Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Ritchie, Ho-Sang & Line Combinations

When the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Vegas Golden Knights tonight, will it be a good time to play them, or not? The Golden Knights are the Pacific Division leaders; however, they’ve dropped three of their last four games on home ice. 

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The Golden Knights’ last loss was by a score of 2-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday night. The Blackhawks goalie was none other than former Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 30 of 31 shots during his first game in Las Vegas since being traded to the Blackhawks during the offseason. Fleury, the former face of the Golden Knight’s franchise and the goalie who helped them move to the Stanley Cup finals in their first season of existence, didn’t want to leave the Golden Knights. He exacted a bit of payback in that victory.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the news emerging from the team as it prepares for the second game of their four-game road trip. The team is still short two key players – Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall; however, Ondrej Kase is back in the lineup after missing a few games with an injury.

Item One: Nick Ritchie Feels He Still Can Contribute to the Maple Leafs

In a recent post, I had written that last week could not have been a good one for Nick Ritchie. He received two slaps in the face. First, he was put on waivers by the Maple Leafs. Second, no other NHL team – not one – showed any interest and let him slide through waivers. 

Nick Ritchie Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Ritchie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That’s good for the Maple Leafs because, if Ritchie were moved to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the team will gain some needed salary-cap wiggle room. That would allow them to play both young defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren at the same time without moving anyone else. However, passing through waivers really hasn’t changed Ritchie’s day-to-day playing experience with both Marner and Engvall under the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. In the end, that might also be good for Ritchie.

Two days ago, Ritchie was interviewed by the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby and spoke at some length about being placed on waivers. He noted that being put on waivers “wasn’t news a hockey player wants to hear.” 

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Ritchie admitted he “was disappointed at the time, but I’m still here in Toronto. I’m just trying to get my game in order and be someone who can help this team the second half of the season.”

He also admitted that he hadn’t gotten off to a hot start and that was on him. However, he thought he’d “shown signs of playing good hockey. It was on me, getting off to a hot start, but it has only been 30 games. There’s a lot of time to help this team.” 

His plan was to “keep working hard and coaches and teammates can help with that. Sometimes, it just starts clicking and you remember some of the good things you can do.”  (from “MAPLE LEAFS NOTES: Will reinforcements make it west for back-to-back games?” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 09/01/22). 

Item Two: Is There a Chance Josh Ho-Sang Might Play for Team Canada in the Olympics?

I’ve often noted that I thought Maple Leafs’ fans were lucky to have a number of really good writers and thinkers who cover their team. One of my favorite Maple Leafs’ writers is The Leafs’ Nation’s Jon Steitzer. In a piece he wrote earlier this week, Steitzer asked an interesting question about the possibility of Josh Ho-Sang playing in the Olympics for Team Canada.

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Steitzer believed an Olympics Game invitation might provide the Maple Leafs with a chance to see Ho-Sang play on a bigger stage. However, he also noted that “old wounds don’t close quickly with Hockey Canada” and Ho-Sang might not be assured of a place on the team.

From my perspective, one of the best things about Ho-Sang’s season with the Marlies is that there seems to have been little drama. That’s a very good thing, and it likely puts Ho-Sang in the Maple Leafs’ future plans – whether for the end of this season or for next season. I have to believe that the Maple Leafs laid down the law to Ho-Sang, who I’m guessing vowed to not engage in issues similar to those that sullied his reputation in the past. 

Josh Ho-Sang - Islanders
Josh Ho-Sang, when he played for the New York Islanders, September 17, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If that’s the case, unless there are things fans don’t know, Ho-Sang has done what was asked of him during his AHL season. If so, Maple Leafs’ fans might expect some formal contract between Ho-Sang and the Maple Leafs either for the end of this season or for next season.

Item Three: Line Combinations for Tonight’s Game

If yesterday’s practice is any indication, there will be some new line combinations tonight. After Alex Kerfoot’s strong showing with Auston Matthews on Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, he’s moving down to his more regular spot on the second line. Ondrej Kase draws into the right-wing spot on the team’s first line.

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Ilya Mikheyev will move to the third line with shutdown center David Kampf with Wayne Simmonds on the right. Finally, Jason Spezza will center the fourth line with Kyle Clifford on the left and Ritchie on the right.

It’s no surprise that Jack Campbell will start in goal.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Golden Knights are the Pacific Division leaders, but their home record is far from stellar. Last season, they put together a 21-5-2 record at home; however, their record this season is only 12-9-1. Only the expansion Seattle Kraken (6-11-2) have more home losses than the Golden Knights in the Pacific Division.

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That probably means Vegas will come out blazing. It should be an interesting game for Maple Leafs’ fans. I’m anxious to see Kase play on the first line again with Matthews. I’m also interested to see if Mikheyev can continue to be a point-a-game player.