The Toronto Maple Leafs lost in regulation for the first time since March 19, when the Montreal Canadiens beat them 4-2 last night in Montreal. It was the team’s first loss in almost a month. The team not only lost the game, but after the game there was an argument over whose fault the loss is. At least two people lined up to take the blame.
First, as is his way, starting goalie Jack Campbell took the blame when he noted, ”I just think the guys deserved to win. I’m pretty embarrassed by my effort to be honest. It’s just not good enough and it cost us the game.”
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In truth, Campbell’s been playing to a bit less of a higher standard than he had been; however, in his previous game the team bailed him out. This time, it couldn’t. On the whole, the team’s defensive play wasn’t up to its season’s standards and it showed. Even Justin Holl, who’s been strong all season, blinked under the Canadiens pressure. In the end, Campbell’s NHL record of 11 straight wins to start a season will remain stuck on 11. Still, that’s not too shabby.
Second, Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe admitted that “We clearly just weren’t ready to go today and that’s my job. It’s the coach’s job to get the team ready to play and we weren’t ready to play. So that one falls on me.” Yes, but the players also know the deal. Is the fact that the team only got three shots on net in the first period the coaches fault? I think not.
In the end, the Maple Leafs were on a nice run since mid-March; they played a good NHL team away from home and didn’t play particularly well; and they lost. Seems to me that’s no one’s fault in particular. In hockey, even good teams lose.
The Good News for the Maple Leafs?
First, the team could have folded after being overwhelmed in the first period – it didn’t. The players generated enough firepower to come back to tie the game, but just didn’t have enough.
Third, the team plays again quickly. It gets tested yet again tonight back in Toronto and there’s a chance that newly-acquired goalie David Rittich might play against his old, well-rested Calgary Flames’ team. The Flames should be confident. They’re coming off perhaps their best win of the season with a 5-0 shutout in the Battle of Alberta against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
If Rittich is in net, that could be fun. On the schedule, given the traveling and the back-to-back, it’s one of those games that stacks up to be a tough game for the Maple Leafs. It will be a chance to see what the team is made of.
In the remainder of this post, I’ll take a look at some of the individual players’ performances from the game and comment on where things are at this point in the season.
Item One: Jack Campbell’s Winning Streak Finally Is Over
Campbell stopped 21 of 24 shots in the team’s 4-2 loss to Montreal on Monday night. It wasn’t enough. Coming off an NHL-record-setting 11 wins in a row to open an NHL season, Campbell and the Maple Leafs finally were defeated when the Canadiens’ Josh Anderson busted the 2-2 tie when the Canadiens broke out on a 2-on-1 rush in the latter part of the second period.
In truth, it was Campbell’s second mediocre game in a row and he’s given up eight goals in those two games. That said, he still retains a goals-against-average of 1.98 and a save percentage of .930 in his 12 games during the 2020-21 season. That’s strong and there’s little chance he won’t be the starter until Frederik Andersen’s lower-body injury is healed (perhaps even past then).
The Canadiens had entered last night’s game in a slump, losing four of their past five games and only scoring 10 goals in those games. You wouldn’t have known that last night. They simply overwhelmed the Maple Leafs during the first period. Still, thanks to Matthews and John Tavares second-period goals, the team battled hard to tie the game. They couldn’t hold on.
Item Two Auston Matthews Just Keeps on Scoring
Matthews scored yet again and is now up to his 32nd goal of the season. He’s on a great streak – scoring at least one goal in five straight games. Once again, an assist from partner Marner set Matthews up. This goal was Matthews’ 11th in his last nine games and extended his point streak to five games (he’s totalled eight goals and three assists in those games).
One reason the 23-year-old sniper is flying on the stats sheet is that his shooting percentage is the best of his NHL career at 20.1 percent. He now has 32 goals in 39 games for the season.
Item Three: John Tavares Scores Third Goal in His Last Five Games
It’s good to see John Tavares scoring again. His backhanded goal on a scramble last night was the third in his last five games. He’s now up to 13 goals and 21 assists (for 34 points) in 42 games.
Item Four: Nick Robertson Plays His Second Game of the Season
It’s been a tough season for young Nick Robertson. After making the team out of the preseason training camp, he played only one NHL game and suffered a knee injury on his very first shift. He landed on the long-term injured reserve, rehabbed the knee, played with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies (scoring three goals and seven assists in 14 games), and finally got a chance to suit up for the Maple Leafs last night.
Last night, the 5-foot-9 Roberson played just over eight minutes on the bottom six and showed well early in the game. His speed helped him beat opponents to the puck during the start of the game when the Maple Leafs were rolling their lines.
It’s not likely Robertson will play much with the Maple Leafs during the remainder of the season once the new players coming via trade are able to play. He’s likely to play with the Marlies for the remainder of the 2020-21 regular season at least.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
As this post goes to press, the last word was that Rittich might be the starting goalie against the Flames tonight but that wasn’t confirmed. If so, that will make this difficult back-to-back more interesting. As I’ve noted before, I think Rittich is a good pick up for the team. “Big-Save Dave,” as his nickname suggests, is only a year away from an NHL All-Star Game appearance. He’s also a bit of a fun guy who’ll add to the team’s general sense of good. I’ve liked him as a player.
Good luck to him whenever he suits up in Blue and White for the first time. My research tells me that Jiri Crha is the only other goalie the Maple Leafs have had from the Czech Republic. Crha played 69 games for the team from 1979-81 and put together a 28-27-11 record with a goals-against-average of 3.97.
I’m looking forward to the game tonight.
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