By Stan Smith
This was an exciting playoff-like game between two of the best teams in the NHL. It was a much closer game than the shot count would indicate. I thought by the eye test that the Bruins had a slight edge in play overall but not the 34-21 advantage the shot clock would indicate.
The overall game stats on Naturalstattrick.com backed up my assessment. According to them, the shot attempts were 62-57, and the scoring chances were 37-32 in Boston’s favour. Naturalstattrick had the high-danger chances tied at 16 each.
This game had a similar start to the Detroit game where the Maple Leafs had a goal called back in the first minute of play and then went down by a goal a short time after. This time the early exchanges favoured the Maple Leafs. Matt Murray robbed Brad Marchand a minute and a half into the game Then the Maple Leafs took the lead on a power-play goal shortly after.
The Maple Leafs took the lead twice in this game, 1-0 and 2-1, and then came back to tie it 3-3 in the third after giving up the lead and going down by one in the second.
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Michael Bunting opened the scoring on the power play on a nice feed from John Tavares 4:45 into the game. After going through an extended hot streak that saw him score 23 points in 22 games, Bunting failed to register a point in his last five contests going into this one. He later added an assist on the Auston Matthews goal that tied the game up early in the third period.
Mitch Marner had two assists in the game, one on Bunting’s goal in the first and another on Matthews’ goal in the third. It was mentioned in the broadcast that it was the 15th time this season that Marner has been involved in the opening goal of a game. Marner now leads the team with 52 points, four more than second-place Matthews.
John Tavares’ assist on Bunting’s goal extended his point streak to six games. Tavares has five goals and five assists for a total of ten points in those six games. He remains on a point-a-game pace for the season with 44 points in 44 games.
Auston Matthews is also on a six-game point streak. His third-period goal was his fourth goal in those six games to go along with four assists, giving him eight points in that stretch.
Pierre Engvall caught Boston goalie Linus Ullmark, and pretty much everyone else watching this game, off guard when he picked up the puck in his own zone, skated through three Bruins’ forwards, and fired an 88-mile-per-hour wrist shot passed Ullmark from just inside the Boston blue line.
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Three of Boston’s four goals were a direct result of turnovers by the Maple Leafs.
On the first goal, Tavares and Morgan Rielly both got mixed up with Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron got his stick on an attempted cross-ice pass to Conor Timmins by Rielly deflecting the puck right to Brad Marchand. Bergeron then got in behind Timmins, Rielly, and Tavares for an easy tip-in.
That goal would not have happened if one of the referees had called Ullmark for throwing his stick on a Marner scoring chance at the other end.
On the second goal, Timmins made a terrible blind cross-ice pass attempted to Morgan Rielly just inside the Boston blue line that was easily picked off by David Pastrnak. That sent Pastrnak off on a two-man breakaway with Marchand. Pastrnak used Marchand as a decoy, firing the puck past Matt Murray without looking at the net.
On Boston’s fourth goal, Tavares attempted a pass through the middle of the neutral zone that was picked off by David Krejci. A few seconds later Matt Grzelcyk found the back of the net with a slapshot through a three-player screen in front of Murray.
After leading the team in scoring, and being the Maple Leafs’ best player for most of the season, Nylander has gone cold as of late. He has two assists in his last six games, both of them in the same game. He has been kept off the scoresheet in the other five of those six games. Sheldon Keefe split Nylander and Matthews up midway through the game, reuniting Matthews with Marner.
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The defensive pairing of Rielly and Timmins had a terrible game. It was the first time the two players had played together and it could be the last. They were on the ice for three Boston goals. Although both were credited for being on the ice for Toronto’s third goal, it was only because Mark Giordano and Justin Holl changed as the play was moving up the ice. Rielly and Timmins had just stepped on the ice and were not remotely involved in the scoring play.
As we mentioned earlier, Timmins had an egregious turnover on the Pastrnak goal. Rielly left Timmins out to dry on Boston’s first goal, then Timmins got caught trying to decide if he should play the puck or the man, ultimately doing neither. On Boston’s third goal, the two were simply outmanned as Wayne Simmonds and Alex Kerfoot collided at center ice. Timmins failed to block the shot by A.J. Greer.
At five on five Timmins was on the ice for three shots for and 14 against, for five scoring chances for and 15 against, and two high-danger chances for and eight against.
Rielly wasn’t much better. He was on the ice for four shots for and 15 against, seven scoring chances for and 16 against, and four high-danger chances for and nine against.
The Maple Leafs get two days to rest and recover before their next game at home against the struggling Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Florida is .500 on the season with a 20-20-4 record and has lost seven of their last twelve games. The Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets come to town on Thursday. The Maple Leafs finish the week with a visit to Montreal to take on the Canadiens.
It will be interesting to see if Keefe keeps Matthews and Marner together for these games or goes back to the Tavares/Marner and Matthews/Nylander combos.
Of concern is whatever the bug is that is going through the team, first with Matthews and then causing Pontus Holmberg and Bobby McMann to miss the last game.
We could possibly see the return of TJ Brodie to the lineup at some point this week.
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