With the 2024 All-Star Weekend in the books, the Toronto Maple Leafs returned to action against the New York Islanders on Monday. Unfortunately, they fell 3-2 after tying it at two. Former Maple Leaf Pierre Engvall scored the game-winning goal to send his team home with the win. Although they didn’t play badly, they didn’t have their best night overall, which was expected after the team had a week off. They were a bit sloppy at times, and that led to scoring chances for the Islanders.
The Maple Leafs will need to tighten things up down the stretch, or they could find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. With that, let’s get into a few key takeaways from the game.
Johnny T Finds the Scoresheet
John Tavares experienced the worst goalless drought of his entire NHL career; he hasn’t scored in 10 games. Thankfully for him, he was able to find the back of the net against the Winnipeg Jets before the All-Star Break, which helped his confidence. Again last night, against his former team, the Islanders, he scored another goal.
During his drought, he has been getting chances, but things haven’t been going his way, and the hockey gods aren’t giving him any luck. Now that he has two goals in his last two games, that should help him get his confidence back, and he should be able to find his game again.
So far this season, Tavares has 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 total points in 48 games. In the last few seasons, he has been in and around the 25–35 goal range. This is still doable for him; he needs 11 goals in the next 34 games to hit the 25-goal mark. As for points, he will most likely have a decrease compared to the last two seasons. He had 76 and 80 points in his last two seasons; this year he may only reach 55 or 60 points. This will put a lot more pressure on him and the Maple Leafs’ management, based on his cap hit of $11 million being so high and his decrease in point production.
Benoit Deserves an Extension
Simon Benoit is a hard-nosed blue-collar worker on the ice. He hits anyone; he fights and blocks shots, which is exactly what the Maple Leafs need on the backend. Yes, they have up to eight NHL-ready defencemen in their organization, but they only have Benoit and Jake McCabe, who seem to enjoy engaging in extracurriculars. This is something that management will most likely be addressing when it comes to the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline. However, they should also address an extension for Benoit before the deadline. He has all the makings of a solid third-pairing guy who plays with his heart on his sleeve; he is what every Stanley Cup winner in the past has had on their bottom pairing.
In last night’s game, he had a huge block that resulted in the puck going out of play. Which had the fans cheering loudly, and then he followed that shift up by just missing a huge hit on Mat Barzal, which led to a fight with Bo Horvat. This is a Brad Treliving type of player; he started as a fringe defenceman who was being called up and sent down but didn’t play. However, when he got the chance, he made the most of it and has been a mainstay in the lineup ever since.
In terms of an extension, Benoit wouldn’t command too much on the open market but could also be happy to stay with the Maple Leafs on a short-term deal. I would offer him two years at $1 million average annual value (AAV), which gives him an increase in pay as a reward for playing so well but also keeps his cap hit low enough that Treliving can add more this offseason. He truly has all the makings of a fan favourite, if he isn’t already one in Toronto.
Overall, the Maple Leafs need to tighten things up and collect points as often as they can. They aren’t in the same situation as they were last season when they had a playoff spot locked up by December. It is in games like these that they need to at least come out of it with one point to help them in the race, especially when you tie it up late. The Maple Leafs are in action next Wednesday, Feb. 7, against the Dallas Stars.