In their first shootout of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs came up short against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. It was a battle of two balanced teams, and the back and forth affair was entertaining to watch. While the Maple Leafs only left Minnesota with one point, they showed a ton of character and shouldn’t be too disappointed with the outcome. Let’s dive into my three takeaways from the 4-3 loss.
Maple Leafs’ Veteran Turning Back the Clock
Jason “Vintage” Spezza is like a fine wine, just keeps getting better with age. He started on the fourth line and ended up seeing some ton of time with Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting on the first line. In the second period, Spezza was a force to be reckoned with, scoring twice and setting up Matthews for a tap-in.
It was all fun and games until someone got hurt, and that was Spezza late in the game. He was slashed on the hand, and the awkward hit looked like it could have done some damage to his thumb or finger that was holding onto his stick. While the Wild didn’t like the call, Spezza was legit hurt and missed overtime and the shootout. Considering how well he was playing, he would have seen the ice in the extra frame and been one of the shooters in the shootout. At this point of my writing this article, no word has been given on the severity of the injury. Let’s hope it’s not like Ilya Mikheyev, who suffered a broken thumb and was out two months.
The Maple Leafs are lucky to have Spezza on their side. It’s still wild to me Mike Babcock scratched him in his first-ever game for the organization against the Ottawa Senators, where he spent over a decade. The veteran forward didn’t let it bother him, he’s never lost his smile, and now he’s on one of the best contracts in the league. Spezza makes the league minimum $750,000 and is on pace for 23 goals. Remind yourselves he’s 38-years-old. There’s not one person in the NHL who loves to come to the rink more than the Toronto native. While many NHL players go home to play for the Maple Leafs, and it doesn’t work out, in this case, it’s been the complete opposite.
Maple Leafs Showed Well Without Mitch Marner
Everyone can blame Jake Muzzin for this one, but Marner is expected to also miss Sunday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets after colliding with his teammate in practice on Friday. It was an unfortunate scene where the two ended up jawing at each other pretty good.
Marner was held out for precautionary measures and not to speculate, but that’s usually related to a concussion. We’ll have to see if he misses any more time after this weekend. Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe went with Wayne Simmonds on the top line in Marner’s place. It was a nice reward for the grinder, who has been lights out these past few weeks. It feels like ever since I posted an article about him being expendable as a fourth-line winger, but that’s a story for another day.
If it wasn’t Simmonds, Spezza got moved up to the top-line throughout the game, and Keefe did a great job to mix things up throughout the night. It was the usual Matthews, William Nylander and John Tavares line after killing a penalty, and he went back to the well with this trio late in the third period. One thing that’s for sure this season, their head coach doesn’t get enough credit for his in-game management or creativity. The Maple Leafs are a great team, and Keefe has a lot to do with it.
Maple Leafs and Wild are Extremely Balanced Hockey Clubs
It was an interesting Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference matchup on Saturday night, and it was pretty obvious the Maple Leafs and Wild are very close competitors. The teams are both very balanced, and it showed on Saturday night. Two strong teams who have performed very well to start this season and could both find themselves making some noise in the postseason.
The shots were basically even at 42-40 for Toronto, hits and giveaways were within one digit, and both teams scored at least once on the man advantage after having five attempts. The Leafs came up huge in the third period to stop a five-on-three power play, and it felt like after killing it off, the momentum was going to swing back into their favor. That wasn’t the case at all, as the Wild put up a great fight and ended up with the extra point after a lovely shootout goal from Kirill Kaprizov.
The Maple Leafs now head to Winnipeg to take off with the Jets, and it will likely be rookie netminder Joseph Woll back between the pipes. Look for the news on Spezza’s injury to drop sometime before the game on Sunday and expect to see Matthews score once again on Sunday. He’s on an absolute tear, and so are the Maple Leafs. Don’t let a shootout loss damper your spirits, Leafs Nation.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween