By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their four-game trip to the West Coast with a 5-1 win over the Seattle Kraken. While the score was one-sided, the game was not. The Maple Leafs made good on their chances while the Kraken didn’t.
I am starting with the “Ugly” because the beginning of this game was ugly for the Maple Leafs.
The Kraken came out flying and could have easily had three goals before the Maple Leafs generated their first shot on the net. An early ill-timed pinch by Timothy Liljegren created a two-on-one for Seattle, resulting in Ilya Samsonov making his first save of the game.
The Kraken then scored the game’s first goal on a play that started with TJ Brodie turning the puck over in the neutral zone. After Seattle gained the Maple Leafs’ zone, Morgan Rielly knocked down a Kraken pass but fed a soft backhand up the middle right onto the stick of Jared McCann. That created a down-low 3-on-2 for the Kraken. McCann fed Jordan Eberle, who then found Vince Dunn in the slot. Brodie attempted to block Dunn’s shot but missed. The failed block created a screen for Dunn, as his shot went under Ilya Samsonov’s blocker into the net.
On the next shift, an attempted shot on net by Michael Bunting with both Rasmus Sandin and Justin Holl deep in the Seattle zone ended up on the stick of Alex Wennberg. Wennberg sent Jesper Froden away on a breakaway. Credit to Holl as he managed to recover quickly enough to bother Froden with his stick. Froden’s attempted shot went high and wide.
After that scoring attempt, the Kraken retained possession in the Maple Leafs’ zone. They worked it around until a shot block by Mitch Marner deflected right to the stick of Oliver Bjorkstrand in the slot. A sensational split save by Samsonov prevented Bjorkstramd from increasing the Seattle lead.
Less than five minutes into the game, the Maple Leafs had failed to register a single shot on the net. At the same time, the Kraken had four shots, a two-on-one, a breakaway, a goal on turnovers, and a high-danger scoring chance where they were robbed by Samsonov.
Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 5-1 Win Over Kraken
Forty seconds after Samsonov’s save on Bjorkstrand, Mark Giordano’s wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle in the Seattle zone found its way through the Kraken’s goalie. The shot was helped by a screen provided by Ryan O’Reilly as he battled with Justin Schultz in front of the Kraken net. The goal tied the score at 1-1.
After the rough start, the Maple Leafs would dominate the rest of the period. They outshot the Kraken 20-3 and scored three goals.
William Nylander didn’t add to his 33 goals on the season but he assisted on Giordano’s goal. He then played a key role in the Maple Leafs’ second goal of the game two minutes and eight seconds later.
Nylander got his stick on a Justin Holl shot from the point. The deflection ended up on John Tavares’ stick with a wide open cage in front of him. Tavares tapped it in to score his 27th goal of the season and his sixth in his last eight games. Tavares has now matched his goal output from all of last season; and, he still has 22 games remaining.
Nylander’s two assists did put him alone in the point lead for the Maple Leafs with 72 points in 60 games. That lead held for a total of five minutes and 26 seconds.
After Nylander was involved in the first two goals, Mitch Marner played a role in the next three tallies.
At 12:51 of the first period, Marner and Michael Bunting ganged up on Adam Larsson in the corner. Marner used Auston Matthews as a decoy in front of the Seattle goal and then feathered a pass to Liljegren who was breaking in from the point. Liljegren made no mistake. He one-timed the puck past Philipp Grubauer to make the score 3-1 Maple Leafs.
Marner would finish the game with three points, all assists. That gave him 54 assists in 60 games, which is good for fourth place in the league. He has 73 points on the season.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Keefe, Matthews, Giordano & More
Head coach Sheldon Keefe stated following the Maple Leafs’ practice on Saturday that he switched up Marner and Nylander because he wanted to see if Marner could help Matthews get going. He also wanted to see how pairing O’Reilly up with Nylander would work out.
The change worked out great. O’Reilly, Nylander, and Tavares’ line were in on the first two goals. Although O’Reilly failed to score a point in the game, he created havoc, and a screen, in front of the Seattle net on both tallies.
In Matthews’ case, he had only scored one goal in 33 days. During that period, he missed five games due to an injury. He had been goalless in four games and had just one goal (versus the Chicago Blackhawks) in his last six games played.
The Marner, Matthews combination worked. Marner set up Matthews on the Maple Leafs’ fourth and fifth goals of the game.
Ilya Samsonov played his second solid game in a row. After not having a ton of work in the Minnesota Wild game, he was tested several times in this game. His biggest tests came early in the first period, as we mentioned, and again in the second period. During those times, the Kraken made a push to get back into the game.
Samsonov stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced. It was his second game in a row where he had a save percentage of 0.960 or higher.
One noticeable stat with Samsonov this season has been the difference between his home and road records. While he has posted an amazing 17-2-1 record at home this season, his road record at the end of January was a not-pretty 2-4-1. In four February starts, he’s won three of them. That brings his road record back to an even .500%, at 5-5-1.
After the ugly start followed by a dominant 15 minutes of play in the first period, the Maple Leafs let the Kraken take over the game in the second period. Seattle outshot the Maple Leafs 15-4 in the second. The Kraken also had 63% (15 for, 4 against) of the Scoring Chances, 80% (4 for, 1 against) of the High-Danger Chances, and 70% of the Expected Goals in the period.
Thanks to the stellar play by Samsonov and a hardworking goal by Matthews, the Maple Leafs outscored the Kraken 1-0 in the period despite getting outplayed.
The Maple Leafs did follow up the shaky second with some sound defensive play in the third.
One More Good
The Pittsburgh Penguins helped out the Maple Leafs by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-3 on Sunday. As a result of Tampa’s loss and Toronto’s win, the Maple Leafs now hold a four-point lead over the Lightning with one more game played.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Nylander, Sandin & More
On this road trip, the Maple Leafs have two days to prepare for back-to-back games in Edmonton on Wednesday and Calgary on Thursday. The Oilers are third in the Pacific Division, four points out of first place. The Oilers are also six points up on the Calgary Flames, who are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
Edmonton has had a mixed record of late. They have only won three of their last nine games, but they have only failed to get a point in two of those nine games. Four of their six losses were in overtime or a shootout.
The Flames’ recent record almost mirrors that of the Oilers. Calgary has lost seven of their last ten games, but four of those seven losses have been in extra time.
We still have no idea how Keefe plans on utilizing his goaltenders. We also don’t know if Matt Murray will be reactivated and get a start in one of the two games, or if we will see Joseph Woll get his third start of the season.
If I was to hazard a guess, I would think that Samsonov would start in Edmonton in an effort to put the Maple Leafs up two-zip on the trip. Whoever gets the start in Calgary will depend on whether or not Murray is 100% ready to go.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS’ REACHING THEIR PEAKS: WHO’S GETTING BETTER, WHO’S FALLING?