In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, we’ll look at some of the key players during the 7-4 comeback victory over the Detroit Red Wings. We’ll also look at what might happen as the team moves forward during the season and – more specifically with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner – their place on the franchise record books.
Item One: Michael Bunting Is in the Calder Trophy Race
Michael Bunting is in the midst of the Calder Memorial race for the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. He’s fourth in points with 27. That ties him with Anton Lundell, two points behind Moritz Seider, five behind Trevor Zegras, and eight behind Lucas Raymond. He’s tied with Zegras for second in goals by a rookie with 12 goals, which is only a single goal behind Raymond, who has 13.
There’s still half a season to go. With the hat trick last night Bunting has five goals and three assists for eight points in his last eight games. If he can stay hot, the Maple Leafs could possibly end up with the top rookie scorer.
We doubt that Bunting has a chance to win the Calder Trophy because of his age. In addition, the fact he generally plays with two of the best players in the NHL in Matthews and Marner will work against him.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Moves Past Phil Kessel into 20th in Franchise Scoring
With Auston Matthews’ two assists last night, he moves past Phil Kessel into 20th in all-time scoring for the Maple Leafs. Matthews now has 224 goals and 171 assists (for 396 points) in 371 games played. Just ahead of Matthews in 19th place is Gary Leeman with 407 points and Ian Turnbull with 414.
With 42 games remaining to be played this season, if Matthews remains healthy he could catch the legendary Syl Apps, who has 432 points. Once Matthews passes Apps, he’ll find himself in real legendary company. The next three scorers on the Maple Leafs’ franchise list are Wendel Clark (441), Doug Gilmour (452), and Tim Horton 458.
Related: Buffalo Sabres’ History with Canada
Matthews is also closing in on the top 10 all-time Maple Leafs’ goal scorers as well. His 224 goals put him only six fewer than 10th place Ted (Teeder) Kennedy at 230. In ninth place is Bob Pulford with 251 goals.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Retains His Hot Hand
Mitch Marner kept his hot point-scoring streak going with a typical Marneresque assist on Bunting’s hat-trick goal. He also added an empty-net, power-play goal to finish the night with two points, which gives him five goals and four assists in his last five games.
After having a so-so start to the season, Marner is almost back to a point-a-game pace. He now has 30 points in 31 games. In addition, he’s also scored goals in his last five games, which is the longest goal-scoring streak in his career.
Marner had two four-game goal streaks previously, both during the 2018-19 season. He scored six goals in four games between December 15 and December 22, 2018. He then scored four goals in four games between January 10 and January 17, 2019.
Marner sits just three spots behind Matthews in 23rd place in all-time Maple Leafs’ franchise scoring with 114 goals and 274 assists (for 388 points) in 386 games played. The two players in front of him are John Anderson with 393 points and Phil Kessel with 394. It seems only a matter of time before Marner enters the top 20 all-time.
Item Four: Rasmus Sandin Scores His First Season’s Goal
Rasmus Sandin, who was the only Maple Leafs’ regular skater to not have scored a goal this season, broke through with the game-winner at 17:09 of the third period. As the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasters noted, it’s the first goal Sandin had scored in two years. In fact, the announcers noted it was two years to the day.
In double-checking, according to Hockey Reference, it was actually two years and two days. His last goal was scored on January 27, 2019, when he also added an assist in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators. It was Sandin’s second regular-season goal of his career in his 71st career game. He also has scored a single playoff goal in five postseason games.
Item Five: Justin Holl’s Better Self Is Showing Up on Defense
Funny game NHL hockey. Justin Holl has played two strong games since coming off of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. He and Sandin have been the Maple Leafs’ best defensive pairing during the last two games. The usually steady pairing of Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie has had two up-and-down games, while Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren have seen limited ice time.
Liljegren played only 5:21 in the Anaheim Ducks game for precautionary reasons after taking a blow to his head after a fall. Dermott’s ice time has been limited by Maple Leafs’ head coach Keefe, who’s leaning more on Rielly, Brodie, Holl, and Sandin.
Item Six: Petr Mrazek Wins in a Struggle
Petr Mrazek had a mixed game last night. He struggled with puck control and was beaten on two clean, unscreened shots. However, he came up big with some strong saves to hold the Red Wings at four goals and gave his team an opportunity to get back into the game. They did.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price
Mrazek was also a little lucky later in the game when a puck he got a piece of first appeared to have gone in and out of the net. However, the replay showed it went off the crossbar. Mrazek finished the game with 31 saves on 35 shots for a .886 save percentage.
In his six Maple Leafs starts this season, Mrazek has a .896 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 3.20. Despite those numbers, he has a 4-2 won/loss record. In the six games he’s played, he’s given up 18 goals; however, the Maple Leafs have scored 23. We guess that’s called “goal support.”
Item Seven: The New Line Combinations
When Bunting scored to make it 3-2, Bunting, Mikheyev, and Kampf were on a line together immediately following an unsuccessful Maple Leafs’ power play. On the next shift, Keefe reunited John Tavares, William Nylander, and Alex Kerfoot. He then followed that shift with Matthews, Marner, and Bunting. The lines remained that way for the rest of the game.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The team plays a home-and-home, back-to-back two-game series against the New Jersey Devils before Matthews and goalie Jack Campbell head to the All-Star game. The other team members get the remainder of the week off.
Campbell is expected to start Monday night, with Mrazek jumping back in on Tuesday in New Jersey. Jake Muzzin’s concussion seems to be progressing, and he could get the go-ahead to play in both games. We will have to wait on that news from the team.
If Muzzin does return Monday night, we’d like to see Keefe stick with the Holl/Sandin pairing, and put Muzzin back with Liljegren like they were when Holl was out. This move would give the Maple Leafs a first-pairing in Rielly/Brodie and then a 2A and a 2B with Holl/Sandin and Muzzin/Liljegren.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
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