No Toronto Maple Leafs fan likes hearing the words “It was 4-1”. However, it is much less painful to hear the words after a regular season game against a team in another conference.
Although the Maple Leafs won the game in overtime, the point was secured by the Colorado Avalanche. However, a strong third period from the Colorado Avalanche sealed the win to cap off an impressive effort. The Maple Leafs played without Mitch Marner. Pierre Engvall, who were both added into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Friday. The NHL added Brett Seney and Kyle Clifford to their COVID-19 protocols on Friday.
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Lately, the Leafs have been at a frantic pace with a record of 20-4-2 over their 26 games and just coming off a win over the Edmonton Oilers (4-2). Although it is never good to lose a lead, the game tonight was much easier than previous games. It was one of those efforts where the Avalanche pushed, and pushed, and pushed until the Maple Leafs couldn’t hold them off anymore. Most times, it’s a matter of taking their foot off the gas pedal, whereas tonight they never really had their foot on it despite the early lead. Although there’s lots to talk about as always, here are three key takeaways from tonight’s game.
One of the most slept-on storylines of the season thus far has been the drastic improvement in forward, Alex Kerfoot’s play. With Marner missing tonight’s game as I mentioned earlier, Kerfoot saw a promotion to the top line alongside Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting. He responded with a goal and two assists in the loss to his old team. Both assists were on Matthews goals. This gives him eight points in his three last games and 24 in the 33 games that he has played.
To say Kerfoot’s tenure in Toronto has been a roller coaster would be an understatement. Kerfoot was coming off a 42 point season with the Avalanche, 2018-19. He came to Toronto hoping to maintain that production. But, until the 2020-21 playoffs, Kerfoot never found an offensive touch. He was one of the most consistent offensive players for them, scoring five goals in seven games.
Kerfoot remained a Leaf despite a turbulent summer that saw his name in expansion draft talks. He’s carried his newfound offensive game into 2021-22, playing in mostly a top-six role. While Kerfoot has been utilized as the third line centre on multiple occasions as well, it’s clear that he’s most comfortable when he’s playing on the wing. With his performance last night, I’d say it’s a safe assumption that he’ll stick on that top line at least while Marner is out.
Maple Leafs’ Ritchie Responds After Clearing Waivers
In a move that most fans didn’t see coming but also weren’t surprised about, the Maple Leafs placed Forward Nick Ritchie on waiversThursday. The Maple Leafs were forced to make a quick decision because Ilya Mikhiev made a comeback to the lineup scoring three goals in the first two games of 2022. Ritchie won the short straw with only eight points in 30 games and a cap hit of $2.5 million.
Given that he’s had limited production this season to go along with the term on his contract, it was obvious the Maple Leafs felt confident that Ritchie would clear. They also get a little relief from the cap. With the additions Marner and Engvall The COVID-19 protocol, Ritchie didn’t go anywhere. And he responded the way I’d imagine head coach Sheldon Keefe wanted him to, scoring a second-period power-play goal.
This point is irrelevant considering that the Maple Leafs took the lead and lost the game. But it remains that he needs to be performing like this on a night-to-night basis to keep his name in the loop for the team’s roster plans, and tonight was a good start for the Orangeville native.
Although Ritchie took a stupid penalty towards the end, which could have cost the Maple Leafs their point. However, he found himself being involved in the game physically for the majority of the game. He will need to do this if he wants his name to be kept in the line-up.
Maple Leafs’ Campbell Does Everything to Keep the Team in the Game
You could easily assume Jack Campbell had a rough night. The scoresheet showed five goals against. But truth be told, without him, this game may have looked a lot more like the Maple Leafs’ 8-3 victory over Colorado in December, only they would have been on the receiving end of it.
Campbell has been a blessing for the Maple Leafs this season and has provided everything they need. Campbell is a goaltender who can keep the puck down while the offense does their work. After 40 minutes, it looked like that would be the case. However, after a candidate for save of year, the Avalanche continued pushing until finally the ceiling collapsed.
Even though he allowed five goals, he saved 44 shots, while the Maple Leafs only managed 27. Campbell had a goal-against (GAA) 1.47 and was 5-0-1 in six of his previous road games. So, while he wasn’t rock-solid tonight, he was the last line of defense against a Colorado team that had the pedal to the metal all game. The Maple Leafs managed to leave Gabriel Landeskog wide open with three defensemen on the ice for the third goal and Mikko Rantanen’s filthy pass to find JT Compher for the tying goal would be enough to fool any goalie.
Even though he allowed five goals, I believe that the game’s outcome would have been different if Campbell had not been there. Colorado had one of the best 60-minute efforts I’ve seen all season, and despite an early offensive outburst from the Maple Leafs, Campbell was a massive factor in securing the point.
The Maple Leafs will Stay West for Three Game Swing
The Maple Leafs will travel to Vegas this week to take on the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights. After a November win of 4-0, this will be their second encounter against Vegas and their first meeting against the Coyotes or Blues. They had been scheduled to play the Blues Dec. 23 but the game was postponed around Christmas.
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Due to the fact that the first two games are a back-toback, Campbell will get the start again Tuesday against Vegas and Petr Mrazek on Wednesday against Arizona. These starts aren’t confirmed yet, but given Mrazek’s injury-riddled season, I’d imagine Keefe would want to give Mrazek the easier assignment.
The Maple Leafs currently rank third in Atlantic division, behind the Florida Panthers (and the Tampa Bay Lightning) and will attempt to rebound as they continue their roadtrip.
Alex Hobson, a third-year broadcasting student at Niagara College, is currently in his third year. Since 2005, Alex Hobson has been writing about sports and has been working with The Hockey Writers in October 2020. He is a part of the Sticks in the 6ix podcast, which THW presents, and covers the Toronto Maple Leafs and the World Juniors. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.