To continue their run atop the NHL’s North Division, the Toronto Maple Leafs entered Saturday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers in what could’ve been considered a must-win. Returning to the lineup, were players like Jack Campbell, Jake Muzzin and Joe Thornton. The Maple Leafs, however, did have to take on Connor McDavid without their top goal scorer – Auston Matthews – as he was out of the lineup battling a wrist injury.
The Maple Leafs were able to hold McDavid and company at bay as the Oilers continue to chase them in the division standings, and came out on top of the Oilers with a 4-0 shutout win.
While it’s just one game – and two points – in a much bigger picture for the Maple Leafs, the win could be looked back upon when and if the Maple Leafs are able to win the North Division at season’s end. With that, here’s a look at some of the takeaways we had from their Saturday night victory.
Maple Leafs Without Matthews
For just the second time this season, the Maple Leafs took to the ice without their leading goal scorer and the NHL’s leading goal scorer in Matthews. Through 20 games this season the 20-year-old has 18 goals and 31 points – sitting second on the Maple Leafs in scoring behind Mitch Marner.
While he’s a major cog in the offensive machine that is the Maple Leafs, the team is 21-12-2 since 2016 without Matthews in the lineup. There’s no indication how long Matthews will be missing from the Maple Leafs lineup, but it’s safe to say the team should be okay in the meantime.
As for what Matthews means to the team – even off the ice – TSN’s Kristen Shilton reported that Campbell said that Matthews was a big motivator following the team’s win.
“Losing Auston is a huge blow, but it was a great opportunity for all of us to come together and go out there and try to take two points from a good team. Auston was fired up in the room after,” said Campbell.
Campbell Allowed Jack in Return
As for Campbell, he made his return to the lineup and it was a spectacular one at that. Campbell stopped all 30 shots he faced and recorded his third shutout since the 29-year-old came into the league in 2013-14.
In three games this season, Campbell has a 3-0-0 record, a 1.33 goals against average (GAA) and a .951 save percentage (SV%) while posting Saturday night’s shutout.
While there was a short moment where Maple Leafs fans collectively held their breath – following Tyler Ennis running into Campbell at the side of the Maple Leafs’ net, the Maple Leafs’ backstop was seemingly okay to continue in the game and earn himself the shutout.
The Maple Leafs also helped their goaltender by not taking any penalties and blocking 12 shots in the process.
Hyman Never Quits
Zach Hyman was another standout for the Maple Leafs in this one. Not simply because of his goal, which gives the 28-year-old 11 points in 19 games this season. But it was everything he was able to do while playing slightly injured himself.
“He’s going through a lot of discomfort and he’s able to get through it,” said Sheldon Keefe about Hyman, according to Shilton. “He’s going to be fine to play today and I think we all know that when he puts his jersey on he plays the same way no matter what. That’s what we’ve come to expect.”
Playing through discomfort, Hyman was able to tally the goal, record four shots on goal, have a hit and a blocked shot in 20 minutes of ice-time. It was the intangibles that made him such an asset in this game and it’s why he’s become such a valuable piece to the Maple Leafs. He led all Maple Leafs forwards in ice-time on Saturday night.
Also Worth Noting…
Pierre Engvall played a career-high 18:13 on Saturday. He finished with an assist, three shots on goal and two hits and while he might not have been the top Maple Leafs forward on the ice, he’s surely making a case to stick with the big club this season.
Speaking of not-so-important numbers, plus-minus has taken a real hit when it comes to it’s overall importance in recent years. Still, it’s a stat that is recorded and because of that can be record-making numbers from time to time. With that, Marner finished the month of February with a plus-17 rating after going plus-one on Saturday. The mark ties a franchise record for best plus-minus in a calendar month by a forward in franchise history – tying Ron Ellis who was plus-17 in December 1970.
On top of that, the Maple Leafs improved to 16-4-2 with the win over the Oilers. the mark matches the most wins and points in the first 22 games in franchise history.
Finally, Jason Spezza scored his fifth of the year in the second period. The goal gives the 37-year-old 12 points in 21 games so far this season and ties him for 102nd on the NHL’s all-time points list. One more point with give him sole possession, passing Rick Tocchet for 102nd all-time and with just seven more points, he’ll join the top 100 highest scorers in NHL history.
With that, the Maple Leafs are back on the ice on Monday taking on these same Oilers once again.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.