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Maple Leafs’ Short Shots: Lack of Good Goalies & Status of Riley Nash

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a great season in the North Division. Why do Americans think their goalies are less than average?

Here’s the fourth edition of NHLTradeTalk’s Maple Leafs’ short shots, where I’m going to try to give Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans a collection of little “shots” of news and commentary about news emerging from the team.

As a writer who covers the Maple Leafs every day, these little “shots” get collected as notes. Here I share them with readers. In this post, I’m going to look at where the team might be at the end of the regular season and heading into the playoffs. I’ll also share some of the lack of respect the team is getting south of the border.

Short Shot #1: Jack Campbell Lost Last Game & Great Season

Maple Leafs’ fans might love Jack Campbell, but he isn’t getting much love anywhere else. He lost his last game 4-2 against the Winnipeg Jets; and, although it was “only” a tune-up game because the standing didn’t change, I do think it mattered for a number of different reasons.

Specifically, in regard to Campbell, he had a chance to beat the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Connor Hellebuyck and carry some confidence into the playoffs. He didn’t. That left his record at a remarkable 17-3-2, with a goals-against average of 2.15, and a save percentage of .921. 

That’s a good record! And, with Andersen, even better.

Campbell might have saved the Maple Leafs’ season. He showed up exactly when the team needed him. He played well all season, starting with a remarkable NHL-record-setting 11 victories in a row to start the season. He covered well for either a shaky or an injured Frederik Andersen – it’s uncertain which came first the injury or the shaky play – and deserves to be the Maple Leafs starting goalie heading into the playoffs.

I believe it’s the best playoff goalie tandem the team’s had since I’ve covered it. Others don’t agree.

Short Shot #2: Dissing the North Division and the Maple Leafs’ Goalies

The one thing that surprises me now that the team is headed toward the playoffs is just how much lack of respect the North Division gets from American-based media. In a post two days ago, I cited a small-time podcaster from New York City going on a rant that the Maple Leafs “were going down!” [See link immediately below.]

Related: American Isle Seat Host Mike Carver Rants: Maple Leafs Are Going Down!

But, although he’s a bit more blathering than the average media pundit from the US, the message is the same. The Maple Leafs faced poor competition all season long and, when they start to play with the big boys, will not fare well. Or so that’s the message from parts of the United States.

For example, ESPN did a “confidence report” about all the playoff goalies heading into the playoffs and of the 16 teams, the Maple Leafs were ranked #10.

Here’s some of what ESPN noted when speaking about the trio of Campbell, Andersen, and third-stringer David Rittich:

Frederik Andersen Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen Toronto Maple Leafs

(a) We hear that Andersen struggled before his injury, “posting an .897 save percentage and just a .409 quality starts ratio.”

(b) However, we also hear that “the first-place Maple Leafs were buoyed by Campbell, the 2010 first-round pick who has really found his game in the past three seasons.”

(c) Finally, we hear the kicker “The Leafs have become a top-tier defensive team. Their goaltending isn’t quite on the same level.” [In other words, the reason for the good goalie play was only that there was good defensive play in front of them/him.]

The article then shared what it called “Valiquette’s view,” which was that “Toronto has the total package of defense and skills, but it’s just hard to accept that this was a real season that they played. To me, the North Division was just so weak. I don’t like it as far as measuring a team through a season without having that big adversity. But on paper? Toronto’s winning the Stanley Cup.”

Jack Campbell’s Injury Kept Him out for several games

[The bolded words above are my choices. Interestingly, ESPN spoke about the fact that the Maple Leafs’ starting goalie Andersen was down with an injury for most of the season, then noted that the team faced little adversity. The team faced a lot of adversity – especially at goal. That’s what I saw anyway. Interesting take, isn’t it?]

Short Shot #3: Riley Nash Wasn’t Ready to Play Yet, Hmmm

Friday was the last game and, during the week prior to the game, it looked as if the team was prepping newcomer defensive forward Riley Nash to get some playing time with his new team. However, he just wasn’t ready to go for game time on Friday. His knee wasn’t yet healed enough.

What does it mean that Nash isn’t ready for game action yet? He still has about a week before the Maple Leafs begin their series against the Montreal Canadiens (May 20), but what if he’s not yet ready to play? There’s no certainty he will.

In an earlier post – actually the third edition of Maple Leafs’ Short Shots, I commented about what the “hinted” playoff lineup might shape to be like. But that seemed dependent on Nash being healed. Because he’s more of a defensive player and not counted on for offense, it might be easier to get him ready to perform well. [See immediately below.]

Related: Maple Leafs’ Short Shots: 6 Thoughts about the New-Look “Playoff” Lineup

Still, it will be interesting to see what this Maple Leafs’ playoff lineup will be.

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