Auston Matthews shows hardest working Leaf love with awesome nickname

Let the good times roll! The replacement Leafs D-Core has inspired three straight wins, including two interdivisional games and a HNIC matchup with a salty Vancouver fanbase. To further the “good times” along, Auston Matthews has donned a terrific nickname on the team workhorse.

Another game and another massive win for the Leafs, this time over the Vancouver Canucks, widening their gap on Florida to five points as the season rapidly winds down toward the playoffs. Leading the way for the Leafs, or at least chipping in more than he should be accounted for is Zach Hyman, or…

With an empty-net goal to seal the win on Saturday, Zach Hyman moved to 21 goals, tying his highest seasonal total set last year, in 24 fewer games played. His spot on Matthews and Marner’s line has surely helped him secure these goals, but his grinding playstyle has really enabled him to put the puck in the net at an un-Hyman like pace this season.

The nickname is gold, though. “The Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5” just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It’s fitting, though, as Hyman never cheats his team for effort ever, but puts the jets on that much more when the sight of an empty net opens up.

From (reportedly) asking for an upgrade on Hyman as a winger, to embracing him to create space and finish chances, Matthews owes a lot to Hyman for grinding out the forecheck for him on every shift. Matthews has adopted some grit in his game, possibly by osmosis from Hyman, and it’s showing in his Richard-esque season.

Good nicknames, good results, overcoming adversity, and deadset on the playoffs. The Leafs are still marauding forward, and the gelling of the team through the injury crisis they’ve had is nothing but purely positive, led, of course, by “the Sidney Crosby of 6-on-5.”

Good isn’t good enough for the Leafs in a ridiculous Eastern Conference

Have you seen the Eastern Conference standings recently? It’s completely fucked; the Leafs are a better-than-average team that was underperforming and they are logjammed out of a playoff spot. Good needs to be exceptional from here on out.

For those that haven’t checked, the Leafs sit tenth in the Eastern Conference with 34 points. That places them one point behind Florida (Panthers also have two games in hand) and two points behind Buffalo for the non-Boston reserved spot (46 points) atop the Atlantic Division.

If the Leafs fail to make it in the divisional race, you can pretty much forget about a wildcard berth. The Metropolitan Division is so competitive and so good that Pittsburg and Carolina have the 34 point Leafs (and Habs) on the outside looking in with their lofty 38 and 39 point totals.

This means the Leafs can’t just be good in order to get into the playoffs. As mentioned, the division is still very much up for grabs, however good needs to be exceptional in order for them to take the reins on a postseason position, and no, it isn’t too early in the season to be talking about this.

There are two really important aspects to the recent new-look Leafs that should help them along. Firstly, the Buds are 6-4 under Sheldon Keefe. This isn’t great, however, it is a bit of progression from the final ten games of the Babcock era where the team put up a 3-7 record including a six-game losing streak.

The other aspect that is going to help pull the Leafs to the next level of competitive play is that both the Matthews line and Tavares line are producing simultaneously, two games in a row. Against St. Louis, Matthews netted twice while Pontus Aberg and Nylander both tallied assists, and Mitch Marner had two assists to go along with two Zach Hyman goals. Again, against Vancouver Matthews scored his 19th of the season, as Tavares grabbed two goals, Hyman one, and Marner two assists again.

If the Leafs do build on their current two-win streak and get some momentum going their way, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they are a team that can step up and make the playoffs. It would actually be a welcomed change, seeing as last season they started strong and faded, eventually limping into the playoffs.

Time for the big guns to keep it on the tracks and earn those big juicy contracts! The bottom-six has held up their end of the bargain so far this season and has helped keep the Leafs treading water during this highly intense season thus far, hopefully, the Keefe change and current momentum can be accelerants to the Leafs season.

Leafs value forward will FINALLY shine on second line after early season flop

Losing Mitch Marner sucks. Yes, Auston Matthews and William Nylander have been awesome in November so far, and yes, the bottom-six is still pulling their weight for the team, but still losing an offensive catalyst blows, regardless of the team’s form.

That being said, there is a golden opportunity right now for a former Tavares line flop to reassert himself as a potential top-6 forward. Yes, Kasperi Kapanen will get a more realistic and fair chance to shine on the 1-A line for the Leafs tonight and can rewrite the ugly start to the season he had on this same unit.

Why was it so bad prior to his re-ascension up the lineup? Because, in the wake of Mike Babcock never going back on his coaching decisions or adapting to any real evidence of him failing, Kapanen was inappropriately deployed as a left-winger to fill in for the injured Zach Hyman.

Firstly, Kapanen is a right-winger and has built his career on speed and shooting. Playing on his off-wing essentially neutered his ability to impact the offense how he naturally does. Secondly, Kapanen, while big and rambunctious at times, is a ‘skill’ player. He likes blazing by defenders and letting a quick wrist shot go to beat the goalie. He isn’t a grinder and again Babcock set him up to play as such, which obviously again limited his effectiveness.

Tavares and Marner still got their points with Kapanen on their line, however, it was largely due to their top power playtime instead of 5 on 5 scoring. When Trevor Moore took over, a versatile winger who can play both sides and grinds in the corners like Hyman, the line picked up their play and things were looking up.

Now, with Marner out, two thirds of that elite line will be back together again. Zach Hyman is back in the lineup on the left side of John Tavares presumably, and Kasperi Kapanen will replace Marner on the right side. It only makes sense, and should actually be effective. Hyman gets in the dirty areas, Tavares sets up the play, Kapanen uses his shooting to finish it.

This set up is much more advantageous to all parties and should help limit the loss of Marner to the best of the team’s ability. If Babcock over thinks this and decides to shuffle his bottom-6 and Tavares then he’s gone off the rails. Put Petan in Kapanen’s spot, insert Hyman and if he needs a minutes break, he can elevate Moore to the second line leftwing. On paper, this looks like an effective team… let’s hope paper translates to ice.

The latest Zach Hyman injury update is the best sports tweet of 2019

Have you ever had your heart broken so you play extra emotional music to compound the issue, making it worse but also inspiring you to move on an get better? Because Zach Hyman has, and he is currently trying to glow up and move on after his injury-forced (temporary) break up with hockey.

The latest tweet from NHL writer for SportsNet, Luke Fox, proves the previous statement and again puts me in awe of Zach Hyman and his rehabilitation from an ACL injury:

No, Luke, you couldn’t make it up, and I wouldn’t believe you if you did. Is this the single greatest quote about the Leafs since the inception of Twitter on March 21, 2006? It very well might be; I certainly can’t think of anything that would top this.

I previously asked the very capital-J Journalism question: “Is Zach Hyman actually just Wolverine?” after he was on the ice ahead of schedule after offseason knee surgery. Now, however, a new question has arisen: “Is Zach Hyman is an emotionally charged man, ready to springboard off of the chart-topping success of Justin Timberlake to smash rehab schedules and take the NHL by storm?”

Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, this tweet is hilarious and awesome for the mental picture it creates of Hyman ripping home shots, cursing his mortal ligaments, and pushing himself to be a better man for the Leafs.

If I’m the Boston Bruins right now, I’m shaking in my skates.

Is Zach Hyman actually just Wolverine?

I mean, I’ve never seen Zach Hyman and Wolverine in the same room, so maybe there are some legs to this hypothesis! The reason the question comes to mind is that after only four months since his ACL surgery, Hyman is back on the ice.

Sportsnet confirmed that Zach Hyman was playing on a torn ACL due to an injury he picked up in the playoff series with the Boston Bruins. It was reported on the 25th of April that Hyman would undergo surgery to repair the torn ACL on the 29th. This crazy fast healing and progression from his surgery is certainly Wolverine-like, to say the least.

Fast forward a mere four months later, and Zach Hyman is back on the ice in a miraculous time scale. Yes, every injury is different and the degree of the tear could impact rehab time, but this is a pretty phenomenal time table for the truculent winger.

Early estimations had Hyman returning to the team in November by the earliest, with more modest guesses placing him back around Christmas. TSN’s Kristen Shilton reported that Hyman was on the ice with Maple Leafs skating consultant Barb Underhill on August 27th which certainly is causing some recanting of any previously provided timelines.

No one would be happier to have Hyman back than his coach, Mike Babcock. If Babs could trade every other forward for a carbon copy of Hyman I don’t think he’d hesitate to do it. His work ethic outweighs his size or skill and often creates opportunities for him or his linemates, so it’s understandable… to a degree.

Hyman’s injury status leaves John Tavares a center to a winger-less crew with Mitch Marner’s contract removing his right-winger, too. That being said, I honestly don’t believe Marner will miss a minute of the regular season and Hyman will be back before Christmas for sure.

The Leafs padded their lineup with cheap, experienced players to give the team forward depth. The likes of Kenny Agostino, Ilya Mikheyev, Wilson Garrett, Trevor Moore, Nic Petan, are all players who can fill Hyman’s spot while he is still rehabbing. This gives him and the Leafs time to push back the reinsertion date and stick to medical timetables, not emotional ones.

It’s nice to have a positive story coming out of Leaf Land before the season starts, and that is exactly what this is. Hopefully, he’ll shave in some mutton chops and continue the full transformation into Wolverine this year!

Nic Petan gets an extended tryout to earn his pending 2-year contract extension

Frederik Gauthier, the mainstay on the fourth line as of late, will miss a minimum of Toronto’s next two games, giving deadline acquisition Nic Petan a chance to impress in the Blue and White.

Nic Petan offers some solid usability as a gadget forward, playing both wings and center in his young career. For Toronto, that means he’s the de facto center as he was brought in for the Leafs backup option at center Par Lindholm.

Skill Over Size

Petan is certainly an upgrade on skill over Gauthier, but Toronto has to sacrifice size with the Gaut injured. It’s a bit of a loss as Gauthier has impressed with his forechecking and net-front presence this season.

It’s no secret that Toronto’s fourth line, which saw a surge in productivity through January and February, has been slumping in March. An injury is never a good thing to a team (see Toronto’s struggles with the polarizing Gardiner out), but a shake up was certainly needed on the bottom-6.

Statistically speaking, Petan is a bit up and down in his three games with Toronto this season. He’s scored one goal, which was a no-doubt laser beam in front of the net, but he’s also got a -3 rating. Gauthier’s injury will give him a chance to show he’s got some defensive prowess as well.

Silver lining?

Where one injury subtracts from the team, it seems like another will add to the team as Kasperi Kapanen is back in practice. Kapanen, who initially missed time due to illness, was then diagnoses with a concussion and has missed the last four games.

With his reassertion into the team, the likes of Connor Brown gets pushed down to the bottom unit and Ennis is the odd man out. Ennis, who has looked good since his return from injury, has blown cold in recent weeks. Like Gauthier’s absence, Ennis’ pushing out of the lineup could refresh and remotivate the tenacious forward.

Hyman has also returned, so Kapanen’s return makes it s 2-for-1 swap of injured players. Of course, having no injuries would be better but Kapanen and Hyman provide that front end depth Toronto has been missing. Hopefully Petan can capture lightning in a bottle with his extended tryout and prove he has what it takes to contribute!