The performance of young teams can often confound fans, and this year’s Maple Leafs really are no different. After being outworked and outhustled in their loss at home to Carolina last week, the upstart Buds turned around and held Alex Ovechkin and the powerhouse Capitals in check in a 4-2 win at the ACC Saturday night.
Frustrating as it is to see this team play in its own end most nights, getting to watch Auston Matthews, William Nylander (who sat out Saturday with a mysterious injury) and Mitch Marner more than makes up for it. Matthews (9-8-17) snapped his 13-game goal-less drought last week, and now sits a point behind Marner (7-11-18) and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine in rookie scoring.
Now, the Leafs head for Western Canada, with a rematch against Connor McDavid and the Oilers up first Tuesday night at the new Rogers Place. The Leafs beat the Oilers 3-2 at the ACC on November 1, thanks to the strong two-way play of Nazem Kadri, who held McDavid in check while potting a pair of goals himself. Somehow, though, I think the rematch will be a different story, especially with the Oilers having last change. We’ll see.
Then it’s on to Calgary the very next night to face a hot goalie in Chad Johnson (no, not the former NFL receiver). Johnson has been solid in supplanting (at least temporarily) Brian Elliott, going 5-2 and allowing just 12 goals in his last 7 starts.
Oh yes, and then it’s the return grudge match against Vancouver on Saturday. You know, the one where Erik Gudbranson said Matt Martin would be “dead” after a series of third-period fracases in a 6-3 Toronto win November 5, highlighted by Nazem Kadri’s crushing hit on Daniel Sedin. Retribution games are frought with a lot of unexpected possibilities, and you know the league will be watching closely for any questionable behaviour. Still, you know you’re going to watch, simply for the possibility something will happen. The Leafs need to keep their wits about them and focus on winning the game.
Toronto gets a three-day break after the west coast trip before returning to the ACC to host Minnesota a week Wednesday.