The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in a quick slide downhill, which was exacerbated by a surprising two-game series loss to the Vancouver Canucks who had just finished fighting a bigger battle than any opposing team. More than 25 players, coaches (head coach Travis Green was especially ill), and their families were battling a very difficult variant to the COVID-19 virus.
Everything pointed to the likelihood that the Maple Leafs would emerge with an extended lead over tonight’s opponents – the Winnipeg Jets. Everything – that is – except reality. In reality, the Maple Leafs dominated both games but also lost both games. A Canucks’ team that had been on the shelf for almost a month rose up to beat the North Division’s leading Maple Leafs by scores of 3-2 and 6-3.
The Maple Leafs did many things well – even taking a lead in both games, but they didn’t stay the course. Poor goalie play on their part and great goalie play (Braden Holtby was outstanding and actually inspired his own team) by the Canucks stole the series. In game two, David Rittich could have been tons sharper.
Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares didn’t fib when he said, “We did a lot of good things again. We created opportunities; we grabbed the lead; and we have to do a better job of holding that. It happened to us last game. We have to find a way to finish.”
Tavares did his best to lead – even scoring two goals himself. But, as he said, they didn’t finish.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Roster Changes, I’ll share some of the recent news from the team as well as try to help keep fans up-to-date with what’s happening as team heads into tonight’s game against the Jets.
Item One: Nick Foligno Is Going to Play Tonight
Nick Foligno, who was picked up on a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 11, will make his first Maple Leafs’ start tonight. Foligno comes to the team at exactly the right time (with Zach Hyman injured) and will skate in Hyman’s spot on the team’s first line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Foligno, who’s missed six games in a row with an upper-body injury, didn’t make promises; however, he did note that he would be “playing off adrenaline more than anything tonight, and I’m looking forward to being out there. I haven’t played in 10 days, I’m not expecting to jump in and start dangling but I do want to contribute.”
Item Two: Ilya Mikheyev Might Play Tonight
The status of Ilya Mikheyev, who missed Tuesday night in Vancouver with an undisclosed injury, will be decided just prior to game-time. Mikheyev missed Tuesday’s game after an early exist from Monday’s practice. However, he practiced on the Maple Leafs’ third line with partners Alexander Kerfoot and Wayne Simmonds; and, that’s a good sign. If Mikheyev can’t suit up, it looks as if Pierre Engvall will fill in if his spot.
The 26-year-old Mikheyev’s status probably won’t even be announced until pregame warmups. Although Mikheyev hasn’t torn up the league with his scoring (with only 15 points in 45 games this season), he’s becoming a strong defensive forward and a great penalty killer. He’s finding his place in this lineup during his second season with the team.
Item Three: Zach Bogosian Needs More Time to Rehab His Injury
Although Zach Bogosian skated off under his own power after losing an edge and crashing into the end boards, he didn’t escape injury. In fact the word came today that he’ll miss at least a week. However, head coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t have an exact timeline for his return.
Interestingly, after watching Bogosian crash into the boards feet first, his injury is now said to be an “upper-body” injury. I would have guessed his leg of ankle. Likely, Rasmus Sandin (who to my eyes had a strong game Tuesday) and Travis Dermott will become the Maple Leafs’ third defensive pairing against the Jets.
Although Bogosian hasn’t done much on the scoresheet, he’s been solid on defense and looks comfortable moving the puck. He’s only scored four points in 45 games on the season. That said, the same is almost as true for T.J Brodie who partners with Morgan Rielly – not so present on the score sheet, very present on the ice.
Item Four: Jack Campbell Gets the Start Against the Jets
Jack Campbell will start in goal tonight coach Keefe confirmed immediately after the Maple Leafs’ loss on Tuesday night. Campbell didn’t have a great game on Sunday, but he at least held his team into the game for a single point.
After 11 straight wins to begin the season, Campbell hasn’t won a game in his last three – going 0-2-1. Presently, he carries a goals-against average of 2.24 and a save percentage of .919 in 14 games on the season.
Newcomer Ben Hutton was removed from the COVID protocol-related absence list yesterday and could play if the team needs him. After the Maple Leafs picked up Hutton from the Anaheim Ducks just prior to the trade deadline, he was required to quarantine. It’s not clear at all what the organization’s plans are for him or if he’ll get a chance to play. At best, he’s a depth addition to the team’s defense for the playoffs.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Jets are seeking to win tonight’s game to even the season’s series at four games each. The last time the two played, the Jets came up with an easy 5-2 win. Jet’s captain Blake Wheeler is coming back for this game, so the Winnipeg firepower is amped up even a bit more. Should be a tough game for the Maple Leafs to win.
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