Given the state of the two franchises over the past two seasons, when Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans looked at this game on the calendar they probably would have circled it as a win for their team. And, in the end, it was. The Maple Leafs visited Buffalo to play the Sabres and went home with a 5-4 win under their belts.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news from the game. I’ll also comment on some of the choices Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe made before the game that made the game interesting. In the end, the game didn’t turn out like anyone would have drawn it up; however, as I often say, that’s what makes NHL hockey so darn entertaining.
Item One: A Blip in the Path to Becoming a Defensive First Team
For the past few games, coach Keefe has made it clear that he’s seeking low-scoring games. During the Philadelphia Flyers’ game, he preached to his team that they should be ready to win the game by a 1-0 score. In fact, looking back at the five previous games before the Sabres’ game, the team has beat some really good teams in low-scoring games.
First, they beat the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting 2-1 in overtime. Second, they handled the Bruins in Boston by a 5-2 score. In their third game, the Los Angeles Kings took it to them 5-1 when they started their game slowly and couldn’t come back. In the fourth game, they beat a strong Philadelphia Flyers’ team on the road by a 3-0 score. Then, on Friday night, they came back to beat the Flames in overtime by another 2-1 score.
Both the Kings’ game and the Sabres’ game were blips on the team’s recent record. During both games, the Maple Leafs came out so slowly that they had to work hard to come back. Against the Kings they couldn’t; but, last night during the third period after Woll gave up a couple of goals to let the Sabres tie the game, the team roared to life. Eventually, Morgan Rielly applied the bandage with 12 seconds or so left in the game.
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My point is that coach Keefe seems to be building toward a strong defensive team because he believes that’s what will win hockey games during the postseason. Second, he’s trying to build a team that competes from the first puck drop. The first goal seems to be coming along nicely; the second remains a work in progress. Because they both work together, we’ll see how both these goals proceed.
Item Two: Congratulations to Joseph Woll on His First NHL Win
To me, young goalie Joseph Woll played well enough to win his NHL debut, looked nervous but survived, and took home his first NHL victory. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. The bottom line was two positives – a win both for the Maple Leafs and Woll.
Because Woll was chosen by the Maple Leafs before I started to cover the team three years ago this week, I didn’t know his history in Buffalo. It had to be a good place for him to start his first NHL game.
Woll’s had two other positive memories in Buffalo. In 2016, during the NHL Entry Draft, the Maple Leafs chose him in the third round (62nd overall). As part of Team USA during the 2018 World Junior Championships, he helped his team win a bronze medal. This win was success number three.
Item Three: Morgan Rielly Comes to the Rescue with a Multiple-Point Game
Morgan Rielly showed up on the scoresheet at the exact right time by scoring the game-winning goal with only 12 seconds left. The goal found its way through a crowd, plunked off the crossbar, and twirled its way into the net.
That wasn’t the only time Rielly showed up in the right place at the right time. Earlier during the third period, Rielly assisted on John Tavares’ eighth goal of the season. Those two points were his first multiple-point game this season. He now has totaled 10 points (a goal and nine assists) in 16 games.
Rielly took time after the game to congratulate Holl, “The fact that he (Woll) gets to walk out of here with a win and a game puck and everything like that is awesome and he deserves it. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Item Three: Coach Keefe Finally Has His Shutdown Third Line
For the past two seasons, Keefe has desired a shutdown third line, and it seems he’s found it. Not only that, there might be interchangeable parts. The one constant is center David Kampf, who’s given tons of defensive zone starts. Pierre Engvall has been part of that line’s success recently as well.
And, until last night’s game, the line’s third member was Ondrej Kase. Against the Sabres, Alex Kerfoot moved down to partner with Kampf and Engvall. It was by far the team’s best line. Kampf doubled last season’s goal-scoring output last night with his second goal of the season. It was as slow and as strange a goal as I’ve seen in hockey.
Keefe has really come to depend on this line to shut down other teams’ offenses, and they’ve been successful. They start on the defensive side of the ice almost every chance Keefe gets. They’ve delivered. I predict Kampf will be a Maple Leafs’ player for a long time.
I know I’m anxious to see Kase play more in the top-six units; however, aside from this third goal in his last three games – which is nothing to sneeze about, the Auston Matthews and William Nylander pairing with Kase on the other wing didn’t have a great game.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
One Maple Leafs’ player who seems to fly under the radar is Kerfoot. He had two assists during last night’s game and has totaled eight points (a goal and seven assists) in his last eight games. He also seems to play well with Matthews and Nylander. That’s important.
Given the team’s salary-cap structure, I’m not optimistic about Kerfoot being with the team next season; however, he’s grown into one of my favorite players on this group. To me, he’s a keeper.
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