By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs went down 3-2 to the hot New Jersey Devils at home on Thursday night. The win by the Devils was their eleventh in a row. Today we will examine some of the good, bad, and ugly takeaways from the game.
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The Maple Leafs started the game out playing pretty well. For the most part, the first period was pretty even. With no score in the game, the Maple Leafs went to the power play when Dougie Hamilton conked Mitch Marner over the head with his stick. At 1:13 into the power play, Auston Matthews took a feed in the slot from Michael Bunting and fired it home to score his eighth goal of the season. The shots in the game were even at that time at seven apiece.
Bunting’s assist was his fourth point in two games and his tenth point on the season. With all the talk about Bunting’s slow start this season, his ten points in eighteen games is two more points than he had last season after the same number of games.
Mitch Marner also drew an assist on the goal to stretch his point streak to eleven games. He has three goals and twelve assists for fifteen points in those eleven games.
Matt Murray, making his second start in three days since coming back from injury, kept the game close for the Maple Leafs. He made some stellar saves. Murray has stopped 65 out of the 70 shots he has faced in the last two games, giving him a .929% save percentage over those games.
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The first bad was allowing the Devils to tie the game 24 seconds after taking the lead.
The Maple Leafs struggled to complete passes in all three zones and the Devils used their speed to take away any space on the ice when the Maple Leafs were in possession of the puck. I don’t know what criteria the NHL uses to determine the difference between and giveaway and a takeaway, but the Maple Leafs were credited (debited?) with 22 giveaways while the Devils were credited with eight takeaways in the game. In my estimation, both those numbers are low. More about that later.
Two of the three Devils’ goals came off of egregious errors by the Maple Leafs. The first was a turnover by Jordie Benn in the Devils’ zone to put New Jersey up 2-1 in the second period. The second was a giveaway by John Tavares in overtime.
Sheldon Keefe talks a lot about game management. The Tavares play was a prime example of what not to do in the situation he was in. He, Marner, and Morgan Rielly had been on the ice for close to a minute. The three New Jersey players had just changed, giving the Devils three fresh players on the ice.
Tavares made a nice play to gain control of the puck near the blue line in his own zone. In that situation, the number one priority for Tavares should have been to get off the ice. Using the wide-open Rielly to create space and get a line change would have been the smarter move. Instead, Tavares tried to force a pass to Marner, who Jack Hughes had well covered. Four seconds later the puck was in the Toronto net.
The overtime goal by the Devils was pretty ugly if you’re a Maple Leafs’ fan. The refereeing in this game was not that pretty either.
But, getting back to the subject of turnovers, the ugliest part of the game was the start of the third period. That was a microcosm of the game in general. In the first three minutes of the period, the puck went from a Maple Leafs’ player’s stick directly to a Devils’ player’s stick a total of 19 times. The Maple Leafs were trying to pass and shoot the puck through opposition players, instead of around them.
The Maple Leafs take on the 7-10-0 Buffalo Sabres on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night in Toronto. They follow that game up with a Monday nighter versus the 11-7-0 New York Islanders, also at home.
The team then heads out on the road to play four games in six nights. The first game is a rematch with the Devils on Wednesday. They then go back-to-back in Minnesota and Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday, before winding up the trip in Detroit the following Monday.
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