By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Carolina Hurrican 5-2 on Friday night to give them a 2-1-1 record in their recent homestand.
The Maple Leafs went up 3-1 in the first period of the game and never looked back.
Zach Aston-Reese was at the right place at the right time twice in this game. As a result, he upped his goal production for the season by 40% (from five to seven goals) and his point production by 25% (from 8 to 10 points).
There has been a newer trend in the NHL where the defensemen at the point are trying to shoot the puck at the net about waist-high. That creates a situation where a forward in front of the goal deflects the puck down, bouncing it off the ice. That action creates a scoring chance that is almost impossible for the goalie to stop unless he is lucky enough to have him hit him.
Erik Gustafsson and Aston-Reese played that to perfection. After receiving a pass from Calle Jarnkrok at the point, Gustafsson fakes a shot, freezes Stefan Noesen, then sidesteps to open up a shooting lane. He sends the puck toward the net where Aston-Reese knocks it down and between the legs of Carolina goalie Pyotr Kochetkov.
After the Hurricane scored in the middle of the second period to get to within one goal of the Maple Leafs, Aston-Reese was again right where he needed to be. Sam Lafferty picked up a loose puck after a Carolina turnover in the neutral zone. Lafferty broke in two-on-one with Aston-Reese and laid a perfect pass onto Aston-Reese’s stick. Aston-Reese made no mistake as Kochetkov was down and out on the play.
When they put together a reel of Maple Leafs’ goals for this season, there will be no shortage of Mitch Marner highlights. He scored another one in this game. He and John Tavares teamed up to win a battle along the boards in front of the Maple Leafs’ bench. Marner picks up the puck and skates it into the Hurricanes’ zone. He makes easy work of a stationary Martin Necas and breaks in two-on-one with Michael Bunting.
As he has been doing of late, Marner once again has the whole arena, including Carolina goalie Kochetkov anticipating a pass to Bunting. Instead, Marner wires the puck into the far corner of the net to put the Maple Leafs up 2-0.
Auston Matthews was a force all game leading all skaters with five shots on the net. He was lucky/not lucky on the Maple Leafs’ third goal of the game. It appeared to be a lucky goal as the puck bounced off the inside of his leg past Kochetkov into the goal.
But, watch the replay. After doing all the hard work, taking the puck from just inside his own blueline into the Carolina zone and dishing it off to John Tavares, Matthews heads for the net and gets body position inside defenseman Brady Skjei. Matthews then watches the puck as Tavares’s shot glances off of Brett Pesce’s leg toward him. His eyes follow the puck as he keeps his leg at the perfect angle to have the puck bounce off of it into the net.
While there was luck involved in getting the puck to that point, the fact that it deflected off of Matthews’ leg into the net was as much intentional as it was fortunate.
This was the second excellent game in a row for Morgan Rielly. After scoring two goals in his first 51 games this season, he now has two goals in his last two. He also added a secondary assist on Matthews’ goal to give him three points in the last two games and 35 points in 53 games this season.
After a shaky start, Ilya Samsonov got rolling as the game progressed and made some nice saves after the Maple Leafs built up the 3-1 lead. It seems to be getting to be old news that we keep talking about how great Samsonov has been at home this season. His present 18-2-2 record at Scotiabank place this season translates to an astounding 0.864% winning percentage.
Samsonov finds himself in both the “Good” and “Bad” sections of this report. The first goal he allowed in the first period was a bit of a stinker as it just plain went through him.
As I stated in the “Good” section, Samsonov looked shaky at the start of this game. He seemed to be fighting the puck. Rather than anticipating the play well as he did versus the Colorado Avalanche, Samsonov seemed to be a fraction behind early in this one.
It seems to me that Samsonov needs to make a great save at times to get his focus. After he allowed the first goal, he stretched out to make a beautiful pad shortly thereafter. Once he did that, he seemed back to his usual self.
A similar thing happened in the Edmonton game a week ago. After giving some questionable goals early in that game, he made one amazing stop and was fine after that.
Noel Acciari left the game after taking a glove/stick to the head late in the first period and did not return. It was announced during the game that he was being held out for precautionary reasons. However, head coach Sheldon Keefe announced after the game that Acciari would not be accompanying the team on the trip to Ottawa on Saturday. We will have to watch for further updates on his condition.
The refereeing was not as bad as we have seen in a lot of games this season. But a couple of plays at the end of the first period were downright ugly.
First, on the Acciari injury, watching the video, this was no accidental collision. Acciari might not have seen Jesse Puljujarvi coming across the Maple Leafs’ blueline, but Puljujarvi was looking right at Acciari when he made contact with him. What appears to have done the damage to Acciari was the butt end of Puljujarvi’s stick to his face.
I get it, these plays happen fast. I watched the replay a number of times in slow motion to decipher what I think happened and I still can’t say 100% what actually did happen. The referees don’t have that luxury. But, it was close enough to a four-minute high sticking penalty for it to be reviewable. As it was there was no call made.
Then, just over half a minute later, Janrkrok and Skjei are battling it out in front of Kochetkov. Skjei clearly pushes Jarnrok into the goalie. Not only that, but Skjei appears to also crosscheck Janrkrok on the side of the head during the play. In the end, Jarnkrok gets a penalty for goalie interference.
The Maple Leafs did kill off the penalty; however, that series of events once again brings me back to my thought that, with the technology available today, there has to be a better way to officiate the game and do so without having to have countless stoppages in play for video reviews, coaches challenges, etc.
According to Keefe, major changes are in store for the Senators’ game on Saturday night. Keefe stated the Maple Leafs will go back to the twelve forward and six defensemen setup for the game. Acciari, of course, will be out. Wayne Simmonds and one more forward will be in. Justin Holl will also return to the lineup resulting in two defensemen coming out.
Matt Murray is scheduled to get the start against his old team.
After winning five games in a row and getting themselves in the thick of the fight for a Wildcard spot, the Senators have since lost four in a row and five of their last six games. They now find themselves eight points out with three games in hand over the New York Islanders. The Islanders hold down the final playoff position.
However, there are three teams between Ottawa and the Islanders, one of them being the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are five points up on Ottawa with the same number of games played.
I fully expect this to be a spirited matchup. It would not surprise me to see some rough antics in the game especially with the insertion of Simmonds into the lineup.