By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs came out of the Christmas Break with a ragged but successful 5-4 overtime win over the Blues in St. Louis. The win halted a two-game road losing streak and raised their record to 22-7-6 for the season. The Maple Leafs became the third team in the NHL to reach the 50-point. plateau.
I have to start with William Nylander’s amazing winning goal in overtime. Nylander showed his strength, his skating ability, especially his acceleration, and his scoring prowess, all in one play. He outmuscled Vladimir Tarasenko, stripped him of the puck, broke in alone on Jordan Binnington, faked a shot, and deposited a backhand into the top of the St Louis net.
The goal was Nylander’s team-leading 21st of the season and his 40th point. He is now on pace to score 49 goals and 94 points in 2022-23. A 50-goal season is not out of the realm of possibility for Nylander.
Nylander has a four-game goal streak going and has a total of four goals and seven points in those four games.
A lot has been made of the Maple Leafs’ need for a top-six left winger. Calle Jarnkrok just might be able to fill that role. Janrkrok scored a goal and added two assists in the game to give him a total of eight points in his last seven games since being moved up to the left wing alongside John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Jarnkrok also did the heavy lifting on a shorthanded goal by Alex Kerfoot to put the Maple Leafs up 3-1 early in the second period.
The 31-year-old Jarnkrok has never scored more than 16 goals or collected more than 35 points in his 600+ game career. But, he has never played with the top-six talent the Maple Leafs have. At least he hasn’t done it for any length of time. It will be interesting to see if he can keep this up over an extended period of time.
Since he was originally called up in early November Pontus Holmberg has played 20 games for the Maple Leafs. Despite playing exclusively fourth-line minutes and only scoring two goals and eight points in those 20 games, Holmberg has played some solid hockey.
I have mentioned before that Holmberg appears to play much bigger than his 5-10, 175 pounds. I want to bring attention to one Holmberg shift late in the first period when he is fighting along the boards behind the Maple Leafs’ net. He was battling for the puck with 6-1, 205-pound Ryan O’Reilly. Not only did Holmberg handle himself well in the battle, but he also bounced O’Reilly around pretty well in the exchange.
Similar to his last start, which ended in a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Ilya Samsonov made some really nice saves in this game. But he also allowed some questionable goals.
The first goal of the game was not all on Samsonov. Conor Timmins, Jamie Benn, and David Kampf were all battling two Blues players behind the Maple Leafs’ net, leaving Alexey Toropchenko alone in front of the net. Alex Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall were doing their jobs covering the St. Louis defensemen at the blue line.
The puck comes free to Toropchenko in front of the net, but he fans on the puck. When the puck goes to Toropchenko, Kerfoot leaves his position in an attempt to prevent Toropchenko from playing the puck. The puck squirts off of Toropchenko’s stick right to Logan Brown. Brown passes the puck to the player Kerfoot left open, Callen Rosen, who scores.
I don’t blame Kerfoot on the play. He had to make a tough choice once Toropchenko was left alone. To me, Kampf should have been more aware of Toropchenko being open and left the board battle up to Benn and Timmins to cover him.
Samsonov Was Somehow Face First in the Crease
Samsonov’s role in the goal was his positioning. He somehow ended up on his stomach on the ice leaving the complete top half of the net wide open. He wasn’t interfered with, or bumped by a player on either team. It appears he just lost his balance.
I don’t put any of the blame on Samsonov for the second or the fourth St. Louis goals. The second goal was a shot by O’Reilly that ramped off of Justin Holl’s stick, and changed direction, catching Samsonov off guard. Samsonov never saw the fourth goal as he was completely screened by Robert Thomas and Jordie Benn.
The third St. Louis goal that tied the game at three in the third period was one that Samsonov should have had. It was a hard slapshot by Justin Faulk. However, it was an unscreened shot from 40 feet out. It wasn’t the type of shot that should have ended up in the net.
In Samsonov’s last three starts he has allowed 12 goals on 81 shots for a .852% save percentage. Similar to last season, the Maple Leafs have been able to overcome shaky goaltending to win two of Samsonov’s last three starts.
The Ugly part of this game was watching Zach Aston-Reese spitting out blood after taking a high stick from Brandon Saad with just under two minutes left in the third period with no call being made. I can understand referees and linesmen (linesmen can call high-sticking penalties) missing calls like this if they happen away from the play, but the puck was at Aston-Reese’s feet when it happened.
The Maple Leafs should have had a four-minute power play on the play. As it was Nylander made the non-call moot for the Maple Leafs with his overtime goal.
The Maple Leafs travel to Arizona to take on the 12-16-5 Coyotes. There they will try and avenge their 4-2 loss to the Coyotes back in October. They then close out 2022 in Colorado on New Years’ Eve.
It was announced that both Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin took part in the Maple Leafs’ morning skate prior to the Blues’ game and both appear close to returning. They will most likely bump Timmins and Benn out of the lineup. Both Timmins and Benn have played great for the Maple Leafs.