Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Tavares, Mikheyev, Engvall & Muzzin

The Montreal Canadiens thoroughly dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs last night to score an easy 5-2 win over the team they had also dumped from last season’s playoffs. The lead was 5-0 before the Maple Leafs offered any kind of pushback, but it was too little and too late. 

It was the Canadiens’ third win in a row and their second on back-to-back nights. Something’s changing in Montreal. The team is now 3-3-0 since Dominique Ducharme was replaced by Martin St. Louis less than two weeks ago. It shows how a team with less talent can dominate a team with – arguably – more talent.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the positives from the game but also share some of the negatives. I’ll also share news about the team as it prepares to play the Columbus Blue Jackets later today.

Item One: Both Maple Leafs Top Liners Were Outplayed

Toronto’s second line of John Tavares, William Nylander, and Alex Kerfoot has been in a bit of a funk. That was fine enough when the first line was carrying the team, but last night neither line was on its game. Auston Matthews had only one shot on the net and the top six came up empty. 

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

About the only thing the Maple Leafs won was in the faceoff circle, winning the battle 34 to 24. But, even then, the Canadiens turned faceoff wins by the Maple Leafs into odd-man rushes toward the Maple Leafs’ beleaguered goalie. It seemed as if the Maple Leafs would carry the offense for two minutes in the Montreal end of the ice, then the puck would be turned over and the Canadiens would go in alone on Petr Mrazek. Those rushes turned into scores.

The Blue and White defense didn’t keep up when it had to; and, without a potent power-play unit – no success on two tries with the man advantage – Toronto was overwhelmed.  

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Even Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was critical. He had to be throwing down a challenger for tonight when he said, “I thought that line (Tavares, Nylander, and Kerfoot) was really outworked.” Then Keefe noted the most damning comment – “most of our guys were outworked.”

Being outworked won’t carry any team far enough.

​​Item Two: Keefe Rewards the Bottom Six with More Time

As for positives, the bottom six generated more offense and was rightfully given more ice time as the game went on. Keefe’s reward led to third-period goals by both Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall. Otherwise, young goalie Samuel Montembeault would have pitched a shutout.  

Pierre Engvall Toronto Maple Leafs
Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ilya Mikheyev scored the Maple Leafs’ first goal, which had to make the monkey on his back a bit lighter to carry. After a great return to play in January, Mikheyev’s scoresheet production went AWOL. In fact, his last point was recorded three weeks ago on February 1 when he had an assist against the New Jersey Devils. On the season, the 27-year-old speedy forward and elite penalty-killer has scored eight goals and added three assists (for 11 points and a plus-5 rating) in the 20 games he’s played. 

Pierre Engvall scored the team’s second goal of the game. He, too, had been on a point-scoring drought and had gone six games without a point. On the season, the 25-year-old Swedish forward now has eight goals and 10 assists (for 18 points and a plus-2 rating) in 46 games. (from “MISERABLE MONDAY: Maple Leafs embarrassed in Montreal, Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 21/02/22).

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs have now lost four of their last six games; however, the two games they won were among their best games of the season. What we do know is that goalie Petr Mrazek paid the price for teammates’ errors. It’s not that he played well, but he might have stopped three of the five goals. However, even if he played out of his mind, the Maple Leafs would likely not have won this game. 

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The lasting concern right now is the injury and health status of Maple Leafs’ defenseman Jake Muzzin who was injured in a car-wreck-type collision during the game. Given his concussion history, the fact that he laid on the ice for a long time before he got up and skated off under his own power has to be distressing on a human level.  

I’ve seen no word yet today on his status or whether he’s still in a Montreal hospital. I’m sure his family will be anxious to see him and know that he’s OK.

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