It’s starting to seem like the only predictable thing about the Toronto Maple Leafs is their unpredictability. It’s been an up-and-down week for the team and its players.
The team started this week with one of their worse games of the season, a five-two loss to the Montreal Canadiens. They squeaked a point in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, played a solid defensive game to defeat the Minnesota Wild 3-1, and then decided to play a throwback to the eighties game in beating the Detroit Red Wings 10-7 by a field goal, after giving up a late touchdown – or at least the score would seem to suggest.
The Good News and the Bad News for the Maple Leafs
The good news is the Maple Leafs scored 18 goals in the four games. The bad news is they gave up 17. Overall, however, coming out of the week with a 2-1-1 record was actually not bad and the team actually gained ground in the standings. The Maple Leafs find themselves right back in the battle for first place in the Atlantic Division, thanks to the Florida Panthers losing three in a row. They also gained a point on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After Saturday night’s game, they are three points behind the Panthers with a game in hand, and they are two points back of Tampa with one more game played.
The Matthews/Marner/Bunting Line Is on Fire
In the four games played this week, collectively the first line scored 10 goals and added 15 assists for 25 points. They were also a plus-12. Of course, the majority of those points came in the Detroit game when Mitch Marner had four goals and two assists; Michael Bunting one goal and four assists; and, Auston Matthews one goal and three assists.
Matthews’ four goals this week give him 37 on the season, which puts him into first place in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. He’s one goal ahead of Leon Draisaitl and three up on Chris Kreider.
The Tavares, Nylander, and Whomever Line Isn’t Performing
Regardless of whether it’s with Alex Kerfoot on the wing or Ondrej Kase, John Tavares and William Nylander are in a production slump. Tavares finished the week with two assists and a zero in the plus/minus column. Nylander had one goal and was minus-1.
Tavares has not scored a goal in 12 games and is minus-6 in those games. However, he is contributing and has registered eight assists in those games. Nylander has three goals, five assists, and is minus-9 in that stretch. The line is still putting up solid analytics and getting their chances, but Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe would sit more comfortably if he could find a way to get that pair scoring more goals.
Justin Holl Has Had a Solid Two-Game Stretch
Justin Holl was a healthy scratch for two of the four games played this week. However, in the two games he played, he had four assists and was plus-5. In the 5-2 debacle in Montreal, Holl had an assist and was one of the few Maple Leafs’ players to come out of that game in the plus column, at plus-2.
Holl, along with T.J. Brodie, had a great game versus Detroit. Holl finished the game with three assists and plus-3. Brodie only had one assist but ended up plus-4 for the game.
Morgan Rielly Has Been AWOL
Since Morgan Rielly signed his eight-year, $7.5 million per season extension, he’s been playing the best 200-foot hockey of his career. However, he had a tough week. Rielly’s strength is his offense, but this week he was limited to a single assist on the 18 goals the Maple Leafs scored. He finished the week at minus-4.
Ilya Lyubushkin Is as Advertized
Maple Leafs’ newcomer Ilya Lyubushkin had a solid debut with his new team. He’s definitely come as advertised. Already, he’s had eight hits in the three games he played. He’s solid in the corners and punishes opposing players in front of the net.
Lyubushkin finished the week at plus-2. What’s even better is that he seems to have found an excellent defensive partner in Rasmus Sandin, and vice versa. Both defensemen have different, but complementary, skill sets.
Is the Maple Leafs’ Goaltending on Life-Support?
Jack Campbell might have just had his poorest week as a Maple Leafs’ goalie. His line for the week was 104:32 played, 46 saves on 55 shots for a save percentage of .836%, and a goals-against-average of 5.17. Against the Red Wings, Campbell gave up three goals on seven shots in four minutes and eight seconds in the third before being pulled.
Petr Mrazek was the better of the two goalies this week but still wasn’t very good overall. He finished the week with a .871 save percentage, and a 3.56 goals-against average in just under 135 minutes played.
Mrazek earned a star by stopping 29 of 30 shots in the 3-1 win against the Minnesota Wild; and, he was, to quote coach Keefe, put in a “horrible spot” when he went into the Red Wings’ game with just fifteen minutes left in the game. (from “LEAFS NOTES: It’s time for the Maple Leafs to give Petr Mrazek a longer look,” Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun, 27/02/22).
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have a lighter schedule this week coming up. They travel to Washington on Monday to take on the Capitals, before returning home to play the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.
There’s no doubt in our minds that coach Keefe is looking forward to some predictability from his players – on the plus side of the ledger. After the Red Wings’ game for the ages, he has to also be seeking some boring team defense. For all the players who played well or didn’t, the play of the Maple Leafs’ goalies seems to be the tipping point to the success of this season.
It would be so good if either Campbell or Mrazek simply took charge of the net.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf