The Toronto Maple Leafs surprised me on Thursday night with their 2-1 win in Calgary on the second night of back-to-back games. The game wasn’t pretty; and, for the second game in a row, the team struggled to create offence. They made up for what they were lacking offensively by playing a much tighter defensive game than they did in Edmonton.
We are starting with the “Ugly” because the game started ugly for the Maple Leafs.
What looked like a good break for the Maple Leafs when the Flames were called for too many men on the ice 1:13 into the first period, ended up being just the opposite. The Maple Leafs gave up two great shorthanded scoring chances to Calgary on the power play, the second one ending up in their net. That gave the Flames a 1-0 lead.
From the time they gave up the 1-0 goal on the power play at 2:32 of the first period until Mitch Marner scored to tie the game at 7:36 of the second period, the Maple Leafs looked just as disjointed as they did in the Edmonton game. They struggled to advance the puck from zone to zone. In addition, they could not get any rhythm going.
As I mentioned in the lead, they did defend well. They didn’t allow Calgary to get much going offensively either.
Whenever either team did manage to generate scoring chances, Jacob Markstrom for the Flames and Joseph Woll for the Maple Leafs came up with the saves they needed.
Marner’s goal that tied the game at one in the second period was a great solo effort. After a line of David Kampf, Sam Rafferty, and Calle Jarnkrok gained the Calgary zone, they started to change on the fly. That allowed Auston Matthews and Marner to jump onto the ice.
After Matthews bobbled a pass from Kampf as Kampf was exiting the ice, Marner picked up the loose puck and circled back toward the blue line. He then turned and skated up through the middle of the zone, slaloming between Calgary players. Pretty much everyone in the building was waiting to see who Marner was going to dish the puck off to. Instead, he snapped the puck between Markstrom’s legs to tie the game.
Marner had numerous other chances to score in the game and finished with eight shots on the net. In his last five games, Marner has 11 points. Those points include two goals and nine assists. He’s picking things up in the new year similar to what he did last season. He seems to be one of the NHL’s top point-getters once the calendar turned from 2021 to 2022.
In 25 games since January 1 this year, Marner has 35 points in 25 games. His latest surge sees him on pace to challenge the 100-point barrier again this season. Last season, he fell only three points short.
Joseph Woll came up with his second solid performance in his third start this season, when he stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced. In the game, his save percentage was 0.963. In his three games this season Woll has a 2-1 record, a 0.938 save percentage, and a 2.04 goals-against-average.
The Maple Leafs most likely have to choose between retaining Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray following this season. However, Woll is signed for just $767,000 per season for the next two seasons. He’s a goalie in the system to watch out for. He’s having an excellent audition for the backup spot in 2023-24.
Despite playing well since he was promoted to the top six back in November, scoring 20 points in 26 games, Jarnkrok found himself demoted to the bottom six after the Maple Leafs acquired Ryan O’Reilly two weeks ago.
With head coach Sheldon Keefe wanting to experiment with O’Reilly centering the third line, Janrkrok found himself back in the top six in this game. He made the most of it, scoring the winning goal at 2:20 of the third period.
Solid Third Period
Usually, when a team is playing their second of back-to-back games against a rested team, they tend to tire as the game goes on. This wasn’t the case with the Maple Leafs. They took control of the game after taking the lead early in the third period.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, the Maple Leafs controlled 63% of the Scoring Chances, 67% of the High-Danger Chances, and 76% of the Expected Goals at five-on-five in the third period.
The Maple Leafs have a chance to win the third game of their four-game West coast road trip Saturday night when they visit Vancouver to take on the Canucks. The Canucks have lost six of their last nine games and went into sell mode leading up to the trade deadline. I still expect they will give the Maple Leafs a tough game.
With Keefe deciding to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Calgary and putting his lines in the blender throughout the whole game, we’ll have to see who plays where on Saturday night. I also have no idea who we will see in the goal.
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