Maple Leafs Commentary: Tavares, Campbell, Liljegren, Muzzin & Kerfoot

Looking back at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ game against the Washington Capitals, a number of players stood out for the team. In this post, we’ll take a look at who these players are and comment on their play.

Comment One: John Tavares Might Break His Career-Best Assist Season

John Tavares’ three assists in the Washington game give him 46 assists on the season. That’s just four assists shy of the most assists he’s had in a single season. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Exactly 10 seasons ago, Tavares registered 50 assists (in the 2011/12 season). His three points during the Capitals’ game also give him 72 points in 73 games. He’s bumping into the point-a-game pace.

Comment Two: Jack Campbell Was Good Enough to Get the Win

Jack Campbell didn’t have to be great in Thursday’s game to get the win. It had to be difficult for him to find his game in this one because the Capitals only had five shots on net at the halfway point of the game. 

Related: 7 Cool Facts About Maple Leafs’ Goalie Jack Campbell

Campbell did give up three goals on 19 shots in the last half of the game; however, with the exception of the John Carlson goal which made the score 2-1 at that time, the game was well in hand when the Capitals scored their last two goals.

Comment Three: Timothy Liljegren Had Two Very Different Games

In the 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Timothy Liljegren might have had his best game. He also might have been the best player on the ice for the Maple Leafs. He made a strong case in that game to be in the starting lineup for the playoffs.  

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, his showing in the Capitals game was a different story. He was the only player to be a minus-two in a game his team won 7-3. Liljegren was caught in the no man’s land of indecision on the Tom Wilson goal. He also had Nic Dowd covered but then left him open in front of the net on the Capital’s third goal. 

Related: 4 NHL Backup Goalies Who Should Be Starters

In the Sabres game, it seemed everything went right for the 22-year-old. That wasn’t the case in the Capitals game. Liljegren had a hard time getting the puck to settle down for him in this game. It appears that the battle for the sixth and last defensive roster spot in the playoffs is between Liljegren and Justin Holl.  

Comment Four: Jake Muzzin’s “Ailment” Flares Up Again

Muzzin has had his moments since coming back from his multiple concussions, but overall there just seems to be something lacking in his game. He got beaten badly on the John Carlson goal and only played 15:52 in this game after sitting out the Sabres game.  

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Muzzin did have three hits and a blocked shot in this game. Still, he didn’t seem to be the Muzzin who’s been the best overall defenseman on this team the past two seasons. Today, it was announced that Muzzin has an undisclosed “ailment” and won’t play this weekend. Head coach Sheldon Keefe said it is the same reason why he missed the Buffalo game and was not related to his concussion.

Comment Five: A Physical Fourth Line Took the Ice

Coach Keefe sat Jason Spezza and Nick Abruzzese in the Capitals game in favor of the more physical duo of Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford. He obviously expected the game to be a more physical affair. Good thinking.

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The fight between Clifford and Wilson after Wilson’s collision with Campbell and the way Simmonds went after Wilson later in the game showed that Keefe was correct in his assessment.

But, overall the fourth line did not fare that well in the game. While they were on the ice at five-on-five, the Capitals had 82 percent of the expected goals and 75 percent of the high-danger scoring chances.

Related: 50 in 50 for Mike Bossy

It appears to us that the optimum fourth line for the Maple Leafs is Colin Blackwell, Spezza, and Simmonds. However, for that line to work both Spezza and Simmonds will have to step up and perform as well as they did in last season’s playoffs.

Comment Six: Is Alex Kerfoot Dealing with Something?

Kerfoot had a curious night against the Capitals. He appeared to be healthy and playing well; however, he didn’t get a point in the game. Still, his analytics was solid and he had 85 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five when he was on the ice, and the Maple Leafs had four high-danger scoring chances to zero for the Capitals with Kerfoot playing.  

Kerfoot played the second-fewest minutes (10:10) for the team during the game. Simmonds played more than Kerfoot (11:00 minutes). Kerfoot’s minutes were spread evenly over the game. He played 3:41 in the first period, 3:26 in the second, and 3:03 in the third.  

Alex Kerfoot Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Kerfoot, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We can’t help but wonder if Kerfoot might be dealing with something. It will be interesting to see if anything is mentioned about why his ice time was limited.

What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs play a quick back-to-back starting with the Ottawa Senators tonight on the road and returning to play the New York Islanders on Sunday night in Toronto. 

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Given the line combinations during Friday’s practice, the fourth line is returning to its regular configuration of Clifford-Blackwell-Spezza. Nick Abruzzese and Simmonds will likely sit. With Muzzin out, the defensive pairings will be Morgan Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin, T.J. Brodie and Justin Holl, and Mark Giordano and Liljegren.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]