By Stan Smith
I did a quick calculation in my head and concluded that I have watched all or parts of well over 5,000 hockey games in my life. Just when I thought I had seen pretty much everything, a game like this one comes along.
Not only have I never seen a team have three goals called back in a single game, but I also have to wonder if it has ever happened before. I’m sure it has never happened in the NHL in my lifetime. It is even more amazing that all three of the calls went the Maple Leafs’ way.
Despite coming into this game down their top three defensemen, the Maple Leafs played what could be considered one of their best periods of the season when they went up 2-0 in the first period. According to Naturalstattrick.com, at five-on-five they had 58.3% of the Shot Attempts, Shots, and Scoring Chances in the period. They had three High-Danger Chances to the Devils’ two and made good on two of those three chances.
Marner extended his point streak to a personal best 14-game scoring streak with an awesome assist on John Tavares’ 12th goal of the season. It was also the 403rd of Tavares’ career. Marner outmuscled two Devils’ players; and, from his knees, fired a backhand pass to Tavares, who was all alone in front of the net. Tavares made no mistake with a one-timer snap-shot between Devils’ goalie Vitek Vanecek’s legs.
Pontus Holmberg Scores First Goal of His Career
Pontus Holmberg scored his first career NHL goal as Rasmus Sandin and Alex Kerfoot won a battle along the boards in the New Jersey zone to spring him free in front of the Devils’ net. Holmberg, like Tavares before him, found the five-hole on Vanecek.
Matt Murray was by far the first star of this game. He has played fantastic hockey since coming back from injury going 3-0-1 with a 2.00 goals-against-average and a .942 Save Percentage. This might have been his best game. He stoned the Devils all night.
The Defensemen Deserved Second Stars
I would nominate all six defensemen as the second star of this game as they did a stellar job of limiting the Devils’ scoring chances. Justin Holl led the defence in ice time with just over 25 minutes played. Mark Giordano wasn’t far behind with just under 25 minutes. Rasmus Sandin played over 22 minutes and Timothy Liljegren just under 20.
In his NHL debut, Mac Hollowell had a baptism under fire in the 12:26 he played. He did not look out of place. Jordie Benn was a physical force until he left the game with what was labelled an upper-body injury.
The Maple Leafs as a team blocked 21 shots in the game. Giordano had to be nursing some bruises as he blocked six shots himself. Other players with multiple blocks were Marner with three and Sandin and Benn with two. Altogether 12 different players on the Maple Leafs recorded blocked shots in the game.
This is not really that bad when you consider the Maple Leafs were digging well into the Marlies’ roster to come up with six defensemen for this game. As well, the 39-year-old Giordano and Holl were the team’s top pair. However, the Devils took over the game in the second period and dominated play for the last 40 minutes.
The Maple Leafs forwards played kitty-bar-the-door for the last two periods to support their defence. New Jersey outshot the Maple Leafs 30-10 in the last two-thirds of the game. While their tactics worked well enough in this game to get the win, it is not a recipe the Maple Leafs want to follow in the future.
The game turned ugly in the third period following the third disallowed goal by New Jersey as the crowd pelted the ice with garbage, forcing the Maple Leafs to clear their bench and head to shelter under the stands. After a lengthy delay to clean the ice the game resumed.
The Maple Leafs make a quick turnaround as they visit Minnesota to take on the Wild in a rare 2:00 pm Friday afternoon game before heading to Pittsburgh on Saturday to take on the Penguins.
The team completed a deal to acquire 24-year-old St. Catharines native Conor Timmins for Marlies’ forward Curtis Douglas. Timmins, a 32nd pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, has never really caught on in the NHL, partially due to injuries.
While he most likely will not have that much impact, he adds one more option to help head coach Sheldon Keefe deal with the multiple injuries the Maple Leafs have on the back end. As of the writing of this post, Victor Mete is expected to take Benn’s place on Friday afternoon.