Marner, Giordano, Clifford & Rubins
It’s a sandwich weekend for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After earning a 5-4 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators, there’s no time to rest. The New York Islanders come to town tonight, and while the Islanders are out of the playoff draw, they’re still working hard to win. They are coming off a victory in Montreal against the Canadiens and Carey Price, who was in the net for the first time this season.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price
Last night’s game was a dominating performance for the Maple Leafs, though you wouldn’t know it just by looking at the game score. The difference was that the The Senators took advantage of the Maple Leafs’ mistakes – particularly on the first and last goals scored by the Senators.
The first goal came on a clean two-man break from Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. The second goal was again scored by Stutzle who took advantage of a rare gift from newcomer Ilya Lyubushkin and had the lane to goalkeeper Erik Kallgren all to himself. Speaking of new defenders, in the end, Mark Giordano scored with a few minutes left in overtime to win the game.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News and Rumors, I’ll be looking at some of the Blue & White’s key players to comment on the games they played last night.
Article one: Mitch Marner takes over for Auston Matthews’ lack of scoring
Last night, Mitch Marner scored two goals to reach 33 this season. The best thing about Marner’s goals is that they came at perfect times. His first goal brought his team back into the game to tie the match 3-3. His second goal brought his team back from another deficit to tie the game again at 4-4. You can’t say that Marner doesn’t do well in pressure situations.
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The second goal was an example of Marner living up to criticism from some readers that he plays a perimeter game and is soft. Maybe in the past, but that’s definitely not true this season. Marner has improved his physical game and is getting into the dirty areas of the ice. His third-period goal came on a smart play from Michael Bunting, who centered the puck in the direction of Marner. Marner was racing towards the net and the pass went off his skate.
Once again, the Maple Leafs’ first line was dominant, even though Matthews didn’t score. Marner and Bunting seem to have captured the same chemistry that Matthews and Marner had. It’s good for the success of the team.
During the season, Marner’s two goals pushed him to 33 goals and he added 60 assists (for 93 points) in just 66 games. That’s an average of 1.4 points per game. Even with Marner’s large number of missed games this season, he still has a shot at reaching 100 points in the regular season. As it stands, Marner is just one point off his career-best 94 points tally, which he set in 2018-19.
Second point: Kyle Dubas finally succeeds with Mark Giordano
As regular readers know, I’m a fan of Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. I think he built a strong team in difficult circumstances. His scouting system is second to none and he seems to be finding diamonds in the rough to make up for any draft picks or prospects he has to trade to level up before the playoffs. [I’ll speak about Kristians Rubins later in the post.]
However, his trade deals with deadline were the area where I would give him the lowest marks. This season, after what I think was a fiasco with Nick Foligno, I think he really hit it off when he brought in three key elements. Foligno is a good guy, but he turned out to be a bad business choice.
One was the trade that brought defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin from the Arizona Coyotes. The second was the trade that brought in Colin Blackwell and Mark Giordano from the Seattle Kraken. All three are contributors and — unlike Foligno — I think there’s a chance all three will become more than rentals and part of the Maple Leafs’ future plans.
Giordano showed his veteran leadership on the ice by calming everyone around him. Timothy Liljegren, for example, played his best hockey of this career partnered with Giordano. I read that Liljegren noted that Giordano talks a lot on the ice, which is probably ongoing in-game training for a young defenseman. I hope, as I noted, that he is more than a one-season “rental” and the next UFA commits to another season.
He’s been better than any other trade deadline player Dubas has brought to the Maple Leafs during my tenure at the helm — at least since Jack Campbell, but Soup’s value hasn’t gone away. not felt immediately.
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In last night’s game, Giordano had three points with two assists and the game-winning goal in overtime in a 5-4 win over the Senators. Like Marner, Giordano showed up just in time with assists on second-half goals from Kyle Clifford and Michael Bunting and his own goal to end the game.
During the season, Giordano scored eight goals and delivered 23 assists (for 31 points) in 56 games.
Third point: Kyle Clifford seems to enjoy his role within the team
The Maple Leafs appear to be transitioning from older to younger this season as Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe tinkers with the roster to give the youngsters a chance to play. Jason Spezza seems to sit down as often as he plays. Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds seem to be getting into a game when Coach Keefe thinks the team needs an extra measure of physicality.
As a result, Clifford has limited ice time. However, I have two thoughts on Clifford’s play. Firstly, he is good enough to add value to the team both physically, defensively and offensively. Secondly, I think he is having fun with the team. There was a rumor that he would retire after this season to become a coach. However, he re-signed for another season.
Last night, Clifford scored while being in the right place to deflect a puck in front of the net as he screened Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg early in the second period. It was Clifford’s first goal in 21 games he has played this season and his first in just under a year (he last scored on May 5, 2021).
Give Clifford credit. He makes the most of his time on the ice and is a fighter.
What’s next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs have a quick turnaround to face the Islanders tonight. Will Matthews be able to score on his way to 60, or is he stuck at 58 as he helps his team win? He got another assist last night.
Related: Maple Leafs Recall Notes: Alex Steeves vs. Kristian Rubins
I was hoping to see Kristians Rubins play last night, but he was sent to the Toronto Marlies yesterday. He hadn’t been with the big club for long, having only been called up as an ’emergency’ depth on Friday. His day will come, but it won’t be this season.
Rubins was one of Dubas’ first finds. He was not drafted; but, just months after Dubas became general manager of the Maple Leafs (in June 2018), he signed Rubins to an ECHL contract with the Newfoundland Growlers (in early August 2018). He played with the Marlies for four seasons. His growing size and skills make him a solid potential third pair defender.
The former professor (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He is 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 just being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors and CFL football (he thinks Ricky Ray personifies the way a professional athlete should act).
If you’re wondering why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who is also Jim Parsons – wrote for hockey writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers don’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 “elder” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher”. The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old master”. It became his pseudonym. Today, apart from writing for hockey writershe teaches research design to graduate students at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his thoughts on the Toronto Maple Leafs and how sport more fully engages life. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf