By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs closed off the 2022 calendar year with a convincing 6-2 road win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche.
The Maple Leafs earned the win by completely dominating the first 35 and a half minutes of the game, building a 5-2 lead in that time, and then bending but not breaking for the remaining 24 and a half minutes.
They also showed great resilience in the first half of the game. After taking a 2-0 lead in the first period the Maple Leafs failed to capitalize on a power-play opportunity. Shortly afterward the Avalanche came right back and scored to make the score 2-1.
In the second period with the Maple Leafs leading 3-1, they failed to score in two power-play chances. After killing the two penalties Colorado once again scored to come within one goal.
Both of those situations could have resulted in big momentum shifts. But, after giving up each goal, the Maple Leafs came right back with a series of shifts where they controlled the puck in the Avalanche zone. They put the game out of reach with two goals in a 24-second span later in the second period.
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Big Game By The Core Four
After failing to register a single point in Arizona, the core four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares had the type of bounceback game the Maple Leafs needed.
Marner opened the scoring to register his only point of the game. Matthews (one goal, one assist), Nylander (two assists), and Tavares (two assists) each had two points games. Altogether the Core Four was responsible for two goals and five assists for seven points in the game.
Auston Matthews’ two points in the game give him 499 points in 444 games in his career. When Matthews scores his next point, he will become the fastest Maple Leafs’ player to score 500 points. That is as long as he can get that point in his next 29 games. Mats Sundin is the present record holder, having registered his 500th point in his 473rd game.
Mitch Marner’s goal gives him 497 points in 464 games. If Marner can score three points in his next eight games he will become the second-fastest Maple Leafs’ player to score 500 points. That is assuming he doesn’t get three points and Matthews goes pointless. If he did, he’d beat Matthews to that record.
Three Way Tie
There is a three-way tie for Maple Leafs’ scoring lead this season. Matthews, Marner, and Nylander all have 42 points. Nylander leads the team in goals with 21. Matthews is three goals back with 18. Marner leads the Maple Leafs in assists with 28.
Calle Jarnkrok assisted on Marner’s goal to extend his consecutive game-point streak to five games. Jarnkrok has seven points in the five games, three goals, and four assists. Jarnkrok is making the most of his stint on a line with Tavares and Marner. He has nine points in his last nine games since joining that line.
Matt Murray had a nice bounce-back game, stopping 26 of 28 shots and posting a .929 save percentage. After going with Samsonov in back-to-back games before and after the Christmas break, Keefe gave Murray his second start in three nights, which turned out to be a good move.
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There is not a lot of bad to report in this game. Colorado did manage to make a contest out of it by scoring two goals to keep them within one in the first half of the game.
A failed drop pass by Alex Kerfoot to Pierre Engvall in the neutral zone in the first period and a failed shot block by Mark Giordano resulted in the Avalanche’s first goal.
Colorado’s second goal was courtesy of the bad bounce off of Matthews’ skate into his own net in the second period.
The Maple Leafs were a bit sloppy near the end of the second period as they gave up two odd-man rushes after taking the 5-2 lead. The Avalanche failed to capitalize on either chance.
The “Ugly” in this game was a good thing for the Maple Leafs.
It was the play of Colorado goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Georgiev gave up five goals to post a .792 save percentage in the game. While he didn’t have much of a chance on the middle three goals scored by the Maple Leafs, the first goal was one I am sure he felt he should have had.
He was obviously neither ready nor suspecting that Brodie would shoot from the position he was in on the fifth goal. You could tell that it was going to be the last shot he faced in the game even before we saw Jonas Johansson gathering his equipment on the bench.
This was the third game in a row that Georgiev gave up four or more goals.
After a successful three-game road trip that saw the Maple Leafs go 2-1 and raise their record for the season to 23-8-6, they face a tough four games in a six-night stretch this week. It starts with a three-games-in-five-night homestand where they take on St. Louis, Seattle, and Detroit on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, before travelling to Philadelphia for the second game in two nights versus the Flyers on Sunday.
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