Toronto Hockey Now
Five Maple Leafs Takeaways: The Leafs are now Road Warriors
The Toronto Maple Leafs won their seventh straight road game Sunday, taking a 5-1 decision at the Anaheim Ducks. The Maple Leafs have won nine of their past 10 games overall and have claimed top spot in the Atlantic Division.
At the same time, amid all of these wins, the Maple Leafs are giving head coach Sheldon Keefe some areas in which improvement is still needed.
“I thought we regrouped after the first period,” said Keefe. “I thought Anaheim was definitely the better team in that first period. We were able to regroup and find our game in the second.”
“Jack Campbell was great, all the way throughout,” Keefe continued. “Certainly a lot more volume than we would have liked, but we defended pretty well tonight, kept things to the perimeter, and limited rebound opportunities and such.”
“A great road trip for us,” Keefe said about Toronto’s four straight wins. “It’s been a great November. You know, the calendar is going to turn here after we get home from a long trip and have a really good team waiting for us, so we’ve just got to focus on every single day and that’s what we’ll do.”
The Maple Leafs are on a good run and coming home to face the Colorado Avalanche will be a good test. This is a Maple Leafs team that is surely ready to take on some tough tests.
To the takeaways…
1. Michael Bunting back in fine form on top line
The rookie winger had been moved down the lineup for a little bit and he was still his tenacious self, agitating opponents and crashing the net, but he has returned to the left wing spot on the top line and he is producing. On this four-game road trip, Bunting has six points (2 G, 4 A) and 12 shots on goal. With 14 points on the season, Bunting is tied for second among rookies in scoring.
“I hang out with both of those guys pretty often off the ice, so to play with them on the ice, it’s a lot of fun,” said Bunting about linemates Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. “I just try to get open, try to retrieve pucks, and let them play with their magic. Right now we’re rolling and hopefully we can keep that going.”
2. Jack Campbell’s run is unsustainable, isn’t it?
There was some question at the start of the season about whether the 29-year-old would be capable of handling a starting role, for the first time in his career. Having never played more than 31 games in a season, and having battled some injuries last season, Campbell was not a proven starting goaltender. He had played well, shown some promise, but it was fair to have questions.
There is not much to question now, since Campbell is rocking a .946 save percentage in 18 games. That is obviously a very small sample and there is a long list of goaltenders that have run hot streaks for 20 games without it mattering much in the long run, but it is difficult to watch Campbell’s play right now and expect it to fall off dramatically. Of course, he can’t keep a .946 save percentage over a full season, but Campbell has allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of his past 11 starts. His consistency has been remarkable, and he has been durable when the Maple Leafs desperately need him to be durable.
3. Auston Matthews going where he needs to go to score
The league’s leading goal scorer last season is not getting goals on his vaunted wrist shot from distance. But that does not mean he’s not scoring. Matthews has nine goals and 60 shots on goal in the past 14 games. He is using his size to get positioning in front of the net and, going to those dirty areas, he will take the tips, deflections, and rebounds that come with it. They all count and don’t have to be rocket wrist shots from the top of the circle.
“I like to think I can score from different areas,” said Matthews. “A lot of times when it’s not going in from outside, you just got to get to the net and I have been fortunate to get a couple of good bounces, a couple of good tips, and able to cash in on some plays.”
4. Maple Leafs centre Jason Spezza played in his 1,200th regular season game
It really has been a blessing for the Maple Leafs that they have been able to count on Spezza coming in and giving them a legitimate fourth-line threat. He does not play a lot. Yet he creates chances and, every so often, shows that he still has the playmaking chops. Spezza has a modest seven points (4 G, 3 A) in 23 games but continues to be great value on a league minimum contract.
5. There is real value to the Maple Leafs’ depth
There have been stretches in which Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds were difference makers on the fourth line. The Maple Leafs have been able to move players around the lineup when needed. But they also get reliable third pair defence on a consistent basis from Rasmus Sandin. They get solid defensive play from Pierre Engvall. Sure, the big names matter but it most definitely helps when the guys on the lower half of the depth chart can contribute, too.
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