By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs stretched their home record to 17-3-4 with their second 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets this season. The win increased their lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning to four points as the Edmonton Oilers did the Maple Leafs a favour, defeating Tampa 5-3.
If not for Ilya Samsonov, this game could have been over early. Samsonov made 12 saves in the first twelve minutes of the game including five on a Jets’ power play after Timothy Liljegren sat in the penalty box for shooting the puck over the glass in his own zone.
Samsonov stopped 36 of the 37 shots he faced. The only goal he gave up was when the Maple Leafs were down two men early in the third period. According to Naturalstattrick.com Samsonov faced 18 High-Danger Scoring Chances in the game.
Samsonov remains unbeaten in regulation in 13 starts at home this season, posting a 12-0-1 home-ice record.
I wouldn’t say that Samsonov stole this game – alone. But, if he did he had a partner in crime.
If Samsonov had a hand in stealing this game Auston Matthews was driving the getaway car.
In the first period where the Maple Leafs got outshot 16-6, the Matthews, William Nylander, and Michael Bunting line was the only line generating scoring chances. Matthews had a couple of great chances in the period, including a breakaway in which he rang a shot off the crossbar.
His luck changed in the second period. Matthews broke in off of the opening faceoff and fired a clean shot through the five-hole of Connor Hellebuyk at the eight-second mark. He followed that up with another goal three minutes and 39 seconds later. On that goal, he fired a shot bar down on a feed from behind the net from Bunting. On his next shift, Matthews had a chance to make it three goals on three shots when he was left alone in front of the Jets’ net again. This time he fired the puck over the net.
It appears that Matthews’ scoring game is finally coming around. He is on a four-game scoring streak with five goals in those four games. He has seven goals in his last eight games.
Currently, Matthews is 15 goals back of Connor McDavid in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy (McDavid 39 goals, Matthews 24 goals) While that seems an insurmountable lead by McDavid, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Matthews could still make a run at the scoring title. We know that Matthews can score better than a goal-a-game clip. He did so last year, scoring 51 goals in a 50-game span.
There are 36 games left this season. If Matthews were to score 36 goals in those 36 games, he would end up with exactly 60 goals again this season.
Matthews could get a good start at that run with the Maple Leafs entering a five-game homestand following their visit to Montreal on Saturday night. During the Tampa Bay Lightning game, the broadcast crew mentioned that Matthews had 103 goals in his previous 113 home games.
With the score 2-0 Maple Leafs just past the midway point of the game, Rasmus Sandin got called for tripping Pierre Luc Dubois using his head. More about that later. The ensuing power play allowed the Jets to get back into the game.
Instead, Mitch Marner intercepted a pass at the Maple Leafs’ blueline. Hen then broke in two on one with David Kampf. Using Kampf as a decoy, Marner fired a shot into the top right-hand corner of the Winnipeg goal over Hellebuyck’s glove. That score put the Maple Leafs up 3-0.
That goal extended Marner’s franchise-best consecutive home scoring streak to 20 games. It’s the longest of any active player in the NHL. According to a graphic shown on the broadcast, Marner was tied with Sydney Crosby at 19 games going into this contest.
This game had a similar MO that a lot of Maple Leafs’ games have had this season.
One team had the better-scoring chances, had the bulk of the puck possession, and more time spent in the opposing team’s zone. However, they lost the game due to their own errors. Usually, the Maple Leafs are guilty, but this time the Jets were at the receiving end.
In all situations, the Jets had 63% of the Shot Attempts, 65% of the Scoring Chances, 64% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances, and 61% of the Expected Goals.
The Maple Leafs did shoot themselves in the foot early in the third period.
For some unknown reason, Dryden Hunt decided to jump on the ice at the same time that Mark Giordano and Jordie Benn were swapping on defence. That earned the Maple Leafs a too-many-men penalty. Not 48 seconds later, Mark Giordano got his stick caught up in Dubois’ skate to put the Maple Leafs down two men. Kyle Connor scored on the ensuing five-on-three power play to make the score 3-1.
The first ugly was the aforementioned Sandin-tripping-Dubois-with-his-head penalty. I’m not sure what the referee saw there. What I saw was Blake Wheeler trip Sandin causing him to slide head first into Dubois’ path, and Dubois tripping over the sprawling Sandin. What should have been a power play for the Maple Leafs turned out to be a power play for the Jets. The fact the Maple Leafs were short-handed didn’t stop Marner from scoring though.
The other ugly was Timothy Liljegren taking a shot to the forehead late in the third period. Watching the various replays, it is difficult to determine if the shot hit the front of Liljegren’s helmet or his visor. There was no blood, but Liljegren was clearly shaken up. He left the game and did not return.
Other than to say that Liljegren was undergoing concussion protocol, head coach Sheldon Keefe did not have any more news on Liljegren’s condition after the game.
The Maple Leafs travel to Montreal to take on the Canadiens in only their second meeting this season. Their previous game was the season opener way back on October 12th. That game was an exciting 4-3 win for Montreal that saw three goals scored just over two minutes late in the game. The Winning goal was scored by Josh Anderson with 19 seconds left in the third period.
It will be interesting to see if Keefe starts Samsonov to reward him for his great play in his last two games. Or, does he give Matt Murray a chance to make up for his four goals in eight-shot performance in his last outing?
Murray was at the losing end of the previous 4-3 loss to the Canadiens. However, according to statmuse.com, his lifetime record against Montreal is 8-4 with a 0.924% Save Percentage and a 2.23 Goals-Against Average.
Samsonov owns a 2-1 record versus Montreal with a 0.919% Save Percentage and a 3.02 Goals-Against Average, but he has won his last two starts against them.
I could see Keefe going with either goalie in this game.
Related: William Nylander’s Success Means Unclear Future in Toronto