The Leafs 3 stars of the week: Auston Matthews makes franchise history, Michael Bunting bouncing back

The Toronto Maple Leafs began their six-game road trip last Saturday in Colorado to take on the Avalanche and I think we all know how that game ended up for Toronto. They took an early 3-0 lead and then a 4-1 lead but then proceeded to blow it and lose 5-4 in overtime. However, at least they grabbed a point on the road in a tough building against a very tough opponent. This week began in Vegas to take on the Golden Knights for the second and last time this season and, just like the game prior, the Maple Leafs grabbed an early lead and then proceeded to blow it. However, they managed to grab the win this time in a shootout and begin their road trip with three out of the possible four points.
They were on a back-to-back and were now on their way to Arizona to play the Coyotes for the first time since November of 2019 – which was Sheldon Keefe’s debut as Head Coach – but, unlike the two prior games, there wasn’t a lot of scoring going on and Toronto ran into Dominik Hasek himself in net as Karel Vajmelka made 4 …

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Author: Joseph Zita / The Leafs Nation

Leafs’ Latest: Keefe talks about Marner’s PP problems

The Maple Leafs are getting set for their final game on the road (for a few days) tonight vs. the St. Louis Blues.
Along with Colorado and Vegas, this will be one of Toronto’s toughest tests of their trip. The Blues are currently third in the Central Division, only one point behind the Nashville Predators for first place.
In their last 15 games, St. Louis has gone 10-3-2 outscoring their opponents 53-37 in that span. The Maple Leafs have the same record in their last 15, but have outscored their opponents 66-43.
St. Louis has played exceptional at home, getting a point in their last 13 games. If they get a point tonight, the Blue will tie the second-best record in that category.
One player to watch for the Blues is Jordan Kyrou, who’s scored 19 points (6G, 13A) in his last 15 games.
A few key players who won’t be in St. Louis’ lineup vs. Toronto are Colton Parayko, and Pavel Buchnevich. Both Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, who were in COVID protocols have completed their five-day isolation.
Blues’ head coach, Craig Berube said on Friday that it’s too early to tell if a few players in COVID protocol will be available tonight vs. Toronto.
Maple Leafs projected lineup vs. the St. Louis Blues
With an optional sk …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

It’s taken both Michael Bunting and Ondřej Kaše to replace Zach Hyman’s for the Leafs

In a coupon-clipping-level effort to save cash, the Maple Leafs made the very difficult decision last season to let their hard-working, offensively capable but defensively responsible, plug in anywhere and have success,  forward, Zach Hyman, go to unrestricted free agency.
He was a key part of their top-6 forward group, playing either alongside Auston Matthews or John Tavares for the majority of his career in Toronto.
It wasn’t 100% certain that Hyman would leave, and Leafs management were in conversation with his agents to the eleventh hour, but they ultimately couldn’t beat the offer from Ken Holland and the Oilers for an average of $5.5M per year for 7 years, with a no-move clause in the first 5 years.
The challenge of replacing Hyman, once they were sure he was leaving, was not an easy one. However, one name seemed almost perfect for the job: Michael Bunting. The Leafs signed Bunting to a 2-year contract worth $950k per season, after his successful first season in the league with Arizona.
Starting simply, Bunting has easily been able to replicate Hyman’s production in a similar role, and even exceed it. So far this season, Bunting is averaging 2.12 primary points (goals and first assists) per 60 minutes of ice time, while last year …

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Author: Ryan Hobart / The Leafs Nation

News from the Rink: Marner, Engvall return to Leafs practice as more players enter COVID protocols

After a day off in Arizona, the Maple Leafs have returned to practice before their game vs. the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
Returning to the team today is Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall, who have both in COVID protocols since January 7th. As those two come off the COVID list, the Maple Leafs have unfortunately had to add a few players to it.

The Maple Leafs have placed defenceman Justin Holl, forward Ondrej Kaše and forward Nick Ritchie into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 14, 2022

There were five players remaining on the team who haven’t been placed in protocol, and this is three of them. Justin Holl, Ondrej Kase, and Nick Ritchie will all have to isolate for five days and submit a negative test before returning to the team.
Both Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting are the only Maple Leafs left who haven’t been put into protocols this season.
Losing those three players is a huge blow for Toronto. It seemed like Holl was starting to find his way after a rough start to the season, and it looked like Kaše was a fit on the top line with Matthews and Bunting. It looked like Ritchie was starting to have a bit of success too.
Maple Leafs lines in practice
With Marner and Engvall returning, and a few others in isolation, here’s how the Maple Leafs lines shaped up in practice today.

#Leafs lines at practice Jan. 14/22
Bunting-Matthews-MarnerKerfoot-Tavares-NylanderMikheyev-Kampf-EngvallClifford-Sp …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

‘He lets younger guys be themselves’: How Rich Clune’s leadership is felt throughout the Leafs organization

Seven years after joining the Maple Leafs organization, and Rich Clune is still playing the game he loves.
The bus was getting packed up on Thursday as the Toronto Marlies get set for a six-game US road trip. Clune walked out of the dressing room wearing a Gold’s Gym crewneck and track pants. He had some nice shoes on too.
He greets you with a big smile on his face and a kind “Hello.”
Clune had just gotten off the ice after a 40+ minute practice. The team also had time on the ice after to work on whatever they wanted. The 34-year-old spent it skating from blue line to blue line, back and forth, at some points also receiving pucks from teammate, Joseph Duszak.
He would stop, take a breath, watch what other players were doing, and then go again. There’s always something about players who work on their craft alone after practice. Bobby McMann, who was the captain while playing at Colgate University does the same thing at Marlies practices.
Players like that are doing what they love, while still finding a way to lead by example.
“I grew up in an area of Toronto where we flooded the streets,” Clune said of where his leadership may have come from. “Whether it was …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Nick Abruzzese and Matthew Knies officially named to Team USA’s Olympic roster

It’s officially official. Maple Leafs’ prospects Matthew Knies and Nick Abruzzese are headed to Beijing for the 2022 Olympics with Team USA.

Introducing the 25 men headed to Beijing! #WinterOlympics | @TeamUSA
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) January 13, 2022

The two Toronto prospects join 13 other NCAA players on the United States Olympic team. Knies, who’s playing in his first year at the University of Minnesota is averaging a point per game this season (20P in 20GP). The 19-year-old was picked in the second round, 57th overall, in the 2021 NHL Draft by the Maple Leafs.
Abruzzese missed all of last season rehabbing from hip surgery. This season, he’s returned with a bang, scoring 21 points in 13 games (5G, 16A). The 22-year-old was drafted by the Maple Leafs at 124th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Know Your Enemy: The Maple Leafs and Golden Knights match up well despite injuries

Despite the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs just about got the result you could expect from a game against the Colorado Avalanche while dealing with injuries, the way they got to that result was a disappointing one. They’ll be looking to rebound against the other big contender in the Western Conference in the Vegas Golden Knights, who are also dealing with injuries from important players, with Max Pacioretty and Jack Eichel still on the shelf for a while (although Eichel looks closer to returning). Despite that, they’ve seen a rise in the standings from a slow start to the season, although they’re on a bit of a cold streak losing three of their last four. It’ll make for an interesting matchup regardless of both teams, and is a potential Stanley Cup Final preview with how strong both teams can be.
Note: This is based on projected lines and starters at the time of publishing. Coaches really love to surprise us right before game time, so there’s a solid chance that some of the matchups aren’t accurate for the actual game because of that.
Tale of the Tape (via Mark Norman)

Lineups
Toronto Maple Leafs

LW
C
RW
MICHAEL BUNTING
AUSTON MATTHEWS
ONDREJ KASE
ALEXANDER KERFOOT
JOHN TAVARES
WILLIAM NYLANDER
ILYA MIKHEYEV
DAVID KAMPF
WAYNE SIMMONDS
KYLE CLIFFORD
JASON SPEZZA
NICK RITCHIE

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
MORGAN RIELLY
T.J. BRODIE
JAKE MUZZIN
JUSTIN HOLL
RASMUS SANDIN
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Vegas Golden Knights

LW
C
RW
JONATHAN MARCHESSAULT
WILL …

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Author: Scott Maxwell / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs Prospect Roundup: Matthew Knies is back, Marlies trio stepping up, Denis Malgin update

It’s time for another Toronto Maple Leafs prospect roundup! With essentially every league back and underway after various winter breaks, it’s a busy roundup once again after a couple of minimal updates. Matthew Knies is back at the University of Minnesota and did not miss a beat, a trio of prospects with the Marlies had a big week, we’ll catch up with Denis Malgin over in Switzerland, plus lots more news and notes to finish things off.
Matthew Knies | LW | Minnesota (Big 10)
Matthew Knies returned to the Golden Gophers lineup over the weekend following his abbreviated spell with Team USA at the World Juniors. Suiting up for the first time for Minnesota since December 5, Knies picked up right where he left off.
On Friday, Knies recorded two assists, including this primary assist on Minnesota’s third goal of the game.

#LeafsForever prospect Matthew Knies makes a nice move down low and finds Ben Meyers in the slot with a backhand pass for his second of the game: pic.twitter.com/6Fej9TrrwI
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) January 8, 2022

He was good in his return, but it was the follow-up performance on Saturday that really draws the attention. Knies once again scored two assists, but also added seven shots on goal, mixing in a lacrosse goal attempt while he was at it. Saturday’s game from Knies is the exact performance to point to when discussing how exciting of a prospect he’s blossomed into this season.

Matthew Knies steals the puck along the boards and cuts to the high slot before firing a shot that is tipped home by Ben Meyers. Knies’ second assist of the night and his fourth in the last two games.#LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/syIG9Z95QG
— Nick Ric …

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Author: Kyle Cushman / The Leafs Nation

Know Your Enemy: Can a depleted Maple Leafs lineup hold their own at 5v5 against the Avalanche?

A Saturday night matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche is the kind of game you mark on your calendars for, as two of the best teams featuring some of the leagues best forwards and defensemen go head to head. It’s the kind of game many would label a Cup Final preview, even though most Leafs fans don’t know what the second round is at this point in their lives. To make things even more exciting, both teams are coming in on hot streaks, with the Leafs rocking a four game winning streak (albeit split halfway through by a three week break) and the Avs winning eight of their last nine, including three in a row since coming back from their holiday/COVID break. But, with the Leafs down a few players, it certainly makes the task of winning tonight’s game a more difficult one for the Leafs, so how exactly can they match up against a loaded Avs team and exploit them?
Tale of the Tape (via Mark Norman)

Projected Lineups
Toronto Maple Leafs

LW
C
RW
MICHAEL BUNTING
AUSTON MATTHEWS
ALEXANDER KERFOOT
ILYA MIKHEYEV
JOHN TAVARES
WILLIAM NYLANDER
NICK RITCHIE
DAVID KAMPF
JASON SPEZZA
KYLE CLIFFORD
BRETT SENEY
WAYNE SIMMONDS

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
MORGAN RIELLY
T.J. BRODIE
JAKE MUZZIN
JUSTIN HOLL
RASMUS SANDIN
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Colorado Avalanche

LW
C
RW
GABRIEL LANDESKOG
NATHAN MACKINNON
MIKKO RANTANEN
ANDRE BURAKOVSKY
NAZEM KADRI
LOGAN O’CONNOR
JT COMPHER
ALEX NEWHOOK
NICOLAS AUBE-KUBEL
KURTIS MACDERMID
TYSON JOST
DARREN HELM

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
DEVON TOEWS
CALE MAKAR
BOWEN BYRAM
SAMUEL GIRARD
ERIK JOHNSON
RYAN MURRAY

Forwards
There’s not a whole lot I can tell you about the Avalanche’s first line that you don’t already know. The trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen have been one of the best lines in the league over the past few years, and there are very few units that can match up with them on a consistent basis. They have the protypical line setup, with your speedy creative playmaker in MacKinnon, goal scoring machine in Rantanen, and the more physical forechecker that steps it up defensively in Landeskog, with all three of them being able to burn you, and are well over a point per game so far this season. From a possession stand point, the line’s weakest link is actually MacKinnon, as he hasn’t quite been the play driver he usually is, and his defense has been pretty mediocre this season as well, but Landeskog and Rantanen make up for it as possession monsters and can shelter MacKinnon a bit so that he can be the skilled maniac that he is. Overall, the line has still had a lot of success this season, with a 59.54% CF% and 58.21% xGF% at even strength, and they’ll be a tough one to contain.
Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Logan O’Connor haven’t played together this season, but on paper, it has the makings of a strong second line. Kadri is having a resurgence of a season with 42 points in 27 games this season. It’s already the most points he’s had in a single season with the Avs, and he’s only 20 away from setting a new career high. Burakovsky is an excellent compliment to Kadri’s breakout year, as he’s almost a point per game and can drive offense just as well. While both of them can drive play well, they aren’t great defensively, so that’s what O’Connor brings to the table. With 13 points in 30 games he won’t hurt you offensively, and his defensive game is much better than the other two. O’Connor has been pretty flexible all year and been moved around a lot, so he should be the perfect complementary piece to the one flaw of this second line.
The third line of JT Compher, Alex Newhook, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel is another one of those line combos that we’ve seen in this series that haven’t played quite enough time together, creating some wonky results in their numbers, with just under 13 minutes of ice time and a 43.59% CF% and 58.82% xGF% at 5v5. Newhook is a highly touted first round pick from the 2019 draft in his first full season, and has shown a lot of promise so far with 11 points in 21 games and some strong defensive results, particularly a 55.68% xGF% at 5v5, good for fourth among Avs forwards. He’s in a bit tough tonight, as Compher has some of the worst possession results on the team and Aube-Kubel, while not bad, doesn’t move the needle much, but perhaps this ends up being a nice test of Newhook’s skills without having to put him in the top six when he isn’t ready. Regardless, this is probably the Avs most exploitable line in the top nine.
It’s bad enough for the Leafs that they’re up against a loaded Avs team, but to also be without Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall, who have been a couple of key cogs to their lines this year, makes matchups even tougher tonight. The Leafs have three different line combinations in the top 20 in CF% this year, and four in the top 30 in xGF%, and only one of those does not include one of Engvall or Marner, so they’ll have to go back to the drawing board, experiment and see what sticks. Normally, I’d say go best on best with Auston Matthews and MacKinnon, put David Kämpf’s line up against Kadri’s, and then let John Tavares’ line run amok against the wildcard third line for the Avs, but we don’t really know how the Matthews line will work with Alex Kerfoot on there, how Ilya Mikheyev will look in a top six role, and how Kämpf’s line will not only do without Engvall and Ondřej Kaše, but with Nick Ritchie and Jason Spezza in more elevated roles. Hilariously, all three line combos have under a minute of playing time together, but have 100% CF% and xGF% together. Fun with small sample sizes! But yeah, I think the big thing to look out for at this point then is keeping Kämpf’s line away from the top six, considering his play without Engvall hasn’t always been great this season, otherwise it’s hard to really plan the matchups when we don’t quite know how the Leafs line co …

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Author: Scott Maxwell / The Leafs Nation

News from the Rink: Maple Leafs round out fourth line, Jack Campbell starts vs. Avalanche

Tonight, the Maple Leafs have one of the toughest tests of the last month — a game against the Colorado Avalanche.
It’s the second matchup between the two teams this season, and if you remember, Toronto won the last game rather effortlessly, 8-3. This time, the game’s going to be a little bit different.
“The way that we’ve played in the two games since coming back from the break, that’s not going to cut it on this road trip,” Sheldon Keefe said after Friday’s practice. “That’s certainly not going to cut it on Saturday against Colorado. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play a lot more connected, a lot more in-sync, we’ve gotta raise our level — the intensity level, the stress of being on the road and the fans — all those things and what that provides. We’ve gotta get back to that level. We can’t be easing into it. Colorado is a team that comes at you in waves, and they come early. And we’ve gotta be prepared for that.”
As good as the Maple Leafs have been in the last 25 games, the Avalanche have been just as good. In the last 20 games, Colorado has a record of 16-3-1, compared to Toront …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation