The Toronto Maple Leafs are enjoying a much needed and well-deserved break. Toronto played 10 games in 18 days to start the season. They’ve earned a four-day break before getting back to work against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Head coach Sheldon Keefe likes what he sees, “In relation to the 10 games, we obviously feel really good about the results that we’ve gotten. As I said before, we still think we’ve got a lot of areas we can continue to get better in. That’s exciting for us as a team. We’ve got a chance here now to take a bit of a breath, four days off.”
Battle in Alberta
Toronto produced an impressive 7-2-1 record in the first month, including grabbing seven of a possible eight points during the last week in Alberta. However, the week started off with a costly win. Jack Campbell, who has been proving he is a competent backup goalie, suffered an injury during the 3-2 win over Calgary on Sunday afternoon. He got up slowly and was grimacing in pain for the final minutes of the contest. The Flames Matthew Tkachuk certainly didn’t help matters when he puts both knees into the back of Campbell during a scrum around the net. The Leafs didn’t acknowledge the play as anything significant.
Tkachuk was quite vocal about the incident when he was asked about it later. While fan forums were calling for revenge, the Leafs continued to downplay it. During the next game, Wayne Simmonds didn’t go after him; there wasn’t even any overly aggressive battles in the corners or in front of the net with Tkachuk. Everything was cordial as the Leafs recorded the 4-3 win. Then the final horn sounded, Jake Muzzin flipped the puck into the chest of Tkachuk. It sent Tkachuk into a rage. Muzzin moved up in the fan favourite books, and both teams’ fans circled the next meeting – February 22.
The Maple Leafs then went to Edmonton to face the Oilers for the third and fourth time this season. Both games were fun to watch, much more entertaining than the first two meetings of the season. Toronto won one and lost one in overtime and the highlight reels filled up. Connor McDavid, who scored the goal of the year against Toronto last season, has an early candidate for this season’s highlight goal with a coast-to-coast beauty. Toronto’s puck wizards, Matthews and Mitch Marner answered with a highlight-reel goal of their own.
Wayne Simmonds scored in three straight games in Alberta. Simmonds has been a welcome addition to the powerplay; Marner says Simmonds has a plan. “He’s told me about five times, don’t be afraid to shoot at his chest. He’s not lying either. He will eat it off the chest, bounce down and get a second opportunity and he doesn’t care.” The front of the net is now dubbed Wayne’s World.
Speaking of Marner, he had another solid week to cap off an impressive month. Marner was leading the league in scoring at one point during the week. He’s scored 14 points in 10 games.
Reverse Retro Reveals New Leaders
The Maple Leafs played their first of six games this season wearing the Reverse Retro jerseys. They were not accepted by a loud majority of fans when they were unveiled. What started as a mild dislike turned into hate during the game. I agree that the colour scheme, dark grey on dark blue, made it very difficult to make out the numbers.
After a lot of squinting at the screen, it was realized that the “A” was on two different players. Jake Muzzin and Zach Hyman had the leadership letters. Keefe says this was the plan even before training camp, “my take on last season and getting to know the players and getting to know our leadership group, it’s very clear that Hyman and Muzz are both big parts of our core, big parts of our leadership group. I think our established captains recognize that as well. This just was an opportunity to recognize that.”
The Week Ahead
Toronto may be on a break, but don’t expect Keefe to take it easy on them, “we expect to bring it to another level when we come back to play after this break.” Next up for the Maple Leafs is a three-game set against the Vancouver Canucks starting on Thursday. The Canucks are the only North Division team Toronto hasn’t played yet this season.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.