Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Tonight (Dec. 16), the Toronto Maple Leafs face the Pittsburgh Penguins on home ice. The question is whether the team can build off the momentum of a remarkable five-goal third period in Thursday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets or whether they could repeat the same scenario. On Thursday, the team entered the third period down five goals; however, they just kept coming, scored five straight goals, and pushed the game into overtime. 

The final two goals were both scored by Auston Matthews in the game’s dying minutes with goalie Ilya Samsonov pulled for the extra attacker. Although the Maple Leafs eventually lost the game in overtime, they did extend their point streak to eight games, with a record of 5-0-3 during that time.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander helped lead the Toronto Maple Leafs comeback.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After his team’s comeback but subsequent loss to the Blue Jackets, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe fessed up. He suggested that the Blue Jackets deserved the two points, but he also added how pleased he was with the fighting spirit his team displayed. That was probably a wise move. Regardless of how they started the game after his team worked their tails off to come back, it doesn’t seem like a good time to dwell on the negatives. 

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs Frederik “Goat” Gauthier: Where Is He Now?

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share some general news from the team as well as comment on moves the Maple Leafs have made or could make as they prepare for the Pittsburgh Penguins game later tonight.

Item One: With Ryan Reaves Hurt, Who Do the Maple Leafs Bring Up?

Given Ryan Reaves’ injury, the Maple Leafs face a space in their lineup to do something I’d hope they would have done earlier in the season. I’d like to see more of the young players fill out the bottom six on the team. With Reaves’ salary-cap space of $1.35 million to use for relief, they could give another young player a chance. The question is who the team might bring up to fill his spot.

Ryan Reaves, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

I have been a supporter of Bobby McMann, but he’s not been given much ice time when he has replaced Reaves. Given the relatively solid nature of how the Maple Leafs’ defensive fill-ins have played, I can’t imagine the team would make an extended run with seven defensemen. I’m looking for another young forward to rotate with McMann.

Related: Ex-Canadien Alex Galchenyuk: 1st Round Draft to Hockey Pilgram

Of the potential replacements, if the coaching staff wants to build a line that plays well defensively, I suspect that would be Pontus Holmberg. If they want to move more offensively, the potential replacement would likely be Alex Steeves. If it wants to go middle of the road, perhaps the organization would consider bringing up either Nick Abruzzese or Dylan Gambrell. Both these players could contribute positively to the lineup. We’ll see.

Item Two: Coach Sheldon Keefe Almost Pulled Samsonov 

At one moment during the Maple Leafs game against the Blue Jackets, coach Keefe reported that he faced a tough decision about his goalie. Samsonov had allowed his fifth goal, which put the team into a 5-0 hole late in the second period. He was tempted to pull Samsonov from the game; however, he first talked with goalie coach Curtis Sanford.

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Sanford advocated that Samsonov remain in the game and continue to battle as part of the team. Ultimately, Keefe took Sanford’s advice and opted not to pull Samsonov. This decision proved to be a good one. Samsonov played well enough to hold his team in the game as they roared back for a comeback.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Draft Picks That Got Away

The day after the game, Keefe spoke about the decision and emphasized the positive impact of having Samsonov be part of the comeback effort. The goalie not only contributed to the team’s resurgence but also made crucial saves in the third period to prevent the Blue Jackets from scoring. Given that Samsonov had displayed some emotion (he could have been frustrated with himself) the last time he was pulled from a game in November, you have to wonder if this might push Samsonov to pull his game together.

Item Three: Calle Jarnkrok Is on Pace for Another Career Season

If Calle Jarnkrok maintains his current scoring pace throughout the 2023-24 NHL season, he’s projected to finish with approximately 48 points. This estimate is based on his performance in the first 27 games, where he has put up 16 points (seven goals and nine assists).

Calle Jarnkrok, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Comparing this projection with his previous season (2022-23) with the Maple Leafs, Jarnkrok is on track to have a much higher point total. In the 2022-23 season, which was the best of his career, he played 73 games and scored 39 points (20 goals and 19 assists). The ongoing season’s pace, if he can sustain it, suggests an almost 10-point improvement in overall production compared to the last year. 

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

From a coaching perspective, decisions such as whether to keep Samsonov in the game or pull him highlight the huge number and complexity of all the dynamic and strategic considerations coaches must make during critical moments in any game. I appreciate the difficulty.

It’s a tough job; and, I’m glad I don’t do it.

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The post Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Samsonov & Jarnkrok appeared first on WorldNewsEra.

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