In his edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at news emerging from the team as it heads into Minnesota to play the Wild on Saturday Night. Both teams are playing well and riding winning streaks.
For the Maple Leafs, there’s a chance to set a team record for consecutive wins on the road. The team will seek road-win number eight in a row. Three times before this season, the Maple Leafs have won seven in a row – in 2002-03, 1960-61, and 1940-41. Good luck to them on this quest.
Item One: Former Maple Leafs’ Goalie Frederik Andersen Has Lost Three Straight Games
While Frederik Andersen started this season with his new team the Carolina Hurricanes like a house on fire, it was a bit off form. He’s notoriously been a slow starter. That great start was soon coupled with suggestions that the Maple Leafs might have erred in not re-signing him. The conversation caused a minor controversy, and I responded by writing a response that the Maple Leafs were right in choosing current starter Jack Campbell instead of Andersen.
I thought I might revisit that thought a week later. Campbell has continued his winning ways, but Andersen has slowed down. Earlier this week, during Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, Andersen gave up three goals on 16 shots. (The fourth goal was into an empty net.)
The loss to the other goalie Braden Holtby, who stopped 39 of 40 Hurricanes shots, marked Andersen’s third-straight loss. His record slipped to 11-5-0, goals-against-average rose to 2.05, and save percentage fell to .928 save in 16 games.
As I noted in an earlier post, I noted that the Maple Leafs’ Campbell compares favorably with Andersen – at least to this point of the season. Being an Andersen supporter, what I’d like to see is both Campbell and Andersen do well to see Campbell beat Andersen head-to-head. Campbell now leads the NHL in three key goalie categories. He has 13 wins; his goals-against-average is 1.72; and, his save percentage is .943.
I’ll continue to monitor this comparison as the season progresses. I would guess it’s as fun for Maple Leafs’ fans to see what’s going on as it is for me to follow it.
Item Two: Is It Improved Defense, or Great Goaltending?
Speaking of goaltending, the Maple Leafs’ team defense seems even better this season than last season. Maple Leafs’ fans will recall that with the influx of T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian last season, the team’s defensive corps last season was as good as it’s been in recent memory. The defense was an area of concern after the 2018-19 season, and it was addressed well before the 2019-20 regular season.
If anything, this season’s defense is even more improved. Both Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin have played well. Add to that the increased commitment of the forward to play defensively; and, now the team has a greater chance to win games in a larger variety of ways.
That stingy defense suggests that the team is more capable of playing playoff hockey. Part of the improved team defense is probably a combination of both Campbell’s solid play and the team’s solid defense. Both feed off each other. This season, the defensive unit seems to trust the goaltending and plays with increased confidence that they can make mistakes without having them turn into goals.
Item Three: The Maple Leafs Move Up “Some” NHL Power Rankings
Recent NHL power rankings offered by different sports companies show some discrepancies in how the Maple Leafs’ success has been seen. For example, CBS Sports recently named the Maple Leafs as the best team in the NHL. But, ESPN’s power rankings placed the Maple Leafs lower.
Specifically, CBS Sports suggests that the “Toronto Maple Leafs are living up to the Stanley Cup hype through the first quarter of the season.”
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CBS’ power ranking noted that, before the season’s opening, the “Maple Leafs had some of the highest expectations of any team in the league. Forget advancing past the first round of the playoffs: the goal is a Stanley Cup parade in Toronto. Well, that goal looks to be within reach, based on how everything looks these days.”
CBS Sports added that the “Maple Leafs are on a tear. Everything from goal-scoring to goaltending is working. It’s easy to look ahead and wonder whether this team can get the postseason monkey off its back, but my advice would be to stay in the present and enjoy what the Maple Leafs are doing right now.”
CBS Sports suggested that Toronto fans who continue to hold the prevalent wait-and-see attitude dismiss regular-season success. In a tongue-in-cheek way, the reviewer noted that the team is rolling right now and wonders if fans are “supposed to sit on their hands for 82 games?” Finally adding that “Toronto is an incredibly fun team,” and “it’s OK to enjoy the journey to the postseason.”
After the Maple Leafs, CBS Sports ranks the Carolina Hurricanes second, the Edmonton Oilers third, the Tampa Bay Lightning fourth, and the Washington Capitals fifth.
On the other hand, ESPN Power Rankings rank the Hurricanes first, the Florida Panthers second, the Capitals third, the Maple Leafs fourth, and the Oilers fifth.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
On Saturday, the Maple Leafs will be seeking a team-record eighth consecutive road win against a strong Wild team. The Maple Leafs are also on a five-game winning streak and have won 15 of their last 17 games.
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In the Wild, they face a high-scoring team that’s also on its own winning streak – five games. It should be a good battle, but a tough game to win. As CBS Sports suggests, let’s enjoy the journey to the postseason.
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