The Toronto Maple Leafs are in tough against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tonight both teams look to take a stranglehold on the other as they play Game 5 in Toronto. The winner is only a single victory away from moving to round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the news emerging from the team. I’ll also comment on some of the events that have transpired during the four games of the postseason for the Blue and White thus far.
Had the Maple Leafs lost Game 3 and won Game 4, there would be celebrations in the Maple Leafs’ nation. As it is, the fact that it worked the other way means that dreading is spreading among the Toronto faithful.
Tonight we’ll see what this team is made of. Even if they lose, there remains hope. Still, a loss tonight would put the Maple Leafs on the ropes.
Item One: Auston Matthews is Producing Points But Few Goals
Auston Matthews registered an assist Sunday; however, he only had one shot on goal. He’s the Rocket Richard winner for the 2021-22 season and he scored two goals during Game 1, but he hasn’t scored since.
It’s a similar story. Matthews is playing well and is a demon on defense. He also has totalled six points in four games; however, he’s not scoring. And the team could use his goal-scoring ability.
Is a pattern emerging? We haven’t heard too much about the Lightning’s work to shut down Matthews and Marner, but the Maple Leafs could use a few more goals from their top line and they aren’t getting them. If Matthews, who’s had his troubles scoring during the playoffs, can score a couple – how about the first goals of the next two games, as important as they’ve been during this series – it would surely benefit his team.
Item Two: Rasmus Sandin Is Healthy and Could Play if Needed
It looks as if Rasmus Sandin would be able to play in a postseason game if needed because his knee injury is back to full health. That said, it isn’t clear if or when he’ll be inserted back into the lineup. Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reported yesterday that Sandin would be an option if he were needed by his team.
However, given that he hasn’t practiced much and that the team’s defense seems to be holding its own – give or take an odd error – it would seem that the Swedish rookie defenseman won’t be getting into this series unless there’s an injury. The stakes are too high and he would likely need more practice time to regain his (and the team’s) comfort level.
The last game Sandin played before suffering his injury was on March 19. That’s almost two months.
Item Three: Jake Muzzin Has Miraculously Returned to His Old Form
One of the tipping points over the past two postseasons for the Maple Leafs has been the health of Jake Muzzin. He’s been one of the team’s best postseason performers; however, both against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Montreal Canadiens in recent postseasons he’s been injured. The team obviously missed him.
This regular season, Muzzin didn’t have what would be called a great season. However, come playoff time, he’s back to form and playing well. Already he’s almost tied his regular-season goal total in only four postseason games. He’s also been partnering with T.J. Brodie and that defensive pairing has been one of the best shutdown pairings the team’s seen in many seasons. That twosome is playing great hockey and has put up some strong underlying analytics. (from “Seven Musings: Leafs-Lightning series is being decided by starts and stops,” Kevin McGran, The Toronto Star, 09/05/2022).
Muzzin has two goals and an assist and he’s also added 18 hits during the four games; so, he hasn’t lost his zen for the physical game. It’s good to see him back playing well.
Item Four: The Threesome of Mikheyev, Engvall, and Kampf Are Playing Lights Out
Despite all the frustration surrounding the team, not everything is working poorly. The trio of Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall, and David Kampf is playing really good hockey. This group and other depth players gives the team great value at the team’s forward position.
All three play strong 200-foot games because of their speed and tenacity. In addition, they’re eating big five-on-five minutes because coach Keefe trusts them to be responsible in their play. They’re the perfect trio to play those tough minutes when the team’s trying to hold a lead late in the game and the Lightning are pushing hard.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Say what you like about Jack Campbell, he isn’t getting slaughtered by his opponent in goal Andrei Vasilevskiy. He had a tough Game 4 and was replaced by Erik Kallgren, but his goals-against-average is 3.53 and his save percentage is .889. In contrast, Vasilevskiy’s goals-against-average is 3.73 and his save percentage is .890.
Tonight, there’s a good chance that the best goalie wins the game. We’re hoping that it’s Campbell and that his troops rally around him to help make it happen. As in Game 3, a couple of great saves to start the game when the Lightning are pushing would go a long way to instil his confidence.
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