By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs welcomed Kyle Dubas and the Pittsburgh Penguins into the Scotiabank Place and walked away with a 7-0 shutout. 

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The Ugly

I know I say that in most cases I can find some good, bad, and ugly in any game be it a win or a loss. Sometimes, there is a rare game that I simply can’t find all three. This was one of those games where I could not find a single thing to put in the “Ugly” category.

The Potentially Bad

Before the game, it was announced that Matthew Knies would be returning from his difficult time fighting the flu. However, the same illness had claimed both TJ Brodie and Auston Matthews. For both Matthews and Brodie to miss a game, they must have felt quite ill. I used the term “potentially bad” regarding how it could have affected the team. In the end, it didn’t impact them negatively at all.

The Good

The effect of being without their best player (Matthews) and their best defensive defenseman (Brodie) wasn’t bad at all. The rest of the team took up the slack in a big way. It was also announced before the game that Timothy Liljegren was returning from his stint on LTIR.

Matthew Knies

This game never looked in doubt right from the drop of the puck. Matthew Knies let us know he was fully recovered by scoring a goalscorer’s goal, taking a pass from Max Domi, fighting off Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Graves, and going backhand, forehand, backhand, and up and over Penguins’ goalie Tristan Jarry’s glove. 

Matthew Knies, Maple Leafs rookie

At 4:57 of the first period, Knies took exception to a hit into the boards and a stick to the face given by John Ludvig to Domi. Knies engaged Ludvig, they both dropped their gloves and went at it. It was not a classic bout, but Knies sent a message by his actions.  

Knies would complete the Gordie Howe hat trick in the second period of the game when he fed Domi with a no-look backhand pass to set Domi up with his second goal of the season. 

Knies’ goal was his seventh of the season. He is on a 22-goal pace in his rookie season. His fight was the first of his NHL career. He stated after the game that he kind of “blacked out” and just started swinging. 

Max Domi

Max Domi had his best game as a Maple Leaf. He had key assists on the first two Toronto goals and scored their fourth goal. Domi’s goal was just his second with the Maple Leafs. His assists were the 16th and 17th of the season, putting him on a 43-assist pace. The only other season Domi had more than 40 assists was in 2018-19 when he had 44 assists to go along with 28 goals giving him a career-best 72 points with the Montreal Canadiens. 

Mitch Marner

Marner was the third wheel on the line with Knies and Domi. He kicked in a goal and an assist of his own. Marner has eight goals in his last eight games and 13 goals on the season. He is on pace to score 38 this season, which would be a career-high. 

It’s no secret that Marner has not had the greatest of seasons to this point. But, he is one point ahead of where he was after 28 games last season (34 to 33) and he has scored two more goals.  

As for the Marner, Knies, Domi line, this was only one game. But, it had to make head coach Sheldon Keefe take note that this could be an option if at any time he wanted to spread his core talent over three lines, instead of having it all on just two lines. 

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The Tavares/Nylander/Bertuzzi Line

With Matthews out, Keefe decided to reunite William Nylander with John Tavares and Tyler Bertuzzi. That move paid off as both Nylander and Tavares scored goals. Bertuzzi finished the night with three assists. His three points broke an eight-game pointless streak for him. 

Despite not getting on the scoresheet in those eight games, Bertuzzi has still been an effective player for the Maple Leafs. He leads all Toronto forwards in every five-on-five analytical category tracked by this season. Not getting points still had to be bothering him. So, finally getting on the scoresheet had to be a relief.  

Nylander added an assist to his goal to become the first Maple Leafs player to reach the 40-point plateau for the season. Nylander sits seventh in league scoring, three points out of second place. Nylander extended his present point streak to eight games. He is also on a five-game streak in which he has scored two points in each of those games.  

Tavares has a seven-consecutive-game streak going. He has nine points in those seven games.  

Conor Timmins

Not to be left off the list of players on streaks, defenseman Conor Timmins has a five-game point streak going.  

Timothy Liljegren

Timothy Liljegren’s stat line in the game was zero goals, zero assists, and zero in plus/minus. But he played a solid quiet game in his return. While he didn’t stand out offensively, he was noticeable for all the right reasons defensively. Liljegren led the defence with six blocked shots in the game. With the Maple Leafs in control of the game and Keefe managing the minutes, Liljegren played the most minutes on the team at 20:22. That included 2:18 on the Power Play and 3:01 on the Penalty Kill. 

Martin Jones

With his shutout in the game, Martin Jones increased his record to 3-0 in three appearances for the Maple Leafs. His Save Percentage in those three games is 0.949 and his Goals-Against-Average (GAA) is 1.86.

Unanswered Goals/Point Streak/Climbing The Standings

Counting the five goals Toronto scored in the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in their last four periods of regulation hockey the Maple Leafs have scored 12 consecutive goals. The only goal they gave up was the 3-on-3 overtime goal after they came back from a 5-0 deficit to put them into the OT in that game. 

Ilya Samsonov, Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have points in their last nine games. In their last 15 games, they have a record of 10-1-4.  Their only regulation loss was their first meeting with the Penguins. They have climbed into a tie with the Florida Panthers for second place in the Atlantic Division and hold two games in hand over the Panthers. Toronto is five points back of the first-place Boston Bruins with one game in hand. 

What’s Next?

After playing four games in six days, the Maple Leafs get two days off before they face the New York Rangers at home on Tuesday night. The Rangers will be out for blood after being embarrassed by Toronto at home to the tune of 7-3.  

I have to think Toronto has to come back with Jones in that game. Not only does he hold the hot hand over Ilya Samsonov, but Jones was also between the pipes when the Maple Leafs beat the Rangers in their last meeting. With Toronto playing three of their most complete games of the season sandwiched around two huge comebacks I am sure they will want to keep that momentum going.  

The Ranger game is the first of three games in five days as Toronto is on the road to Buffalo on Thursday night and then skips over to Columbus for a rematch on Saturday night. Then, the team gets three days off over Christmas. If I were Keefe I would give Samsonov the start in Buffalo, and then come back with Jones versus the Blue Jackets. 

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