Well, it seems like it’s been forever since the Toronto Maple Leafs took to the ice in a regular season game, however the team last played on Dec. 14 before the NHL took a short break to try and control the COVID outbreak that seemingly took over the league.
But, with new protocols in place and clubs south of the border already getting back to playing, the Maple Leafs took on the Ottawa Senators on New Years Day in front of nearly no fans at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
While the Senators were without Josh Norris, the team came out and looked rusty, taking far too many penalties and giving the Maple Leafs far too many opportunities.
Still, it wouldn’t be a Maple Leafs game without it being broken down and analyzed a little further. So, with that in mind, here’s what we can take away from the Maple Leafs’ lopsided 6-0 win over the Senators.
Maple Leafs’ Mikheyev a Spoonful of Talent
After breaking his finger in his final preseason outing, Ilya Mikheyev played in just his second game this season with the Maple Leafs on Saturday. He patrolled the team’s third line most of the night with Ondrej Kaše and David Kämpf.
In fact, he finished the game having played over 16 minutes, with four minutes of power play time and nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. He had a team-high seven shots on goal – and, oh yeah, he finished the game with two goals as well.
Mikheyev’s play didn’t just start and end with the goals however. He played some of his best hockey since going down with the gruesome wrist injury in his rookie season that sidelined him the remainder of that year.
While we’re not fully aware of where it came from, Mikheyev seemed to play with a high level of confidence against the Senators which should play into his favour. He’s a player that feeds off of the positive energy and can skate like the wind – something he showed on Saturday earning himself a number of dangerous opportunities and partial breaks throughout the night.
Obviously it’s far too early to tell, but Mikheyev looks like he could be fully back to form and if he continues to play with that kind of confidence, this is a player that could put up some key offence for this team – even if it means playing on the third line.
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Stands Tall
With Mikheyev taking care of business on the offensive side of the puck, Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jack Campbell was able to focus on his job and secure the team a shutout – his fourth of the season.
The win also secured Campbell his 16th win of the season, and dropped his numbers to a .939 save percentage and a 1.86 goals against average. Even with the lack of shots for the Senators the mental drive for Campbell to stay committed to his game proved admirable as he was able to help the Maple Leafs grab the two points.
Of those 23 shots, Campbell saw five high-danger opportunities and nine medium danger opportunities, making up 65 percent of the total shots he faced on Saturday. As for the Senators, they didn’t record a shot on goal until 10:47 into the first frame.
There is still a ton of hockey to be played, but it’s safe to say that Campbell has earned the respect of the league as a starting gosling in the NHL and he should get consideration for the Vezina if the season continues to unfold the way it has.
Maple Leafs’ Brodie Leaves His Mark
Finally, it wouldn’t be right to walk away without recognizing what TJ Brodie did on Saturday night. The rarely offensive, defensive-minded specialist led the Maple Leafs in making sure that pucks weren’t finding their way through onto Campbell.
Brodie played just under 20 minutes. In that time, he broke up a number of plays in his own end, but in doing so, added some offence to the Maple Leafs which came as a nice surprise to those who know what Brodie’s game is all about.
Still, the veteran defenceman scored a nice wrap around goal on Matt Murray to go along with his two assists that came on the Maple Leafs first two goals and it marked the second game in a row that Brodie scored. That coming after he went 46 games without a goal prior to Dec. 14 against the Oilers.
Regardless, one of his assists came off a strong defensive play in which he blocked the pass across in the defensive end which is always a nice way to see a player get on the scoresheet and that comes while he was still expected to kill penalties – seeing over two minutes of penalty kill time.
These are the players the Maple Leafs want to see and need to see contributions from moving forward, however, if in fact they want to shed the first-round curse.
Also Worth Noting…
Alex Biega played in his first game with the Maple Leafs. The 33-year-old played 13:53, including 39 seconds on the penalty kill and finished with a blocked shot, a shot on goal and three hits. No news is good news and Biega flew under the radar against the Senators.
The Maple Leafs’ captain John Tavares notched an assist in his 900th career regular season game in the NHL. That, along with his 73 percent success rate in the face-off dot, Tavares did a number of other good things on the ice to show just how valuable he still is after 900 games played.
Nick Ritchie was a healthy scratch against the Senators, making room for Mikheyev in the lineup and starting speculation as to just what his future looks like in blue in white with the team getting healthy.
The Maple Leafs opened the scoring with two straight shorthanded goals from Mikheyev and Justin Holl. The Holl haters won’t like that he got on the board, but it was promising to see the Maple Leafs make some big stops on the penalty kill and get those opportunities.
As for what’s next for the Maple Leafs, stay tuned as postponements are still an issue in the NHL for now. But here’s to hoping that hockey is back and the regular season can be played out as planned this season.
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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.