The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a strong start to the season, taking five of a possible six points in the team’s first three games of the season. They might have done better, but against their original-six rival the Montreal Canadiens the team seemed to run out of gas in the third period and gave up what seemed at the time to be a commanding lead.
An issue with the team was the back-to-back games, having played the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday evening then traveling home to take on the Canadiens. Still, the team gave up too many odd-man rushes, which left back-up goalie Michael Hutchinson hung out to dry on a number of occasions.
But, as I suggest, that’s one point out of six lost. There remain things to work on, but that’s a good start all in all for the team. No team goes all season without losing.
Here at NHLTradeTalk.com, we will try to put together a synthesis of Maple Leafs team news at least one time each week as a way to keep fans and our readers up-to-speed. Here’s our first installment.
Item One: Alex Kerfoot Gets First Points with Maple Leafs
Maple Leafs’ newcomer Alex Kerfoot had been held off the score sheet for the first two games of the season, but he clearly showed his scoring potential in game three against the Canadiens. He scored a goal and added two power-play assists (he’s playing regularly on the team’s second power-play unit) in the team’s 6-5 shootout loss on Saturday evening.
I personally am a Kerfoot fan for two reasons – he’s from my home province of British Columbia and he’s a Harvard grad. Having been a university professor (41 years at the University of Alberta), I like it that young people go to university and graduate even if they make millions of dollars during their brief tenure in the NHL. (Kerfoot majored in economics, by the way.)
During the 2017-18 season with the Colorado Avalanche, he set his career-high with 43 points (19 goals, and 24 assists) but he also had 42 points during 2018-19. His scoring numbers should go even higher this season with the Maple Leafs. First, the total team skill and speed is great. Second, Kerfoot gets lots of power-play minutes, which regularly puts him in offensive situations. Third, although he plays on the third line, the Maple Leafs third line could be a top-six line with most other NHL teams. He’ll rack up his 15 plus minutes per game, and that’s enough for him to score well.
Kerfoot signed a four-year, $14 million contract with Toronto early in the offseason. It looks as if the Maple Leafs plan to hold onto this young man.
Item Two: William Nylander Has a Three-Game Point Streak
The Maple Leafs’ William Nylander is showing none of last season’s rust and is looking really strong – especially, to my eyes on the fore-check. He’s also riding a three-game, point-scoring streak. In Saturday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Canadiens, he scored a power-play goal.
Nylander is playing on the Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit centered by Kerfoot, and that group is every bit as good as most other team’s first units. His goal was his first this season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t contributed to the offense. He looks both strong and quick. He also has a knack for sensing out opponent’s cross-ice passes, especially in the Maple Leafs’ offensive end, and sooner or later he’ll steal one for an easy goal.
We at NHLTradeTalk.com are pleased to see him back to his 2017-18 form. When he plays as he can, he’s one of the really good young forwards the Maple Leafs can ice.
Item Four: Auston Matthews Is Off to a Great Goal-Scoring Start
Nylander has a three-game scoring streak, but teammate Auston Matthews is doing him one better. Matthews’ streak is a three-game, goal-scoring streak. He scored twice in a 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal on Saturday night and once on a power play. On Saturday, just when the team needed some heroics, he delivered.
The 6-foot-3, 220 pound, 22-year-old center leads the NHL with five goals in three games. This season, it seems Matthews is relying on the one-timer, semi-slap shot more than he has in the past, and it looks as if his team is looking for him to cruise to the circles. He’s so quick on his release that he gives defenses no time to adjust. Unless other teams begin to defend those areas, he has a good chance of potting at least 60 goals. Of course, he needs to stay healthy.
Item Four: Morgan Rielly Is Playing in Every Situation
The Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly seems to be confidently everywhere on the ice. Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday’s first night of back-to-back games, he picked up three assists, two on the power play. He also blocked two shots, had two hits, and literally played in every situation – power play, short-handed, and five-on-five. He really looks strong.
The one thing I’ve noticed more this season than last is that he seems supremely confident controlling the puck. He easily dekes and out-manoeuvers defenders to move the puck down the ice.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
On Monday evening, the St. Louis Blues and their young goalie star Jordan Binnington visit the Maple Leafs. So far, the Blues are 1-0-1 in two games. Binnington has looked sharp so far this season. Last season, he carried the Blues from worst to first during the season’s second half, and this season he’s lost any of his game.
Monday night’s game might turn out to be a battle of the goalies – Andersen vs. Binnington. My prediction is that the Maple Leafs will win 4-2.