In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs Quick Hits, I’ll take a look at some of the player news for the team’s 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings. It was the team’s first win of the new year and came at a time when the team needed to salvage at least one victory in its short three-game home stand.
With the victory, the Maple Leafs were able to pick up a much-needed win last night. It was the team’s first win of the new year and an important one, as it helped to restore confidence and get the team back on track.
Quick Hit One: Matt Murray Will Be in Net Later Tonight
Maple Leafs’ goalie Matt Murray will get the start in tonight’s road game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Murray draws the second game of a home-and-away, back-to-back after Ilya Samsonov had a strong bounce-back game against the Red Wings last night.
Murray has been struggling recently, with a rising goals-against-average (now at 3.02) and a falling save percentage (now at .871) over his last six outings. It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back and have a strong performance tonight. Perhaps, Samsonov’s solid game will help bring out the best in Murray.
Quick Hit Two: Morgan Rielly Has Best Game Since Returning from Injury
Morgan Rielly had his best game since he’s come back from his knee injury by collecting two assists in his team’s win against the Red Wings. One of the assists came on the power play, which is significant for Rielly.
In last night’s game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe restored Rielly to his former power-play unit moving him back to the first unit’s quarterback position. Coach Keefe might still be toying with the idea of a five-forward, power-play unit without a “formal” defenseman but only hoped to get Rielly going again offensively.
Whatever the reason, the coaching tweak worked. Before last night’s game, Rielly had registered only one assist in four games since returning from his knee injury. Last night, he doubled that total. Oddly, Rielly’s point totals are not down and he has totalled 19 assists in 25 games. However, he’s not scored a goal to date this season.
Quick Hit Three: Auston Matthews Remains a Consistent Point-Getter
Auston Matthews has started a new point-generating streak. It’s now up to four games with last night’s power-play assist. His bullet shot bounced off the backboards and straight to Mitch Marner whose deft abilities allowed him to push the puck past the Red Wings’ goalie.
In Matthews’ four-game streak, he’s generated six points (on two goals and four assists). Because William Nylander didn’t collect a point on the night, currently Matthews and Marner are tied for the team lead in scoring with 46 points in 40 games.
Quick Hit Four: Ilya Samsonov Is Back on His Game
Great news for the team. Ilya Samsonov had a quality outing after a few games of less-than-successful puck-stopping. He looked back on his game and made 22 saves in the victory over the Red Wings last night.
The only goal scored against Samsonov was Jake Walman’s goal when he sneaked out of the penalty box for a first-period breakaway. However, given that Samsonov had given up 17 goals in his last four starts and last night’s goal might have been stopped with some better Maple Leafs’ team defence, this might be the dawn of a new goaltending day for the affable Russian netminder.
Quick Hit Five: Mitch Marner Hits the 500-Point Mark
As noted, Mitch Marner scored a power-play goal and added an assist in last night’s 4-1 win over the Red Wings. The goal was Marner’s 15th of the season and moved him to 501 points in his Maple Leafs’ career.
With these points, Marner became the second-fastest point producer in Maple Leafs’ franchise history. Matthews beat him to the punch just four days and two games earlier.
By the way, Marner was chosen to be his team’s first player named to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game. It was a bit of a surprise that Marner beat out Matthews, but also might spell bad news for Nylander’s chances to be named an All-Star. The Maple Leafs might not be able to send all three high-scoring players.
Still, Marner is having a strong season overall, with 15 goals and 31 assists in 40 games, and deserves the All-Star nod.
Quick Hit Six: John Tavares Scores Twice vs. Detroit
John Tavares scored two goals including the game-winner. His last goal was an empty-netter to put the game out of reach. Over his past two games, Tavares has scored three goals. As well, in his last seven games, he’s had seven points (on four goals and three assists). He’s currently just below the point-a-game mark with 37 points (including 18 goals) in his 40 games.
Tavares remains a key contributor for the Maple Leafs this season, with 18 goals and 37 points in 40 games.