Finally, the Toronto Maple Leafs played a strong game and kept playing that game until the final buzzer. The result was a 5-2 road victory of the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. The Maple Leafs even chased star goalie Jordan Binnington from net for the first time in a regular-season game in his NHL career after scoring 4 times on 11 shots in less than 10 minutes of the first period (actually 9:28 to be exact). Binnington had only been relieved once before: it was after giving up 5 goals on 19 shots in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Maple Leafs play on Tuesday night in Vancouver against the better-than-predicted Canucks. As the team awaits that game, in this post I want to help Maple Leafs fans keep up with news and rumors about the team.
Item One: Spezza Producing Under New Coach
Don’t look now, but Jason Spezza has scored eight points in his last nine games. Against the Blues on Saturday afternoon, Spezza scored a power play goal in the 5-2 win. Talk about not wasting time; the team was only nine seconds into the man advantage when he scored.
Fans have to give the “old guy” credit. He still has good hands, and he’s putting up points with minimum ice time. Against the Blues, he skated less than 10 minutes (9:40). He probably won’t get much of an increase in ice time regardless of his production, but maybe that’s perfect. Since Nov. 16, Spezza has eight points (three goals and five assists) in nine games.
After his error on the shorthanded, breakaway goal by the Colorado Avalanche to seal the team’s defeat in their last game, it was good to see him on the score sheet in the victory.
Item Two: Andersen Is Making the Team in Front of Him Confident
I might be alone in believing that, won or lost, it was good that Frederik Andersen played in last week’s back-to-back losses. He didn’t win either game, but his commitment to the team goes a long way towards the kind of team-first mentality I believe is needed for the Maple Leafs to make a strong playoff run.
He’s been so cool under pressure in his last games that he’s allowed the skaters in front of him to catch up and play well. That was the case against the Blues, as it’s been against other teams. He made early saves against the Blues and, in this game, it didn’t take long for the rest of the team to catch up. Regardless of his record (which is 5-5 in his last 10 games, but 5-2 in his last seven and 14-7-3 overall), he’s an elite goalie.
In the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, commentator Kelly Hrudey showed a neat sequence of the conversation between Andersen and his young defenseman Travis Dermott with Andersen giving Dermott instructions about how to play a particular situation. Dermott was harassing a Blues player, but Andersen tapped him with his stick, called him over, and gave him directions about what he should do. It was interesting to watch the goalie leader engage his young teammate.
As Andersen noted about his team, ”We played with confidence a little bit better. We had some pretty good moments and got rewarded with some of our chances.”
Item Three: Marner Is on a Point-a-Game Pace
Mitch Marner might have been out almost a month with an ankle injury, but he’s back playing at full strength. Perhaps, it’s just me, but I think he’s now playing last season’s game instead of the game he was playing prior to his injury. He’s hard on defense, stealing pucks from opponents, and seems to be looking to set up goals rather than score himself. If I’m right about what I’m seeing, it’s good to have the old Marner back.
The reward? Marner is on a point-a-game pace. He’s getting lots of action on special teams, both killing penalties and on the power play unit. After playing 20 games, he has 4 goals, 16 assists, for 20 points.
Item Four: Zach Hyman, We Missed You
Zach Hyman simply adds something to the team others do not. He scored two goals in the win over the Blues. His second goal was shorthanded and the game-winner. He plays with such dogged determination that he seems to carry others around him. The team needs that.
Item Five: Matthews Was in a Scoring Slump?
It seems funny to say about someone who’s tied for sixth in goal-scoring in the NHL (with Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand) and on a 50-goal pace, but Auston Matthews was in a goal-scoring slump. He’d gone five games without a goal, with only one assist in that stretch. However, he halted that drought in a big way against the Blues.
Matthews scored twice (one a power play goal), and you could see the relief on his face. Over the past few games, head coach Sheldon Keefe’s been encouraging Matthews to play a 200-foot game. As a fan, I can see that happening. Matthews is stronger back-checking and on faceoffs. Still, he’s the team’s best scoring option and it’s nice to see him put a couple in the net.
Item Six: What if the Maple Leafs Became Sellers?
In an interesting post, Fansided’s D.J. Llewellyn asked a question no Maple Leafs fan would have considered prior to this season, “What if the Toronto Maple Leafs become sellers?”
Not only does his question make Maple Leafs fans pause to consider the possibility that their team might not make the postseason, but it also calls to possibility what general manager Kyle Dubas might do with his team’s salary structure should he be in a position to drastically alter it.
Llewellyn made some suggestions about what he believes Dubas should do, and it seems to land on the defense. He believes the team should trade all the players on expiring contracts. That means dumping both Tyson Barrie and Jake Muzzin. Both might be great players, but they’d likely want to test the free-agent market, anyway. He also believes getting rid of Cody Ceci is a must.
Although he doesn’t believe the team would get much for either player because they’ll become unrestricted free agents, something is better than nothing. And, loading up on high-draft picks or young roster players could be possible.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As noted, the team has three more games on their road trip. These are against the Canucks, the Calgary Flames, and the Edmonton Oilers. It’s a tough swing, but the team couldn’t have started better than they did against the Blues.
Can they get on a roll on the road? If so, they’ll be set up well for the continued push they need to get back in the middle of the playoff hunt.