By Stan Smith
This was one of those games where the Toronto Maple Leafs deserved a better fate than to be at the losing end of a 3-2 score. For the second game in a row, they limited the opposition to only five High-Danger Chances at five-on-five according to the website Naturalstattrick.com.
The big four players on this team, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, are all starting to find their game. In regulation, Marner and Nylander were by far the team’s best players, controlling the puck, and the play, whenever they were on the ice.
With an assist on Tavares’ power-play goal that tied the game at one, Marner extended his league-leading points streak to 13 games tying his career-best streak. It’s his second 13-game scoring streak in 2022. His previous streak stretched from March 15th to April 9th of this year (during the end of the 2021-22 season). In the present 13-game streak Marner has three goals and 15 assists for 18 points.
Nylander, who also assisted on the Tavares goal, is on a six-game point streak of his own. He has five goals and three assists for eight points in that stretch. Nylander has failed to score points in only three of the first 20 games the Maple Leafs have played.
The Tavares goal was his team-leading 11th goal of the season and ties him for seventh in NHL scoring.
Matthews scored his third five-on-five goal of the season to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead in the second period when he deflected a point shot by Timothy Liljegren. After scoring only one goal in his first seven games Matthews has eight in his last 13 games.
Even though he got the worst of it, it was good to see 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Rasmus Sandin, without even thinking about it, jump in to take on the Islander’s 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Oliver Wahlstrom after Wahlstrom took out Matthews’ knee-on-knee.
There were a number of shifts where head coach Sheldon Keefe put five Swedish players on the ice together, six if you count goaltender Erik Kallgren. While they didn’t figure into the scoring, the forward line of Pierre Engvall, Call Jarnkrok, and Pontus Holmberg, along with defensemen Sandin and Liljegren (who each had a point but not with that line) posted the best five-on-five analytics in the game for the Maple Leafs.
They had a combined 67.7% of Shot Attempts, 67.8% of Expected Goals, 68.6% of Scoring Chances, and 86.7% of High-Danger Chances. By the eye test, they spent a lot of time in the offensive zone. Keefe might have found something here.
While he wasn’t tested all that much, Erik Kallgren played a strong game until………..
….the 17:02 mark of the third period. Until then, Kallgren had stopped 20 of 21 shots he had faced. The only goal he gave up to that point was off a point shot by Noah Dobson that was going wide when it bounced off of David Kampf’s butt and into the goal.
Kallgren mishandled a dump in by Kyle Palmieri. Rather than settle the puck down and let Jordie Benn, who was speeding back, take the puck, Kallgren attempted a quick pass to Benn, missing him by a mile. The errant pass went straight to Josh Bailey, who made no mistake, tying the game at two. The goal rattled the Maple Leafs who from there just held on to kill the remaining three minutes on the clock to send the game to overtime and secure a point.
I thought at the time that this would be my ugly moment in the game. I was wrong.
What I thought was going to be my only bad thing about the game was losing Morgan Rielly when he collided with Palmieri early in the third period. Rielly left the game with what looked like a knee injury. If the Maple Leafs lose Rielly, their top three defensemen would all be out with injuries.
I hate to say it but when the overtime started I was wondering how long it would take the Islanders to score. It turned out it was 1:56.
Nylander and Marner, after playing a stellar 60 minutes of hockey seemed intent on giving this game away. Nylander tried first, with two icings, before gifting the puck to Matthews Barzal just outside the Maple Leafs’ blue line creating a two-on-one for the Islanders. Luckily Kallgren was up to the challenge and stopped the ensuing shot by Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Then Marner gave the puck to Barzal again, this time in the Islanders’ zone. The Islanders took their time, and got a line change going before Brock Nelson entered the Maple Leafs’ zone, and dropped the puck to Anthony Beauvillier who caught the top righthand corner of the net with a good shot, but one that Kallgren probably should have had.
The Maple Leafs open a four-game road trip in New Jersey on Wednesday night. If they can get revenge for their overtime loss to the Devils last week, it will go a long way to erasing the sour taste this game left. They then go back to back in Minnesota and Pittsburgh on Friday, and Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Ilya Samsonov is able to make it back for one of the weekend games. I fully expect Matt Murray to get the start versus the Devils.
It is a bit scary to think that the Maple Leafs’ defensive core might consist of Mark Giordano, Justin Holl, Benn, Liljegren, Sandin, and Victor Mete for this game.
What I Would Like To See
While Denis Malgin has been playing well at times recently for the Maple Leafs, he has not had a point in his last five games and is minus three. I would like to see Nick Robertson suit up for the Devils’ games.
One last note. The Maple Leafs are 1-5 in overtime this season. With all of the firepower and talent, they have the only player to score an overtime goal this season. That is Robertson.