Folks- it’s Christmastime! The Leafs have presented us with a few nice gifts over the month of December. It just seemed like the right thing to do to tie some opinion in with the Christmas spirit. I’ve done us all the favor of comparing some favorite Leafs with some favorite Christmas characters.
Jake Muzzin aka John McClane (Die Hard)
I know, I know; whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas flick is up for excessive debate. For me; it makes the cut. Muzzin has been one of those cases this year where he’s likely playing best when you’re not noticing him. The problem with that analogy is that we have noticed him and he’s been great. He takes on the demeanor of John McClane this season for many reasons. His shot blocking has been truly self-sacrificial. He’s been tough as nails anchoring the front of the net in Keefe’s new defensive system. His heart seems unbreakable. The camera caught him on the bench after taking a shot off the side of his calf versus Buffalo. Not only was he grimacing like McClane crawling through the air ducts, but showed indestructibility like him too. He winced, withered and wooed his teammates on, even though it appeared he just took a 9mm to the shin. To round it all out, he crushed Madison Bowey against the Wings last Saturday and when Anthony Mantha came calling, Muzzin almost tossed him into the 5th row. Ladies and gentlemen; Jake McClane.
Frederik Andersen aka The Grinch
Well this one just seems too easy. Freddy ruined plenty of skaters December by deliberately stealing all their goals. Freddy sits 2nd in the NHL with 823 saves, 1st in games started and 1st in wins. As a blocker style goaltender, Andersen’s game is bred on efficiency and he has been the epitome of that. Keefe’s new defensive system has helped Andersen to settle in and be prepared for expected shots from the outside. Andersen as the Grinch was an easy comparison, hell, he even stole some of Hutch’s back-end starts! I hope I’m very wrong with this comparison in one way: that Andersen’s year ends the same way as the film. Give nothing back Freddy! Keep all the saves for yourself!
Mitch Marner aka Clark Griswold (Christmas Vacation)
Marner couldn’t be more committed to spreading the joy around this roster. Since returning from his ankle sprain he has been better and better every game. This past week has been the best example that Mitch is back to his regular form. In Marner’s last 5 games he has posted 4 assists and 8 points. Sometimes it’s frustrating to see Mitch pass up shots to make a pass, but I’ve got to tell you, when this guy puts it all together, it’s a bigger light show than the Griswold family home on Christmas eve.
Zach Hyman aka Cousin Eddie (Christmas Vacation)
You can’t help but notice the goofy, almost surprised smile on Hyman’s face when he shelfs a backhand beauty at home on a Saturday night. I don’t know if I believe there is a comparison in Cousin Eddie and Zach Hyman’s work ethic, but there certainly is in that he’s the lovable outsider to some degree. Whether he plays with Mitch and Johnny Taronna, or Mitch and Matthews, this guy is the least skilled of the three, by far. His drive to annoy and retrieve pucks cannot be shook though. His puck pursuit in bar none. His work ethic is incredible. He’d do anything for the success of his team. I’d bet a pretty penny that he’d be the guy knee deep in crap if all the sudden it was announced “sh*tter’s full!” in the Leaf locker room.
John Tavares aka Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
The leader of the pack. Using his luminous innate leadership qualities; Tavares has been the key cog in leading the Toronto Maple Leafs through a very rocky start of this NHL season. It seemed as though when he stood up after the team’s first win under Keefe and proclaimed (and even swore), “this is the start of something special, we don’t f*cking stop, we build on this” He literally packed the boys into the sleigh and started the trek up the mountain. Tavares has shouldered the media, and played through some absurd line combos put forward by Babs early on. Now with the 11-91-16 combo healthy, he continues to be the steady presence the Leafs need on their bench.
Auston Matthews aka SANTA CLAUS!
Is there a gift this guy doesn’t have!? 7 points in his last 3 games. Skills on skills on skills on display. He continues to give us highlights for the ages, game after game. Against Buffalo on December 17, Matthews exploded out of the wrapping when he buried an absolute laser over Ullmark’s right shoulder. 10 minutes later he made the entire 5-man Sabre unit look like they had too much eggnog, dangling 3-men en route to shelfing a back hander past both Ullmark and defender playing second goalie. I’ve been vocal that Matthews needs to be more consistent. I’ve always questioned whether that’s a flaw of his or just a product of playing under a coach that he couldn’t trust. Seems like Matthews consistency has been better under Keefe and is only increasing. He is now on pace for 51 goals. That’s a gift I’ll take from Santa Papi every year.
Merry Christmas to all of you Leaf fans! Here’s to hoping the holidays and new year bring you all some blue and white under the tree, great time with family and friends and maybe even some shiny silver gifts come June 2020!
Author: Mike Dube