If you take a look at the breadth of an NHL hockey season, I suppose the Toronto Maple Leafs had to lose two in a row sometime. And that’s just what happened on Saturday night by a score of 4-2 in Vancouver against the Canucks. The Maple Leafs came into town fresh off a dismantling of the Edmonton Oilers, but they came up flat against the upstart Canucks.
It’s not what Maple Leafs’ fans expected, and that’s just the “problem” with this particular Maple Leafs’ team. Maybe it’s just me, but I expect them to win every game this season and I’m frankly surprised when they don’t.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’m going to concentrate on some of the good things that I saw during last night’s game as well as some of the player moves and news within the organization. I’ll also start with some news from the Toronto Marlies about two players that I’m watching there – Nick Robertson and Alex Galchenyuk.
Item One: Three Bits of Good News from Saturday Night’s Loss in Vancouver
I saw three bits of good news during Saturday’s game. First, John Tavares scored his eighth goal of the season. Second, Jimmy Vesey scored his fifth of the season. Third, Frederik Andersen showed no signs of being bothered by an injury.
Tavares scored a really nice goal skating down the wing and blowing one past Canucks’ goalie Thatcher Demko. The goal was Tavares fifth point (two goals, three assists) in his last five games and this one wasn’t even on the power play.
During Tavares’ first two seasons in Toronto, he scored at better than a point-a-game pace and he’s almost at that pace this season. He now has eight goals and 14 assists (for 22 points) in his 26 2020-21 games.
There was some rumor that Jimmy Vesey would become a healthy scratch a few games ago. I’ve also heard a number of Maple Leafs’ fans suggest that he wasn’t adding much to the lineup. I admit that, after he scored during the first game of the season, I came to expect more scoring. However, I think he’s played well on the ice as a partner with Jason Spezza and Travis Boyd on the team’s new-purpose fourth line.
I admit, I’ve been rooting for Vesey to do well. During the past few games, his scoring has jumped up a notch. In addition, his defensive play and hockey IQ remain consistently high. On Saturday, his fifth goal of the season and Spezza’s 11th assist continued to add secondary scoring to the team’s total. The 27-year-old Boston-native now has scored three goals in his last three games.
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Vesey is also at a plus-4, which I think matters because this fourth line plays against some of the best top lines in hockey.
Frederik Andersen had the lead, but he couldn’t hold it during the third when the Canucks scored a couple of goals in less than a minute to move ahead. He made only 27 saves of a required 31 in the team’s 4-2 loss and that wasn’t enough.
Because the Maple Leafs’ defense has been so much stronger this season than during the last few, Andersen’s not been as busy in net as he’s been previously. His statistics now show a goals-against-average of 2.68 and a save percentage of .906. But as I suggest, he looks to be completely healed from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for a few games. The team will need him on top of his game.
Item Two: Toronto Marlies’ Nick Robertson Is Injured
Nick Robertson has missed his last two games with the Toronto Marlies with an oblique injury. Robertson’s been playing with the Marlies now for three weeks and during that time he’s registered two goals and seven assists (for nine points) in 10 games.
Hi injury is likely a day-to-day thing. (from “Maple Leafs might look at Alex Galchenyuk, heating up on the farm, before trade,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 07/03.21).
Item Three: Alex Galchenyuk Is Working Hard in the AHL
Don’t tell Alex Galchenyuk he doesn’t have a chance to make it to the Maple Leafs’ roster this season. Apparently he’s been working hard since he’s been with the Marlies and scored a goal and an assist in the Marlies’ game on Saturday. He has four points in four games since he began AHL play.
Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore noted that Galchenyuk has “bought in since Day 1.”
Moore added that “His competitiveness is radiating through the locker room. He came into today a man on a mission. In the second intermission (before his points) he wanted to be a game changer. He’s a special player. You definitely get a better feel for your own game after that. It all comes with the games, getting the touches, the looks. You can practice as much as you can, but only in a game can you get better. I’ve played a lot of minutes, getting my game where it should be.”
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You have to think it’s a mental thing with Galchenyuk, who still – as his Marlies’ coach suggests – has NHL-caliber talent. Good for him for working hard after the first demotion of his NHL career to the minors. Here’s hoping general manager Kyle Dubas’ flyer on the former high-scoring Montreal Canadiens’ rookie (he had 30 goals one season) can make a difference later this season for the Maple Leafs.
Item Four: Nic Petan Moved to the Team’s Taxi Squad
Nic Petan played Thursday against the Canucks, but Travis Boyd took his spot during Saturday’s loss to the Canucks. Petan was demoted to the taxi squad prior to the game but will likely get more fourth-line minutes as the season goes on or he’s called on to cover for injuries.
Item Five: Jack Campbell Is Still Out with an Injury
Jack Campbell’s lower-body injury remains problematic and he wasn’t in the lineup in Saturday’s game. Until Campbell returns – and it could be as soon as Tuesday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets – Michael Hutchinson will remain Andersen’s backup.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs’ record dropped to 18-6-2 after losing two straight in regulation for the first time during the 2020-21 season. As Tavares noted, ”There’s still a lot of good things in our game, but in saying that, we had an opportunity to make this a real great road trip and it ended up only being a good one.”
The team now travels home, take a couple days off, and then hosts the Jets on Tuesday night. It will be the first game of a three-game series.
The question I have in the back of my mind is the health of Austin Matthews. He’s now gone scoreless in his last three games since declared fit to play after taking two games off to rest a nagging wrist injury. I hate to but I just have to go there – is he still suffering from the injury in some way?
Even an elite player like Matthews can be held off the score sheet, but it’s not like Matthews to go three games in a row without a point. But then the Maple Leafs did that same thing to Connor McDavid during their series, and McDavid came back with three points last night against the Flames to help the Oilers to a come-from-behind win.
Perhaps those same two things might happen with the Maple Leafs. Winning on Tuesday after losing a couple in a row and Matthews with a three-point game. Here’s hoping.
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). 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