In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’m going to take a slightly different approach than I usually do after games. Rather than focus on the star of the game — goalie Jack Campbell saved the Maple Leafs’ Bacon last night — I’ll look at the contributions of other players who may not have been in the spotlight during the game.
Specifically, I’ll look at the contributions of Justin Holl, Wayne Simmonds, and Ilya Mikheyev to the team. I’ll also look back at the last time the Maple Leafs played in Phoenix, in honor of head coach Sheldon Keefe’s first game with the Maple Leafs, and Pierre Engvar and Auston Matthews’ game on the night contribution.
Project One: Is Justin Hall’s Game Coming?
To say Justin Hall had a rough season would be an understatement. After being protected in the expansion draft, he has had a rough season with his defensive partner Jack Muzan. Many believe Muzin may have lost a step. Some wondered if the injury he suffered in the playoffs last season will still affect his play.
Of course, over the past few seasons, Muzin has been recognized as the best partner for this defensive duo. So, no matter how he goes, how does Hall go. Hall is healthy and has been the subject of trade rumors. It seems a lot of Maple Leafs fans have given up on him and hope he moves out of town.
Hall provided an assist for Ilya Mikheev’s second-quarter goal in last night’s 4-3 win over the Golden Knights. It was only the 29-year-old Hall’s third point of the season; however, he has scored those points in his last nine games. Obviously, this is nothing to write home about. However, this is an improvement in his play.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe credits Hall as contributing because he threw Hall on the ice more than any other Maple Leafs player. Hall recorded an ice time of 25:28, while Morgan Reilly “only” recorded 24:36. This season, Hall has 55 hits (second only to Nick Ritchie’s 77 and Muzin’s 70). Hall leads the team with 48 blocks (TJ Brody is second with 45 and Muzin is third with 44). Also, Hall has a +3 rating this season.
No. 2: Wayne Symonds has been great this season
Who really knows what they’ll get from the 33-year-old power forward when Wayne Symonds signs with the Maple Leafs last season. During his 14-year NHL career, he experienced scoring success and earned a reputation as a tough, tough client.
Symonds got off to a strong start last season, but a wrist injury sidelined him for nearly two months, setting his season back. He’s been a flexible option for head coach Keefe this season and has put up a lot of good performances. For example, during the Colorado Avalanche, he parked in front of the net and gave Nick Ritchie a crossover pass for him to hit the ball with ease.
Symonds may have lost a step; however, as far as I can tell, he still has good hands and a high hockey IQ. He’s reinvigorated his game this season and added secondary scoring. Last night, he registered an assist during the second quarter for Ilya Mikheev’s fourth goal of the season. Although he played less than nine minutes per game, he contributed during his time on the ice.
Project Three: Ilya Mikheyev is a three-line point player
Mikheev now has five points in five games, and any questions about his bad hand seem to be put on hold following his great return from a thumb injury. Mikheev scored again in last night’s win over Vegas. His goal to extend the team’s lead to 3-1 came just in time. The Golden Knights’ offense threatened to overwhelm the Leafs, but two quick goals from the Leafs — almost out of nowhere — put the team ahead.
Mikheev played a scoreless game before the Christmas break. However, in the four games since that break, he has five points (four goals and one assist). He’s playing on the third line now, but has been part of the team’s second powerhouse. He played so well that Maple Leafs fans suddenly hinted that the team won’t be able to afford him when he becomes the UFA after this season.
What’s next for Maple Leafs?
Tonight the Maple Leafs will play back-to-back against the Arizona Coyotes. It will be a comeback for Scottsdale native Auston Matthews, who grew up enjoying watching the Coyotes play. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, he chose hockey as his sport of choice.
This game will also be Michael Bunting’s return to his former team. Again, this will be Coach Keefe’s first game back in Arizona, where he coached his first NHL game on November 21, 2019. When Matthews scored in the third quarter, his team won 3-1.
However, the hero of that game was Pierre Engvar, who scored the winning goal without an assist. Since Keefe’s debut as the Maple Leafs coach, his team is 85-37-15. And, in my opinion, Keefe is improving every season as a coach.
Senior Professor (Jim Parsons, Sr.) has taught for over 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He is a Canadian boy with two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, Toronto Raptors and CFL football (think Ricky Ray is the embodiment of how a professional athlete should behave).
If you’re wondering why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son — also Jim Parsons — is hockey writer First and ask Jim Sr. to use another name so readers don’t confuse their work.
Since Jim Sr. worked in China, he adopted Mandarin to mean teacher (teacher). The first character lǎo (old) means “old” and the second character shī (teacher) means “teacher”. The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher”. This became his pen name.Today, except for hockey writer, he teaches graduate research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights on the Toronto Maple Leafs and how sports can be more fully integrated into life. His twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf