By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a nice bounce-back 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Sunday evening.
This game was the polar opposite of the 6-2 loss to the Senators on Friday night. In that game, I had problems finding anything good to say about that game. In this game pretty much everything was “Good.”
The Ottawa game was decided when the Senators scored three goals on eight shots in a span of 13:34 at the end of the second period and the start of the third.
This game was decided in favour of the Maple Leafs when they scored four goals on ten shots in a span of 12:51 of the second period.
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Everyone who plays the game of hockey likes to score goals. Players who are considered somewhere between good and elite offensively are expected to score goals. In 35 games played in the 2022-23 season, Morgan Rielly had yet to do so.
It wasn’t as if he wasn’t contributing to the offence. Before he suffered a knee injury in a game against the New York Islanders on November 21, Rielly had accumulated 16 points in 20 games – all assists. It was a clip that would have had him finish the 82-game season with a personal best of 65 assists.
When he returned from his knee injury it was easy to tell Rielly was not 100%. He was not moving freely on the ice. He was not keeping up with the play when the Maple Leafs had the puck and was unable to recover quickly if he was caught out of position.
As a result, Rielly had only produced five assists in his last 15 games. That’s less than half the rate of production he had prior to the injury.
Rielly’s Starting to Look More Like Himself
In the last three games, Rielly has seemed more like himself. He has been getting more involved with the offence and has been recovering quicker when he makes a mistake.
This was Rielly’s best game since the injury. He was his old self, dominant with the puck, and very capable defensively when he needed to be. According to Naturalstattrick.com, at five-on-five when Rielly was on the ice, the Maple Leafs had 75% of the shots (12 for, 4 against) and 76% of the Scoring Chances (13 for, 4 against). They also had four High-Danger Chances For and only one High-Danger Chance Against. Rielly was on the ice for two goals his team scored and zero goals against in five-on-five.
Oh, and he just happened to score his first goal of the season.
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This was as much a bounce-back game for Ilya Samsonov as it was for the Maple Leafs. Not only did it help erase the bad taste of the six goals he gave up against the Senators, but it was also a much better performance than his last game against his former team. In that game, he gave up five goals.
Samsonov has not given up the net since he came in in relief of Matt Murray early in the second period of the Florida Panthers’ game on January 17. In that game, the Maple Leafs came back from a 4-2 deficit to win 5-4. In the games since, Samsonov has posted a 5-1-1 record, a Save Percentage of 0.921 and a Goals-Against-Average of 2.49. That’s even counting the six goals he gave up against the Senators.
William Nylander has been one of, if not the best, Maple Leafs’ skaters this season. He scored his team-leading 28th goal of the season and is on pace to score 45 goals. He needs six more goals in 31 games to equal his best season in the NHL. If he gets on a roll, I don’t think 50 goals are out of the realm of possibility for him. He’s also tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead in points with 59 points.
Nylander has the be on the cusp of making the All-Star game. I can’t help but feel that if one more player drops out of the contest due to an injury Nylander has to be the next man up.
I’m not sure how often we’ve been able to say this season, but all four lines contributed to the scoring in this game. There were five different goal scorers in the game, and a total of thirteen skaters tallied at least one point in the game.
Speaking of secondary scoring, Pierre Engvall became the 7th Maple Leafs’ player to score 10 goals this season. He had a nice snipe from the right face-off circle in the Capitals’ zone. I don’t know if Engvall has always had this hard a shot or if has been something he has been working on.
I can honestly say I have not noticed him having this good a shot before, having watched him in both the AHL and the NHL. Since he beat Linus Ullmark of the Bruins cleanly with a wrist shot from just inside the Boston blue line on January 14, Engvall has had a few similar shots. He zinged one off of the crossbar in the Senators game when the score was 4-2 Ottawa.
Engvall looks like he’s gaining confidence offensively and has not only shown us a pretty lethal shot but has also shown some nice moves in creating open space for himself when he has the puck on his stick. It will be nice if Engvall can sustain that and build off of it.
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It is really tough coming up with anything “Bad” in this game. It was about as complete a game as I have seen the Maple Leafs play this season, especially when you consider they were without their best player Auston Matthews.
If I had to pick something it would have to be the last half of the first period. The Maple Leafs started this game very well, taking it to the Capitals in the first ten minutes. In the last half of the period, the Capitals took over and controlled play for the final ten minutes of the period. They were rewarded with a power play and a power-play goal to go up one nothing with just under three minutes to play in the first.
I’m in agreement with a statement made by one of the broadcast crew in this game. All high-sticking penalties should be reviewable. Rasmus Sandin was a victim of a bad call made at 17:31 of the second period when Nicklas Backstrom caught his linemate Conor Sheary with his stick off a faceoff.
The Maple Leafs killed the penalty; but, with the score 4-1 at the time, if Washington were to have capitalized on the power play and made the score 4-2, the complexion of this game could have changed drastically.
The latest thing in Streaming TV shows appears to be splitting up the season into two parts with a hiatus between parts one and two. Now the NHL is getting into the act. Part one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 106th season concludes on Wednesday with a visit from the league-leading Boston Bruins. The second part of the season begins on February 10th when the Maple Leafs head out on a home and home back-to-back two games versus the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Don’t look now, but all of a sudden the high-flying record-setting Bruins have lost three games in a row. Dealing them a fourth consecutive loss and then having them stew over that during the All-Star break could be a good thing.
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