In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at two players who have been under the fans (and the organization’s) microscope this offseason. Those players are Nick Robertson and Matt Murray.
As the regular season approaches, how do these players look? Thus far, as I’ll suggest in this post, they both are looking good. While it’s early in the season, the evidence so far is stacking up on the positive side of the ledger.
Item One: How Do You Keep Nick Robertson Off the Team
What started as a long shot in fans’ eyes has turned into what seems like almost a certain decision on the part of the Maple Leafs’ coaching staff. After two really strong games, if Kyle Dubas is good to his invitation to Toronto Marlies’ players after last season, how can Nick Robertson not win a place on the team’s roster?
I fully expect to see him suit up with the Maple Leafs when the regular season begins against these same (probably different players) Montreal Canadiens on October 12. Not only is Robertson scoring – he’s had two three-point preseason games, but he’s making great plays as well. He’s doing the little things well.
Last night’s three assists helped tell the tale of how far the 21-year-old has progressed. He was creative; he was dogged in pursuit of pucks; he went into corners and won puck battles; and, he saw his teammates all over the ice. He looked skilled, smart, and determined.
As Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted after the game, “He’s just playing really good hockey right now.”
Newcomer goalie Matt Murray was effusive with his praise of Robertson. Murray noted that “As a goalie, he’s got one of the hardest snapshots I’ve ever seen.”
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Murray added. “He can score from pretty much anywhere. He’s a young guy who works really hard and isn’t afraid to go into battle areas. He seems to be in the right spot defensively, as well. From what I see he seems like a great young player.”
Item Two: Matt Murray Highlight of the Game for Keefe
Speaking of Matt Murray, his struggles have been well-documented. So much so that a number of Maple Leafs’ fans find general manager Kyle Dubas’ trade for him unforgivable.
I’ve also heard Maple Leafs’ writers critique Murray’s saves because he wasn’t playing against many elite shooters during the preseason. The point is that even if Murray plays well, selling him to Maple Leafs’ fans is going to be a work in progress.
That said, what Murray is doing right now is not only good news for him but also good for his teammates to see. It has to help build the entire team’s confidence.
Murray is far from a rigid goalie who moves robotically around the crease. From my perspective, he’s playing with confidence and moving fluidly and wisely. As my memory serves me, previous Maple Leafs’ goalies like Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell often made tough first-class saves. However, at times the easy ones dribbled by them at exactly the wrong time. That often took a bite from the team’s momentum.
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That’s bound to happen with any goalie. Every once in a while, you just muff one. Ilya Samsonov did that on the last goal against the Ottawa Senators last Friday night. However, we haven’t seen any of that from Murray thus far. The shot he let in last night was one he saved but a Canadiens player put in the rebound.
Murray’s confidence must also motivate the team both on the bench and in the dressing room. Thus far, Murray’s scrambled well when he needed to and has stayed calm and well-positioned when he’s facing down shots. He looks big in the net and flicks away pucks coming his way without showing much stress at all.
When speaking about Murray’s performance, coach Keefe noted that “I thought he was just terrific all night long. Even on the goal that went in, he made the save. … I just thought he was really, really good. He was the highlight of the game for me.”
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There’s good news for the team that Jake Muzzin’s back injury is improving. He didn’t play in last night’s preseason game, but he’s getting closer. Currently, Muzzin has been dealing with “back discomfort.”
Coach Keefe reported that the big defenseman hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his rehab. Muzzin has been skating this week and practiced again Sunday. It will be good to see him on the ice again.
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