By Stan Smith
I stated in my last report that the Edmonton Oilers score a lot of goals but they also give up a lot of goals. This game was no different as 11 pucks found the twine in a highly entertaining, throwback to the 80s type of game.
Once again I am starting with the “Ugly” because once again this game started “Ugly” for the Maple Leafs.
In particular, this game started ugly for Matt Murray. Murray gave up three goals on the first nine shots he faced. All three goals were the type of shots that a decent NHL goalie should have stopped.
The first was on the Oilers’ first shot of the game at 3:27 of the first period. It came just 22 seconds after the Maple Leafs had scored to take a 1-0 lead. The goal was scored on an unscreened slapshot by Matias Elkholm from the top of the right faceoff circle. That shot just plain beat Murray.
The second goal was on a wrap-around by Evander Kane. Murray overplayed the original attempt by Kane to break past Justin Holl, a play on which Holl had Kane covered. Holl did his job and forced Kane behind the net. On the play, Murray was over too far and was straddling the right post. As a result, Murray was late coming across the net. Kane’s wrap-around attempt bounced off of his shinpad and into the goal.
The Oiler’s third goal was a carbon copy of a goal that Connor McDavid scored on Ilya Samsonov in their last contest, a wrist shot between the legs. I realize it was McDavid, but Murray should make that stop easily. Murray was in position in plenty of time to make the save. He simply failed to make it.
Just a little over a minute after the Oilers scored to go up 3-1, Murray made a great save on Warren Foegele who got behind both TJ Brodie and Jake McCabe. That seemed to settle Murray down for the remainder of the game. Then, the Maple Leafs’ big shooters took over the game. They scored four goals on their next five shots in just one-second shy of six minutes.
Marner started it off with what might be his prettiest goal of the season. He knocked down an attempted pass from Ryan McLeod to Darnell Nurse right in front of the Oilers’ net. Then went forehand, backhand, and back to forehand before putting the puck off the post and behind Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner.
That got the crowd into the game and gave the Maple Leafs all of the momentum.
Less than two minutes later, Marner once again intercepted a clearing attempt by Vincent Desharnais and found William Nylander breaking for the net. Nylander made no mistake on the shot, scoring his team-leading 34th goal of the season. That goal tied his personal best single-season mark.
Just over a minute after that, Auston Matthews and John Tavares got into the act. Tavares knocked the puck off of Nurse’s stick right to Matthews in the neutral zone. The two of them broke in two-on-one on Skinner. Matthews completely sold the fake shot on the play before snapping the puck back to Tavares. Tavares had the wide open cage to shoot at as Skinner was completely down and out.
The Maple Leafs got a power play to close out the third period when Marner drew a tripping penalty on Nurse. Marner’s attempted pass to Nylander in front of the Oilers’ net bounced off of the skate of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins right to Tavares. The play caught Skinner going the wrong way. Once again Tavares found the open net to score his 30th goal of the season.
After going down 3-1 two minutes into the second the Maple Leafs came out of the period up 5-3.
The Maple Leafs added to their lead midway through the third period on the power play. This time Tavares returned the favour to Matthews. He received a pass down low from Marner and immediately relayed it to Matthews. Matthews snapped it in the net on a bang-bang play.
After the Oilers scored to make the score 6-4, Noel Acciari, who had opened the scoring in the game, notched his second goal of the game into the empty net to put the game away.
Marner finished the game with four points (one goal, and three assists). He now has 83 points in 65 games this season. The four points move Marner into the top ten in points all-time for the Maple Leafs with 538 points, one more than Rick Vaive.
Tavares had two goals and an assist in the game. That put him one point ahead of Matthews, as well as one point ahead of a point-a-game pace (65 points in 64 games).
Both Tavares and Matthews hit the 30-goal mark in this game. Matthews becomes the first Maple Leafs’ player ever to score at least 30 goals a season in his first seven seasons.
The only “Bad” thing I could see in this game was the refereeing. The referees had both coaches shaking their heads as their calls and missed calls didn’t seem to have any consistency at all. Three times in the game they did not appear to be making a call on a play until a player retaliated. Then they called the retaliation as well as calling a penalty on the original play they had not previously signalled an intention to call in the first place.
It did appear at one point that this game might get out of hand. Both teams were giving it to each other during the play and after whistles. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed.
The Maple Leafs play the second game of their present four-game home stand when they take on the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night. The Sabres are fighting to stay alive in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the East. They sit seven points back of the New York Islanders, who occupy that spot, with three games in hand.
The Sabres have not been good lately. After winning five of six games to put themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot they have since lost six of their last seven games, including a 10-4 loss to the Dallas Stars last week. The Sabres did tighten things up Saturday night as they lost 2-1 in overtime to the New York Rangers.
The Maple Leafs then host the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night and the Metropolitan leading Carolina Hurricane on Friday night. They make the short trip to Ottawa to take on the Senators the night after.
This week should be a good test for both Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray.