It was a different night, a different team, a different city, and thankfully a different result for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a poorly-played first game of the season in Montreal against their Original Six rival Canadiens, the Maple Leafs returned home and nursed out a 3-2 win against a far superior team than the Canadiens – the Washington Capitals.
The win calms things down a bit in Blue and White Nation. That said, there’s still a long way to go this season. In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the players who played well in last night’s game. I’ll also include some news emerging from the team.
Item One: John Tavares Has Strung Together Two Solid Games
A week ago, the word was that John Tavares would not currently be playing and might not be for two more weeks. Not only is he playing, but he played really well for the second game in a row. In last night’s game, Tavares’ goal was scored with the man advantage.
It was Tavares’ second-straight solid game; and, although his oblique injury affected his upper body, it did nothing to his hands. They are still the hands of a goal-scorer. Tavares now has registered three points (a goal and two assists) in his first two games.
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So far in these two games, it seems as if Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is making some changes to support Tavares’ second line differently this season. With a more trustworthy bottom six, coach Keefe has been giving Tavares’ line more offensive-zone starts.
Starting in the offensive zone does two things for Tavares and the team. First, it takes advantage of his prowess in the face-off circle. Last night Tavares took 17 faceoffs and won 12 of them. Second, it covers for his declining speed as he’s aging.
It will be interesting if this deployment continues to see how Tavares’ scoring will be impacted. Can he hit the point-a-game pace for the fifth time in his career? He did it three times with the New York Islanders and during his first season in 2018-19 with the Maple Leafs.
Item Two: Mitch Marner Is on Top of His Game Already
Although he’s only totalled a single assist in each of the first two games, Mitch Marner is all over the ice. His defensive anticipation last night was on full display and he’s driving the offense. He even fired five shots at the opposition net.
It seems as if the decision Marner made last season to shoot more has remained part of his game this season. Given what happened last season, that bodes well for his first line. Look for Marner to put together another solid scoring season, which will probably total over 100 points when all is said and done.
Item Three: Ilya Samsonov Beats His Former Team for First Maple Leafs Win
If revenge was on his mind, the schedule set that scenario up perfectly. However, after the game had ended and Samsonov spoke to the media, he certainly downplayed that aspect of the game. It was in the past. So much for that storyline.
That made the storyline probably exactly what it should have been. Samsonov played well in the team’s home opener and carried the Maple Leafs to a win. On the night, he faced 26 shots and stopped 24 of them. Only one of those shots was one he’d probably like to get back.
Most impressive about Samsonov’s performance was that, after his team fell behind 2-1, he simply buckled down (as did the team) to stop everything else thrown his way. The team stood firm in front of him to allow newcomer Calle Jarnkrok to tie the game. Auston Matthews won the game with his first goal of the season.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs obviously believe they found a good player in this season’s NHL Entry Draft with their 38th pick overall. Yesterday, the team signed Fraser Minten to a three-year entry-level contract.
Minten has been impressive in his brief time playing in the team’s various camps. He’s intelligent on and off the ice, and he’s physically mature. Although he’ll play once again with the Kamloops Blazers, he’s currently out waiting for his wrist injury to heal.
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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