team could even return to the postseason. Then it returned home for a great stretch of games – with a stinker to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the mix – that made them wonder if the same players actually got off the plane from California.

The fact is that if the Maple Leafs lose a few games on their way to the postseason it isn’t the end of the world. It shouldn’t really matter. Really, the goal is to make the postseason. Then the task is to do well enough in the regular season and then go on an extended run – not the other way around.

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If, in the end, the team becomes a better postseason team but lays a few eggs along that path, what does it matter? Can they win in the playoffs? That’s the haunting question.

Item Two: Auston Matthews Seems Ready to Go Tonight

Yesterday at practice, Auston Matthews left practice early when he took a shot off his foot. In a video I watched yesterday, Matthews was shown skating around – obviously in pain – and finally leaving the ice. 

Near the end of the practice, Matthews was hobbling around on the ice. Finally, he went to the locker room. The concern was that last season’s goal-scoring champion and Rocket Richard Trophy winner would not be able to play. 

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The bad news is that Matthews was in pain. The good news is that, although he’s likely hurting for the game, he will play. Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reported that Matthews’ foot was fine. That probably means that it’s “fine enough to play” tonight and that he won’t miss the game. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the season, Matthews had a slow start but has started to heat up a bit recently. He now has scored eight goals and has added 11 assists (for 19 points) in 18 games on the season.

Item Three: Matt Murray Gets His Third-Straight Start

Matt Murray will get the start tonight against the Buffalo Sabres. It will be his third straight start between the posts for the team. Fortunately, Murray is playing great hockey. Although he didn’t pull his team to a win on Thursday night against the really hot New Jersey Devils, his great play and several almost miraculous saves allowed his team to salvage a point from what might have been a beatdown. 

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Murray returned to game action against his old Pittsburgh Penguins team last Tuesday night on the road. He had missed a month with an adductor (groin) injury. Since his return, he’s been amazing. On the season, Murray now has a record of 1-1-1, with a goals-against-average of 3.01 and a save percentage of .903. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Looking at some of the Maple Leafs’ prospects, Nick Robertson will be a healthy scratch again for the team. Pontus Holmberg will get his third start in a row and will center the team’s fourth line. 

Nick Robertson Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Robertson, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

And, sadly for young defenseman Mac Hollowell, he’s headed back to AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He still hasn’t made his first NHL start. Given the team’s depleted blue line, I keep thinking that the 24-year-old Holloway might get a start; however, not yet.