By Stan Smith
With four of their top seven defensemen injured, the Toronto Maple Leafs should not be playing this well. I can understand winning their first game after Morgan Rielly went down just on pure adrenaline. I even predicted they would beat the New Jersey Devils.
To go into Minnesota and defeat the Wild was a surprise. The way that game went, the disallowed goals, etc., it could have easily gone the other way.
But to go into Pittsburgh and dominate a Penguins team that had won five in a row is mind-boggling to me.
There is no way I could list all of the good things that happened in the game. Here are some.
Mitch Marner wasted no time in extending his point streak to 16 games moving him into a tie with Dave Andreychuck (1993-94), John Anderson (1983-84), and Babe Dye (1921-22). Marner scored 40 seconds into the game.
Marner added an assist on the Pontus Holmberg goal to make the score 2-0 Maple Leafs in the second period. Marner has five goals and 17 assists for a total of 22 points in those 16 games.
In the calendar year 2022, including the regular season and playoffs Marner has scored 37 goals and added 75 assists for 112 points in 79 games played.
If Marner can extend his streak for two more games, he will tie the longest streak in Maple Leafs’ history set by Darryl Sittler in 1977-78 and matched by Ed Olcyk 1989-90. For now, it is the longest point streak for a Maple Leafs’ player in 28 years.
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Auston Matthews, William Nylander & Michael Bunting
After going two games where he was pointless, Auston Matthews came to life in this one scoring a goal and adding two assists.
William Nylander scored a goal and added an assist in the game. He is tied for the team lead in goals with John Tavares (who did not register a point in this game) with 12 goals.
Micahel Bunting had two assists in the game, including one nice one where he did all the work fighting off three different Penguins’ players before passing the puck to Matthews in front of the net while he was laying on his back on the ice.
With the Maple Leafs gaining the lead 40 seconds into the game and adding to it with two more goals in the second-period head coach Sheldon Keefe spread the ice time around amongst his forwards. Marner played the most minutes at 19:31 while Holmberg had the least at 12:01.
The Defense Steps Up
Justin Holl, Mark Giordano, Rasmus Sandin, and Timothy Liljegren were all over 20 minutes. Sandin led the way at 22:59. Victor Mete played a strong game and was rewarded for it by Keefe, as he played 15:24, up from the 11:47 he played in New Jersey. Mac Hollowell played the least of any of the Maple Leafs’ players at 11:30.
Erik Kallgren played what might have been his best game this season, stopping 25 of the 26 shots he faced. In the nine starts, Kallgren has had he has only lost two of them in regulation. Overall he has a won/loss record of 3-2-4. His goals-against-average is 2.67 and he’s approaching .900% with his save percentage, presently sitting at .898%.
I expect Kallgren’s days with the big team are numbered though, as Ilya Samsonov comes closer to returning. Samsonov is practicing with the team but the Maple Leafs have not set a date for his return. With Kallgren playing so well, it gives the team the luxury of not rushing Samsonov back.
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Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin
A season ago Keefe would have never put two inexperienced players like Sandin and Lilkjegren together. Now, by necessity, not only are they playing together, they are playing in the top four and playing very well.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, in the past three games, Sandin has been on the ice at five-on-five for 53.5% of the Shot Attempts, 60.6% of the Shots, 70.0% of the Scoring Chances, 58.1% of the High-Danger Chances, and 63.3% of the Expected Goals.
Liljegren has been on the ice for 50.2% of the Shot Attempts, 57.6% of the Shots, 61.6% of the Scoring Chances, 57.6% of the High-Danger Chances, and 64.7% of the Expected Goals.
Both Sandin and Liljegren have put up those numbers playing predominantly against top-six competition, not the sheltered competition they have faced in the past.
I have just two things for The Bad.
First is the bad bounce off of Pierre Engvall’s skate that went directly to Rickard Rackell right in front of the Maple Leafs’ net. Rackell snapped the puck home before Kallgren had a chance to react. If not for that Kallgren would have had a shutout in this game.
The other is the play of Alex Kerfoot. I have read articles stating how badly Kerfoot has played this season and I don’t necessarily agree with them. Kerfoot has struggled offensively and has failed to score much, only registering one goal and six assists in 23 games. However, he has been playing his usual strong defensive game.
It is apparent he’s struggling with the puck as he is having issues completing the simplest of passes at times. He has still been a positive, though. At five-on-five he has been on the ice for 13 goals for and nine against.
Why he is a “bad” against the Penguins was in a game where the Maple Leafs won 4-1 Kerfoot was the only player that was a minus in plus/minus. He registered a minus-1.
I am happy to say that I cannot think of a single thing that I would consider ugly in this game unless you are a Penguins fan.
The Maple Leafs take their road show into Detroit on Monday night. The Red Wings are on a four-game winning streak and sit third in the Atlantic Division five points behind the second-place Maple Leafs.
The team returns to Toronto to play one home game versus the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday before heading back out on the road for a two-game trip to Tampa Bay and Dallas.
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