Holl, Robertson, Malgin & Nylander
What a change in mood (and fortunes) the Toronto Maple Leafs experienced within a week. Limping home from mirror Saturday/Sunday quick turnarounds that, during the first, they lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday and the next night lost 4-3 to the Anaheim Ducks, the team’s fortunes looked down.
The Maple Leafs couldn’t even beat some of the lower-level NHL teams on that western road trip. In fact, the team seemed to be at the bottom of its game. Little had gone right, and they were looking down the barrel of an even bigger gun – four games in eight days, and against the class of the NHL to boot.
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From last Tuesday to this coming Tuesday, the Maple Leafs faced winning teams in the Philadelphia Flyers, the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricane, and (tomorrow) the Vegas Golden Knights. In a post looking forward to those games, I asked whether the team could – when those four games were over – win three of those games.
That possibility looked difficult. Yet, the Maple Leafs did just that. In fact, they’ve won their first three games of three games and did it against three of the better teams this season in the NHL.
Item One: The Vegas Golden Knights Come to Town
Tomorrow the Maple Leafs look to complete a four-game sweep since the end of the western road swing. The NHL’s best team thus far in the season – the Golden Knights – come to town.
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The Golden Knights sport an 11-2-0 record and are led by a healed and revitalized Jack Eichel and the cracker-jack goalie play of both Logan Thompson, who has a 6-2-0 record, a goals-against-average of 2.01 and a save percentage of .934; and, Adin Hill, whose record is 5-0-0, with a goals-against-average of 2.17 and a save percentage of .925.
Item Two: Justin Holl Has Been Playing Well Lately
In yesterday’s win over the Hurricanes, Justin Holl and TJ Brodie were the Maple Leafs’ best defensive pair. They were on the ice for all three Maple Leafs’ goals and each defenseman finished the game at plus-3.
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Holl, who’s best noted for his defence and on the penalty kill, registered an assist on Calle Jarnkrok’s second-period, game-tying goal. [As an aside, Jarnkrok doesn’t score all that much but is he ever good from that same spot on the ice? He knows it. He was banging on the ice calling for the puck before he scored.]
The 30-year-old Holl, who only a week ago was coming under constant fire, now has two points, 26 hits, 31 blocked shots, and a plus-1 rating over the 13 games he’s played this season. Interestingly, for as good as he played in yesterday’s game against the Hurricanes, it was the first time all season he hasn’t had either a hit or a blocked shot in the same game.
Item Three: Nick Robertson Gets Start and Delivers
It might be one of those in-and-out seasons for Nick Robertson in the Maple Leafs’ lineup. He had been a healthy scratch for the first two games in November, but yesterday he replaced Wayne Simmonds in the lineup. If Robertson is disappointed, he doesn’t show it.
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Instead, when Robertson gets on the ice he competes. He might make a rookie mistake or two, but you can never fault his drive. He cares, and he plays hard. In yesterday’s win, Robertson registered an assist on John Tavares’ goal that put the Maple Leafs up 2-1 early in the third period.
In the seven games the 21-year-old Robertson has played this season, he now has totalled two goals and three assists (for five points). He’s also posted a plus-3 rating. He might not be there yet; but, to my mind, he’s going to be a keeper for this team.
Item Four: Denis Malgin Is Playing Well
Until the team’s Core Four forwards scored to take over the game going away, in my mind the best Maple Leafs’ forward over the first two periods was Denis Malgin. Malign had five shots on Frederik Andersen during the first two periods and was on the ice for four High-Danger Chances For and only one against.
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe agrees. After the game last night, he told the media, “I thought Denis Malgin was our best player through much of the hockey game. He was one of the guys really hanging onto the puck, really challenging to the inside, and making things happen.”
Keefe went on: “That line (the fourth line) was really good. It is a few games in a row now that the line has been really responsible but also dangerous at the same time. Malgin’s inclusion with that group gives it that element. That is the one line I kept the same because I thought they were doing good things. It is a very positive day for us. We are happy for Denis.”
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William Nylander’s goal that put the team up 3-1 was really interesting to watch. It was as if no one expected him – on either team – to stay on the ice. His persistence in digging the puck out and forcing it toward the Carolina goalie simply looked like he had decided he could beat everyone in his way to get the puck on the net.
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He did, and it slid into the net as one of the slowest goals of the season. Still, what a sigh of relief that goal was for Maple Leafs’ fans.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf