By Stan Smith
This is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ team fans have all learned to love (and hate). They play down to the worst teams in the league and play up to the best. If we single out one of their worst performances so far this season, the loss to Arizona looked like a complete team failure from top to bottom, a game where nothing worked for anyone.
This game was the antithesis of that one. It was a game where everyone contributed to the win.
The Scorers Are Scoring
After scoring one goal in his first seven games, Auston Matthews now has goals in four of his last five games and five goals in total in those five games.
William Nylander made the play of the game for the Maple Leafs when, on the power play, he took the puck from his own zone, through center ice, into the Bruins’ zone, behind the Boston net, and then placed the perfect pass into Matthews stick in front of the net for a tap in and a 2-1 lead.
Mitch Marner had two secondary assists in this game and was starting to look like himself. Just as importantly he had a tremendous defensive game and played a strong role in the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill.
Michael Bunting made the type of play we have come to expect from him, mucking it up behind the net to win a battle against Brandon Carlo; and, stickless, kicking the puck to Matthews who quickly went forehand to backhand and tucked it behind a surprised Linus Ullmark.
All four of the Maple Leafs’ “Big Four” are now playing at a point-a-game pace or better.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS AUSTON MATTHEWS: LESSONS LEARNED PLAYING IN SWITZERLAND
Successful Return For Liljegren
After missing all of training camp and the first eleven games of the season, Timothy Liljegren jumped right into the fire, taking on the best team in the league this season and doing so in a top-four role, playing alongside Morgan Rielly.
While Liljegren showed a little tentativeness in the first period, he got stronger as the game progressed. Analytically he picked right up where he left off last season posting the best underlying numbers of any defenseman on the team. At five-on-five with Liljegren on the ice, the Maple Leafs had a 66.7% share of shot attempts, 73.3% share of the shots, 60% of the Scoring Chances, and 77.2% of the Expected Goals. He was on the ice for two High-Danger Chances For and zero against.
We have to give kudos to the much-maligned Justin Holl. Along with all of his foibles, the one thing Holl does well is kill penalties. He made some key shot blocks when the Maple Leafs were forced to kill off back-to-back penalties in the third period. Holl led the team with four blocked shots in the game.
The worst thing in this game for the Maple Leafs was losing Ilya Samsonov to a knee injury. I think we were all surprised to see Erik Kallgren take the net to start the third period. It was confirmed by head coach Sheldon Keefe following the game that Samsonov injured his knee on the Brad Marchand penalty shot in the second period. Watching replays of that goal, you can see Samsonov fall awkwardly back into his net with his left leg folded beneath him.
The good news is that Samsonov played 14 minutes to finish the period. Hopefully, that means the injury is not that serious. The bad news is that gives the Maple Leafs three injured goalies in their system – Samsonov, Matt Murray, and Joseph Woll. Murray has been skating but is still a ways from being healthy enough to return.
The Marlies don’t play today so we expect that Keith Petruzzelli will get the call to back up Kallgren this evening in Carolina when the Maple Leafs take on the Hurricane.
For now, the Maple Leafs might have to ride Kallgren through a very tough part of the schedule.
No Penalty Shot, No Injury to Samsonov
I realize I am starting to sound like a broken record, but the ugliest part of this game (to me) was the refereeing. First, was the TJ Brodie trip on Brad Marchand being called a penalty shot. Yes, Marchand caught Brodie flatfooted and got around him, and yes Brodie tripped him. It was a penalty all the way. But the play happened about ten feet in front of the Maple Leafs’ net. In no way was that a breakaway in my opinion.
Even if the penalty shot wasn’t called, Boston would have had a minute-forty two-man advantage and odds are they might have scored anyway. However, without the penalty shot would have been no injury to Samsonov.
Marchand Draws a Tavares Penalty on a Dive
Then, in the third period, the back-to-back calls on John Tavares and Rasmus Sandin were terrible. On the Tavares penalty, Patrice Bergeron has the puck. Tavares is trying to get to Bergeron and Marchand makes a pick play, interfering with Tavares getting to Bergeron. Tavares does put his hand up to get around Marchand. Marchand immediately falls down resulting in a penalty to Tavares.
I question who was interfering with whom on that play. I guess credit has to be given to Marchand for taking the dive and drawing the penalty. I also have to admit it is far from the first time I have seen two players battling for position on the ice, one of them falls and the other gets called for a penalty. It doesn’t make it any less irritating though.
Related: Maple Leafs Fans Boo Justin Holl? People Say What They Want (Marner)
Sandin Penalized for What He Should Have done
Then to make matters worse, Sandin gets called for boarding on what to me was Sandin doing exactly what he was supposed to do. In the referee’s defence on this call, the NHL does leave a ton of room to leave it up to his discretion. In the most recent changes to the NHL rulebook here is the official interpretation of the boarding rule.
“41.1 Boarding – A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenceless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
“There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in applying this rule by the referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenceless position; and, if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately before or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the referees when applying this rule.
“Any unnecessary contact with a player playing the puck on an obvious ‘icing” or ‘off-side’ play which results in that player hitting or impacting the boards is “boarding’ and must be penalized as such. In other instances where there is no contact with the boards, it should be treated as ‘charging.’ “
To make matters worse, Sandin could face supplementary discipline for the hit. We would be very surprised if that happened though, and there has been no word of any further action being taken.
The Maple Leafs have a short turnaround as they head into Carolina for a five o’clock game versus the Hurricanes. It will be interesting to see if Keefe makes any lineup changes to get some fresh bodies into the lineup.
With Carolina not being as physical a team as the Bruins, I could see Simmonds coming out of the lineup. It would be nice to see Nick Robertson get back into the lineup. Sitting in the pressbox is not going to help his development.
One last note, if the team wanted to add a hot player and some offence for the game, Adam Gaudette scored a hattrick in the Toronto Marlies’ 5-2 win over the Senators in Belleville on Saturday night.
Related: Auston Matthews Smiling During Scrums: What Does It Mean?