Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Varlamov, Kallgren, Matthews & Simmonds

Tonight’s game that pits the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Predators on the road in Nashville should be interesting. The Maple Leafs’ star center Auston Matthews will be back from his two-game suspension and rookie goalie Erik Kallgren gets his third-straight start in the net. 

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With Matthews out of the lineup, the rest of the Maple Leafs’ players pulled up their work socks and played a defensively tight game – probably knowing that they were not going to beat anyone 7-4 with Matthews out. Kallgren helped Toronto win both those games as he provided solid goalie play. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Kallgren, Muzzin, Steeves & Simmonds

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share a rumor that the team might be interested in New York Islanders’ goalie Semyon Varlamov. I’ll also share some of the pre-game moves the team has made to get its lineup ready for tonight’s game. Finally, I’ll clear up some mystery about Wayne Simmonds status.

Item One: Are the Maple Leafs Interested in Semyon Varlamov?

A report from New York Islanders HockeyNow suggested that the Vegas Golden Knights were interested in acquiring, and the front-runners for getting, New York Islanders’ backup goalie Semyon Varlamov. That makes sense because the Golden Knights are scrambling for a playoff spot and their starter Robin Lehner either hasn’t played or, when he has, he’s been far below expectations.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
Is the New York Islanders Semyon Varlamov on the trading block?
(Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Most hockey fans and media expected that the Golden Knights would be in the thick of a playoff run, but they’ve been dealing with a myriad of injuries. Varlamov might be the tipping point the team needs to get over the top. 

Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews

That article also reported that the Maple Leafs had inquired about Varlamov. Two things might be tempering the Maple Leafs’ interest: first, the asking price is reported to be a first-round choice; second, the team might be feeling a bit more comfortable in goal with rookie Kallgren’s solid performances.

Item Two: Erik Kallgren Gets the Start Tonight

It only makes sense to me that Kallgren will get another start tonight against the Predators. It will be his third-straight start and he’s won the first two. In game one, he threw up a 35-save shutout against the Dallas Stars; and, in game two, he saved all but two of 36 shots the Carolina Hurricanes put on the net.

Erik Kallgren Toronto Marlies
Erik Kallgren, with the Toronto Marlies (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Kallgren now has a record of 2-0-1, a goals-against-average of 1.20, and a save percentage of .963. It will be his first NHL career road game and it comes against a team that isn’t scoring many goals at home. For the Maple Leafs, that could be scary. To help Kallgren in net, they need to keep up the same defensively-sound systems in place, clear the net, finish their checks, and not give up a lot of odd-man rushes. They play better against the top teams than the bottom teams.

Item Three: Auston Matthews Is Back After His Two-Game Suspension

So much has happened between last Sunday and today, but in the strong two-game stretch the Maple Leafs have engaged since he’s been watching from the press box, the potential heavy impact of Auston Matthews’ suspension eroded. 

Related: Hilary Knight Continued Record Book Climb in Big Olympic Performance

Matthews was given supplemental punishment for cross-checking the Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin during last Sunday’s Heritage Classic game. Now that his time has been served, Matthews is back on the ice. He’ll attempt to add to his NHL-leading 45 goals – two fewer than his best career total – and to his 77-point total (in 56 games played on the season).  

Matthews was penitent to a point. He admitted that he had “made a mistake and I recognize that it deserves some sort of punishment.” However, he said he “just thought two games was a lot.”

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Here’s hoping that Matthews might give up his attention for the Lady Byng Trophy. I’m not a fan of fighting but I do think that Matthews capitulates too much with the physical play that’s levelled against him. That might be a question for the postseason. He’s obviously tired of being pushed around without having those who push assess penalties. 

Sidney Crosby seems able to rise above the on-ice battles to exert his offense on the game. Seems time for Matthews to do the same. (from “Auston Matthews sent the hockey world a message with one cross-check. It could pay off in the playoffs,” Damien Cox, Toronto Star, 18/03.22).

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

There was some confusion about Wayne Simmonds’ status over the past few days but that seems to be straightened out. The 33-year-old Simmonds was placed on the NHL’s non-roster list on Thursday, which was a mystery. Yesterday Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe clarified that Simmonds had simply been made a healthy scratch.

Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price

He was in practice yesterday, but will likely not draw into the lineup today. Given that the Simmonds’ family had recently had a baby, I was worried something might be wrong. Pleased it’s only an on-ice thing. I think he’ll be more ready for the playoffs if he’s rested anyway.