There’s no dilemma for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ll visit the Detroit Red Wings tonight and the team is looking to do two things. First, it’s seeking to build some momentum after their 3-1 win against the visiting Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. Second, it’s looking to extend it’s boring, low-event hockey.
That’s exactly what Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe celebrated and called for at the exact same time. He noted that the Wild game really wasn’t that wild and that’s just what he liked.
Keefe praised his team for playing “really solid and disciplined” hockey. He went on to say that he thought the players were committed to that kind of a game. “It was a very low-event hockey game, not the most exciting game for sure. Our guys just stayed committed to it, trying to find ways to crack through offensively.”
As a result, if Keefe has his way, Maple Leafs’ fans should look for a low-scoring, event-free game that gives starter Jack Campbell time to organize his work and get comfortable in the crease.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the news emerging from the team. In fact, there’s a dynamic nature to the lineup tonight because it seems that a non-COVID illness is making its way through the Maple Leafs’ locker room and has hit a number of players. The word was that John Tavares, Pierre Engvall, Ilya Mikheyev, and Travis Dermott were all absent from practice.
As well, young Nick Robertson has been called up to play in Detroit, which is his hometown.
Item One: Nick Robertson Will Be in the Lineup Tonight
After coming back from a broken leg, Maple Leafs’ fans will get a look at young Nick Robertson tonight. He took part in the team’s practice on Friday and it looks as if he’ll be part of the team’s fourth line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds. In Robertson’s nine games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, he has scored three goals and added five assists (for eight points).
Because of the non-COVID illness going around the locker room, Robertson will take Pierre Engvall’s place in the lineup. Robertson has been hugely unlucky, which might be a reason Hayley Wickenheiser (who’s both a resident physician and the Maple Leafs’ head of player development) has encouraged Robertson to tone down his game a bit.
Robertson is now 20-years-old, and he played six games with the team last season (he registered an assist). He hasn’t hit NHL ice since; but, when he hasn’t been off with injuries, he’s been productive in the AHL. Given his recent history, his great 2019-20 season with the Peterborough Petes where he scored 55 goals in 46 games is fading a bit into the background.
Can he rediscover those scoring ways in the NHL?
Item Two: Jack Campbell Will Start Tonight
I had guessed that, in an effort to ride a hot goalie, coach Keefe would have come back with Mrazek tonight. It isn’t to be and Campbell will start. Campbell hasn’t won in his two games and has given up nine goals in 63 shots on the net. Overall, his record looks strong at 23-8-4, a goals-against-average of 2.46, and a save percentage of .920 in 37 games.
Campbell has struggled since mid-January, with a save percentage of .882 and a goals-against-average of 3.72 in his past 12 games. He’s facing a team in the Red Wings that has actually played well at home against the Eastern Conference and has an 8-4-2 record; however, they’ve also given up nine goals in their last two games – both losses.
Item Three: Several Maple Leafs’ Players Are Ill, But It’s Not COVID
It gives one a sense of the time we’re living in when there’s an announcement that players are ill; however, the add-on is that it isn’t COVID-19. As noted earlier, something’s going around the locker room.
The most recent news is that Travis Dermott was on the ice before practice but couldn’t stay. At the same time, Pierre Engvall didn’t practice. Ilya Mikheyev left the Wild game early. John Tavares is apparently the player closest to playing because it was announced that, although he missed Friday’s practice, he’d likely play tonight.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There’s still an outside chance that the Maple Leafs can claim the top seed in the Atlantic Division. But the team has to finish strong. Right now, the Maple Leafs are third in their division with 70 points. They’ve already beaten the Red Wings twice this season and have scored 12 goals in those two games.
They meet a Red Wings’ team whose coach is calling for his team to defend better and give up fewer goals. Sounds familiar to Maple Leafs’ fans, doesn’t it?
There’s been a rumor that T.J. Brodie might move back to his left side with Jake Muzzin on LTIR. The defensive pairings in Friday’s practice were Morgan Rielly with Timothy Liljegren, Brodie with Justin Holl, and Rasmus Sandin with Ilya Lyubushkin.
What might we see 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