Recently, some Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans threw down a challenge. Before this team was worthy of investing energy into, they’d have to beat the two strong Atlantic Division teams who came into their building this week. After Thursday, there’s one down and one to go.
Last night the Maple Leafs collectively held themselves in a game with the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Trailing into the last minute of the game, the Maple Leafs came back from a 1-0 deficit to win in overtime by a score of 2-1. It was far from a perfect game; however, it’s just like the kind of game a good team somehow learns to win – together.
Now, if the team could beat the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, that would be two down. Maybe for some fans, that would be enough to start liking this team. Then again …
Item One: The Core Four – Plus One – Comes Through
In last night’s game, John Tavares created a series of events that led to the game-tying goal. That put the score at 1-1 after regulation. Then William Nylander came through to score a power-play overtime goal to give the Maple Leafs the win. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner assisted on both goals. The Plus One of the Core Four, goalie Jack Campbell, stopped all but one of 25 shots and held his team in the game.
The result was that the Maple Leafs registered their fourth-straight win, which gave some Maple Leafs’ fans added fuel to seek a Marner and/or a Nylander trade. Their trade value has never been higher.
Item Two: Jack Campbell Starting to Prove He’s The One
Campbell made 24 saves in the 2-1 win. In his previous game, he had shut out the Vegas Golden Knights. Last night it was the two-time Cup champs. Campbell’s been in a groove. It wasn’t as if his team didn’t allow him to be tested. Both Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos broke in alone on Campbell during the third period, but he was able to make the stops.
Related: How to Talk Like a Hockey Player
There’s no doubt that Campbell faced a few too many quality scoring chances. Still, his job is to stop the pucks; and, he was only unable to answer one time. As it stands, Campbell’s won his last three starts and has a 5-2-1 record with a goals-against-average of 1.86 and a save percentage of .932. That’s good.
Now the only problem seems to be that Campbell will be a UFA next season, and where will the money come from to re-sign him? But that’s a problem for the next offseason. Right now, I’m choosing to enjoy the games and appreciate the team’s recent success after its slow start.
Item Three: No Smile from William Nylander After His Overtime Winner
What I noticed almost immediately after William Nylander’s game-winning overtime goal was that he didn’t smile. Funny thing to notice, perhaps; yet, I immediately wondered what might be up. Is there a new seriousness or determination?
With the Maple Leafs on a powerplay from a John Tavares-drawn penalty in overtime, head coach Sheldon Keefe loaded it up with his four top forwards. No defenseman, just Nylander, Marner, Tavares, and Matthews. Their pressure melted the Lightning defense, and Nylander threw a one-timer over Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy’s blocker for the win.
The 25-year-old Nylander now has scored in three of his last four games and has pushed his 2021-21 totals to five goals and four assists (for nine points) in 11 games. He leads the Maple Leafs in goals and is tied with Tavares for the team lead in points. Maple Leafs’ fans will be pleased that his trade value is increasing.
Item Four: Mitch Marner Now Has a Four-Game Point-Scoring Streak
Marner’s two assists now have pushed his point-scoring streak to four games. That he even finished the game was lucky because he took a hard blindside hit to his head from Mikhail Sergachev during the first period. Undoubtedly, the hit will be reviewed. Fortunately, Marner wasn’t seriously injured.
After a slow start to the season, Marner is starting to play like his old self. During his four-game point-scoring streak, he’s up to seven points. He now has eight points (two goals and six assists) in the 11 games he’s played this season. His trade value is also increasing.
Item Five: Auston Matthews Has Two Assists
Matthews’ great passing helped set up both Maple Leafs’ goals in the win. Although he’s still not scoring goals on the season like we’re used to, he’s been playing well over the past few games and now has three goals and three assists (for six points) in the eight games he’s played this season.
Last night was Matthews’ second two-point game in a row. He’s shaking off the rust and is playing a strong 200-foot game. Matthews has a high trade value.
Item Six: Defenseman Kristians Rubins Is Improving
Although defenseman Travis Dermott made it back into the lineup for the Lightning game after he bruised his foot against the Golden Knights, when the Maple Leafs looked at their Marlies’ defensemen for insurance, they decided to call up 23-year-old Latvian defenceman Kristians Rubins.
That move might have been largely pragmatic because if Dermott couldn’t play Rubins would act as backup. However, the move also suggests that the 6-foot-5 Rubins has improved his play with the AHL Marlies. If he learns to use his size and speed more efficiently, the organization would find itself another strong young defenseman.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs host the Boston Bruins on Saturday. As noted, if they can beat the Bruins, that might help some Maple Leafs’ fans solidify their confidence. As the standings go, the team – for all of its poor start – now sits in second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Florida Panthers.
Boston has several strong players and they play hard. But, I don’t think they have as strong a team this season as they’ve had over the past few seasons. We’ll see on Saturday.
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