By Stan Smith
Just one game prior, the “Jekyll and Hyde” Toronto Maple Leafs played a stinker in Vancouver (a 4-1 loss to a team that was 25 points behind them). Against a much stronger New Jersey Devils’ team, they worked hard to gain a gutsy 4-3 comeback win over a team that was four points ahead of them in the standings. Not only that, but they did it minus two of their top three centers, John Tavares and Ryan O’Reilly.
I am starting with the bad because the game started badly for the Maple Leafs. The Devils had eight shots on the net before the Maple Leafs managed their first shot. The Maple Leafs got two quick shots but the Devils then fired seven shots in a row before the Maple Leafs had their third shot. The final shot tally for the period was 15 for the Devils and 5 for the Maple Leafs.
The reason I have this listed under “Bad” when I could have been considered “Ugly” is that the score was 0-0 at the end of the period. Similar to the Canucks getting badly outplayed in the first period against Toronto but still being tied, the Maple Leafs, despite being badly outplayed by the Devils, were still in the game.
The “Ugly” in this game took place in the third period. After the Maple Leafs had taken a 2-1 lead, they held the Devils to only two shots in the next five minutes of play. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, both of those shots resulted in goals. Suddenly, the Devils had a 3-2 lead with just over half a period to go in the game.
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Giving up two quick goals like that after just taking the lead in the game at the end of a long road trip could have been a game-changer for the Devils. It could also have been an excuse for the Maple Leafs to pack it in and move on. But that’s now what happened.
With the score 3-2, Devils David Kampf channelled his inner Mitch Marner. Kampf received a nice stretch pass up the middle from Justin Holl. He then broke through three Devils players as he entered the New Jersey zone. He then drew all three of them to him as he veered away from the middle of the ice. But the play was to feed a no-look backhand pass to a wide-open Michael Bunting. The result was an equally wide-open net that Bunting fired a puck into to tie the game at 3-3.
General Manager Kyle Dubas has stated that he looks for players who have high hockey IQs. He seemed to have acquired that Kampf. We all know by now how good Kampf is at playing defence. There’s a reason why he starts 70% of his shifts in his own zone.
The one thing has come to the forefront with Kampf. He seems to be constantly improving his play with the puck.
Kampf played four seasons playing with the Chicago Blackhawks. During that time, he scored a total of 17 goals and 58 points in 235 games with the Blackhawks.
In two seasons (146 games) with for the Maple Leafs, Kampf has already scored one more goal (18) than he did in four seasons with the Blackhawks. The 49 points he has scored with the Maple Leafs over that same period put him at a 0.33 point-a-game pace. That compares to the 0.26 point-a-game pace he scored with Chicago. That might not seem like much. However, it’s a 27% increase in production for a third or fourth-line player who is also solid defensively.
Calle Janrkrok opened the scoring for the Maple Leafs when he scored his 14th goal of the season. It was on a nice feed from William Nylander; and, it put the Maple Leafs up 1-0 early in the second period.
Janrkrok appears to be another smart pickup for Dubas. The Maple Leafs’ general manager had many fans scratching their heads in the offseason when he signed the 31-year-old Jarnkrok to a four-year deal at $2.1 million per season. Jarnkrok appeared to be on the downward side of a career where his best season saw him score 16 goals. He was also a bit of a bust last season after being acquired at the trade deadline by the Calgary Flames. With Calgary, he only scored a single goal and amassed just eight points in 29 regular season and playoff games.
Jarnkrok’s goal in this game puts him on pace to score a career-high 18 goals. More importantly, Jarnkrok has become a Swiss (Swedish) army knife kind of player for the Maple Leafs. He can be slotted pretty much anywhere in the lineup. He’s been solid defensively when he has played in the bottom six and hasn’t looked out of place when he has played in the top six.
Jarnkrok could be looked at as a future replacement for Alex Kerfoot, filling in a similar role as Kerfoot for 40% less money. Speaking of Kerfoot, to this point in the season Jarnkrok has seven more goals (14-7) than Kerfoot, and three more points (29-26).
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Since Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander became the primary core of the Maple Leafs, I have often referred to them collectively as “MNM.” Regardless of who else contributes to the Maple Leafs, this team is only going to go as far as “MNM” takes them.
This game was an example of what exactly “MNM” have to do for this team to succeed. William Nylander had two primary assists, the first on Janrkrok’s 1-0 goal, and the second on the game-winning goal.
Mitch Marner scored a highlight reel shorthand goal to put the Maple Leafs up 2-1. He also made a nice touch pass to Nylander that resulted in Auston Matthews’ game-winning goal.
Matthews scored the game-winning goal on the type of shot that he is masterful at, a wrister from the slot.
Kudos to Bunting for responding to the demotion to the fourth line in this game He had a quiet game for the first 55 minutes. With just under five minutes left in the contest, he scored the tying goal. He also played a really smart (although silent) role in the winning goal. He realized one of the league’s best shooters was behind him and allowed Nylander’s pass to slide between his legs to Matthews.
One of the keys for Bunting to succeed in his role is knowing when to get in the way of opposing players while staying out of the way of the star players on his own team.
I have to close with Ilya Samsonov. He was key to the Maple Leafs winning in this game. During the game, he made several outstanding saves in the first two periods. At the time, the players in front of them were getting badly outplayed, stopping all eight High-Danger Chances ( according to Naturalstattrick.com) he faced in the first period alone.
He did give up three goals in the last half of the game, one that was questionable. However, if not for his play in the first half of the game, it would have gotten out of hand early.
After starting the season 2-4-1 on the road Samsonov has now won four of his last six road starts to even his road record at 6-6-1.
After having a day off to rest following their successful five-day road trip (3 Wins, 2 Losses), the Maple Leafs have two days of practice to get ready for their Saturday night rematch with the Edmonton Oilers. The key to this game will be stopping the seemingly unstoppable Connor McDavid, who is having a season not seen since the days of Wayne Gretzky. With 54 goals, McDavid is just six points shy of a two-point-a-game pace (124 points in 65 games). Those are ridiculous numbers in today’s game.
McDavid destroyed the Maple Leafs in the first period of their last contest scoring twice as the Oilers downed the Maple Leafs 5-2.
Surprisingly enough, considering the numbers McDavid has been putting up, the Oilers are 3-3 in their last six games. While they score a lot of goals (3.86 per game), they also give up a lot of goals (3.35 per game).
The Maple Leafs have Thursday off so we will have to wait until Friday to find out whether or not John Tavares will play Saturday night.
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Sheldon Keefe had already stated that Matt Murray was due to get the start in goal.