By Stan Smith
After suffering back-to-back home-ice losses, the Toronto Maple Leafs came up with a much-needed 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
I have to start with the Maple Leafs honouring Borje Salming on both Friday and Saturday. I watched Salming play throughout his entire career. When the team posted its top 100 players of all time and ranked Salming eighth, I felt he should have ranked higher. I don’t usually get emotional for ceremonies like this, but this one choked me up.
I also thought it was great that the Maple Leafs started five Swedish players on the opening faceoff, Pierre Engvall, William Nylander, Calle Jarnkrok, Timothy Liljegren, and Rasmus Sandin.
For the next “Good” I’m going to skip right to the start of the second period. After being outscored 2-0 in the first period, the Maple Leafs came out on fire to start the second. They scored three goals in the first 10 minutes of the period.
Auston Matthews opened the scoring for the Maple Leafs on the power play. He received a nice pass from Mitch Marner at the top of the right circle and then beat Canucks’ goalie Spencer Martin with a wrist shot. This is the type of goal we used to see Matthews score quite often. We need to see it more. He has what might be the best wrist shot in the game.
The second goal I am saving for later.
The third goal was Jordie Benn’s tap-in off a Morgan Rielly shot that got deflected wide of the net and bounced off the backboard. I have to admit being surprised that Benn was down that low (my surprise was shared by Matthews in his post-game press conference).
Watching the playback I wonder if it was not a planned play. It looked completely choreographed. Nylander picks up the puck deep in the left corner of the offensive zone. As he skates out towards the blueline, Rielly shifts right along the blue line from the left point to the right point.
At the same time and at the same pace Benn skates from his position at the right point to just beside the Vancouver net. Meanwhile, Matthews and Pierre Engvall run interference in the middle of the ice and in front of the net. The final part of the play I liked was that Nylander continued out into the neutral zone to cover defensively in case of a turnover.
I don’t know if this was a set play or not. If it wasn’t, it should be.
Interestingly, Benn scored his first goal in his first game as a Maple Leaf. It matches his goal output for each of the last three seasons, at one.
This might have been Engvall’s best game this season. After scoring 15 goals last season, the Maple Leafs had hoped that Engvall could take the next step in his development and fill the hole left by the departing Ilya Mikheyev. That has yet to happen. Part of the problem may have been his injury to start training camp.
Engvall has not seemed engaged for many games to start the season. Things hit a low for Engvall on Friday night against the Penguins when he was limited to only 7:49 in the game. This isn’t the first time that Sheldon Keefe has used tough love to motivate Engvall; it seemed to have worked this time.
While the Maple Leafs came out strong to start the first period, they seemed stunned when the Canucks scored the first goal of the game on their first real scoring chance. Then Vancouver added a power play goal to go up 2-0 and it appeared like this was going to become another game where the Maple Leafs played down to their opponents.
Thankfully it wasn’t.
Following the Pittsburgh game, I wrote about how the Maple Leafs can score the pretty goals but never seem to be able to score the “ugly” kind where it is just a matter of hard work, creating havoc down low and banging away at the puck. Engvall’s goal that tied the game at two is exactly the type of goal I was talking about
It doesn’t get any uglier than that.
After two days off, the Maple Leafs travel to Pittsburgh hopefully to get revenge on the Penguins. Matt Murray might be back for that game.
The team then returns to Toronto to play another three-game homestand, starting with the surprising New Jersey Devils (who lead the Metropolitan Division) on Thursday. They then play the always-tough Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and the New York Islanders on Monday before heading out on the road for four games.