By Stan Smith
There is a lot to unravel on both the “Good” and the “Bad” sides of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 5-4 overtime win against the Calgary Flames.
The first “Good” of note is this was the first time the Maple Leafs gave up four goals this season and still won the game. They were also down a goal three times in the game but came back each time to tie the game, and eventually win it.
The Maple Leafs finally won a game in overtime. It took a high-sticking penalty on the Flames’ Jonathan Huberdeau three seconds into the fourth period and a good bounce to do it, but the Maple Leafs did end a 0-for-6 stretch in overtime to walk away with the win.
Speaking of luck, three of the Maple Leafs’ five goals resulted from lucky bounces. Flames defenseman Chris Tanev scored a goal and added an assist for the Maple Leafs. William Nylander’s second goal of the game deflected off Tanev’s shoulder, causing the puck to change direction and caught Flames’ goaltender Dan Vladar going the wrong direction.
Then in overtime Tanev blocked Mitch Marner’s original shot, only to see the puck bounce off of him directly back to Marner who one-timed the rebound into the net. The other lucky bounce was a missed one-timer by Auston Matthews that rebounded off the backboards right to Michael Bunting who lifted the puck over a sprawling Vladar.
William Nylander had the best game of his career. He was in on all five Toronto goals. Nylander scored two goals and added three assists in the game. According to Statmuse.com, it is the first time that a Maple Leafs” player has registered a point in every goal in a game where the Maple Leafs scored five goals. Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour, and Darryl Sittler have all scored six points in a game where the Maple Leafs have scored six goals, but never before in Maple Leafs’ history has a player gone five for five.
Nylander is off to his best start this season. He leads the team with 17 goals and is on pace to score 48 goals this season. His five points moved him into third in team scoring with 33 points in 29 games, one behind Matthews, and two behind Marner.
Matthews extended his point streak to seven games with a goal and two assists in the game. He has scored six goals and added seven assists for a total of 13 points in the seven games.
Michael Bunting scored his fifth goal of the season. What was rare about this goal was that it was his first goal at home this season. Bunting had failed to score in 14 previous games at the Scotiabank Arena. The goal did keep an eight-game points streak going for Bunting. He had registered assists in his previous seven games.
Matt Murray has now gone nine consecutive games without a regulation loss. The only game Murray has lost in regulation was his first start of the season in Montreal, a game the Maple Leafs lost 4-3 in regulation time. Since that opening-night loss, Murray has gone 7-0-2. His seven wins in ten starts this season are two more wins than he had all last season with the Ottawa Senators.
Last but not least is Marner extending his points streak to 22 games. Marner is now tied for 20th in the league for all-time consecutive point streaks with Steve Yzerman, Dany Heatly, and Bronco Horvath. Only 12 players in the 105-year history of the NHL have had consecutive point streaks longer than 22 games.
This was Matt Murray’s worse game since his opening-night 4-3 loss to the Canadiens. Murray has exceeded everyone’s expectations this season, and I have praised him countless times for his stellar play. I might be a little harsh in my assessment of his play in this game, but I think every goal that Murray gave up in this game was stoppable. At the very least they are shots we have accustomed to seeing him stop.
Calgary’s fourth goal could have gone under the heading “Ugly.” It was a shot from an extremely bad angle by Noah Hanafin that first appeared Murray had stopped before it trickled through his legs and into the net. Even though the whistle blew previous to the puck crossing the goalline, it was ruled a good goal upon review.
If there is a silver lining in Murray’s play in this game it was the result. With a team as offensively powerful as the Maple Leafs, a goalie can give up four goals and still have a shot at winning the game. This win can be looked upon as the Maple Leafs’ skaters returning the favour for Murray’s record-setting performance in his last game, a 44-save shutout of the Dallas Stars.
Yes, Marner kept his consecutive game streak going with an assist on the Maple Leafs’ second goal; and, yes Marner won the game for the Maple Leafs with his overtime goal. That said, this was not one of Marner’s better games.
Marner turned over the puck in his own end on three different occasions, on three separate attempts to get a soft touch pass to John Tavares. One of those turnovers ended up in the back of the Maple Leafs’ net.
While Nylander, Matthews, Marner, and Bunting have been piling up the points of late. One inconspicuously quiet player is John Tavares. Tavares did assist on Marner’s overtime goal. It was only his second point in his last five games and his third point in his last seven.
Tavares hasn’t been playing terribly in that stretch but he has not been producing offensively like he usually does. He’s still just one point under a point-a-game pace for the season with 28 points in 29 games.
While I did state that the fourth goal Murray gave up could have easily been considered “Ugly,” I saved this section for Wayne Simmonds. The Maple Leafs and Simmonds have to come up with better usage of either Simmonds or his position on the roster.
Simmonds was a major liability in the 6:54 he played in this game. He took two penalties in the game. One negated a potential power play for the Maple Leafs leading to one goal by Calgary. The other penalty led to a power-play goal by the Flames.
While it would be easy to blame Simmonds for his play, it has to be difficult for a veteran player in his 30s to only get into seven games in a 29-game span, average 7:38 in the games that he did play, and still perform to the best of his abilities.
I realize that Simmonds is on the roster for one purpose. That’s for the physicality he brings. He did show that in this game, recording six hits, and standing up for Matthews when he was crosschecked to the ice. However, if Sheldon Keefe doesn’t have the confidence in Simmonds to play him more than seven and a half minutes a game, he’s not going to be able to contribute to his fullest.
If Keefe doesn’t trust Simmonds, he should use the roster spot for a player he does trust. Many, if not all of the Marlies’ forwards that the Maple Leafs have brought up this season have played more and contributed more than Simmonds has when he has dressed.
I also don’t know if it is the Maple Leafs’ decision, Simmonds’ decision, or a mutual one, to not have Simmonds report to the Marlies after clearing waivers. I can’t help but feel getting regular ice time in the AHL would better prepare Simmonds for those times that Keefe felt he could use him.
The Maple Leafs get a day off before returning to the ice to prepare to meet the struggling Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night. The Ducks are last in the NHL with a record of 7-18-3. If this were October, taking on a team like the Ducks would scare the heck out of me. The Maple Leafs lost 4-3 in overtime to Anaheim in their first meeting of the season, back on October 30th.
Similar to the Flames, the Maple Leafs will be taking on Anaheim on their second game of back-to-backs, as the Ducks visit the Senators in Ottawa the night before.