By Stan Smith
This game was much similar to the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. The score was 4-1 Toronto for a good portion of the game and like the Penguins’ game, one team dominated the play for most of the game.
The difference in this game was, it was the losing team that dominated the game.
The Ugly happened just shy of five minutes into the game. With both Michael Bunting and William Nylander down low in the Detroit zone, Auston Matthews circled out into the slot with the puck and turned it over. Victor Mete made an ill-timed pinch that left him out of position in the play. Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Larkin broke in on rookie Mac Hollowell two-on-one.
Matt Murray stopped the original shot but fails to smother the puck. The puck remained in the crease for a good two seconds with Kubalik, Larkin, and Moritz Seider all banging away at it. At the same time, five Maple Leafs’ players, Murray, Hollowell, Mete, Matthews, and Bunting, were all trying to keep the puck out of the net. Eventually, the puck ended up in the net. NHL scoring drew straws and gave the goal to Seider.
The only thing that didn’t go Detroit’s way in this game was the score. They completely dominated the game. The Maple Leafs’ best period was the second. Even then, according to Naturalstattrick.com the Red Wings had 56% of the shot attempts, 55% of the Scoring Attempts, and 55% of the High-Danger Chances.
Overall, the Shot Attempts were 73-33, the Shots 44-25, the Scoring Chances 35-21, and the High-Danger Chances 12-8 all in Detroit’s favour.
When I was looking at the schedule before this game, I thought the game would go similarly to what it did. Going into the game the Red Wings only played three games in nine days. The last two games were at home over seven days.
For the Maple Leafs, it was their fifth game in eight days with travel between every game. If there ever were a game where a team had a legitimate excuse for losing this was it.
But, lose they didn’t. The Maple Leafs made good on the few scoring chances they had and then held on for dear life, walking away with their fourth road win in a row. With their 14-5-5 record, the Maple Leafs are now three points behind the Boston Bruins in second place in the Atlantic Division, six points ahead of the third-place Tampa Bay Lightning, and seven points up on the fourth-place Red Wings. The Maple Leafs have played three more games than all three of those teams.
I was going to start my good with Matt Murray for the fourth time in his last four games. I decided to give Justin Holl top billing instead. With everything Holl has gone through in the early going this season, fans and media alike calling for him to be traded, and at times seemingly fighting to keep a spot in the lineup, in what may have been the Maple Leafs’ toughest game Holl played his best game of the year, and possibly his career.
After playing 94 minutes of hockey in four games over six days, Holl led the team in ice time, playing just shy of 24 minutes in this game. In a game where almost every player was a negative, when Holl was on the ice at five-on-five, he led the team with 61.5% of the Scoring Chances. He was also on the ice for four High-Danger Chances For and only one High-Danger Chance Against. The Maple Leafs had 77% of the Expected Goals in Holl’s 24 minutes of playing time.
I don’t know what more I can say about Murray. He’s playing the best hockey he has in years. Murray faced 44 shots in this game and stopped 42 of them, giving him a .955 Save Percentage. In seven games this season, Murray is 5-1-1 with a Save Percentage of .927 and a Goals-Against-Average of 2.44.
One interesting stat to note. In the 24 games the Maple Leafs have played this season, they have given up more than 31 shots a game in only six of those games. Murray has been in the net for five of them. Except for the first game he played where the Maple Leafs gave up 23 shots, Murray has faced an average of 35 shots a game.
In the games in which Murray has not been in goal, the Maple Leafs have given up an average of 25 shots per game. I’m not sure if them giving up 10 more shots per game on average when Murray plays is a good thing or a bad thing.
I’m running out of things to say about Marner. He stretched his consecutive game point streak to 17 games, the longest of any Maple Leafs’ player in the last 32 years. If he extends it one more game, he will have tied Darryl Sittler and Ed Olcyk for the longest streak in team history.
Not only did Marner keep his string alive, but he was also by far the most dominant Maple Leafs’ player on the ice all night. Every time he touched the puck, something positive happened, be it offensively, or defensively. He set up linemates John Tavares and Calle Janrkrok for numerous scoring chances. Defensively he was credited with three blocks, but I counted at least five other times he deflected shots, or passes, in the defensive zone.
I talked about how it appears that so much of Marner’s game has to do with his confidence. Right now he is filled with confidence; and, it shows. He is so much fun to watch.
Kerfoot, Holmberg, and Engvall
While they only played an average of nine minutes each at five on five the line of Alex Kerfoot, Pontus Holmberg, and Pierre Engvall did not give up a single High-Danger Scoring Chance in the game; while, they generated three of their own. The only one of the three players that figured into the scoring was Kerfoot, who had an assist on Rasmus Sandin’s goal.
Kudos to Mac Hollowell for gaining his first NHL point when he made a nice backhand bank pass off the boards to Michael Bunting creating a three-on-two with Auston Matthews and William Nylander. That play finished with Matthews scoring his 11th goal of the season.
The Maple Leafs will have to avoid a letdown as they return home to face the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday. The Sharks are in second-to-last place in the Pacific Division. Both teams should be just as tired and weary.
The Maple Leafs will be playing their sixth game in ten days, while the Sharks will be playing their second game of back-to-backs (they are in Montreal tonight), and their 12th game in 21 days.