By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs made it a perfect four-for-four in ‘24 with their 7-1 win at home against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

With so much good to report about the Maple Leafs in this game and their recent stretch of games, I will get my Bad and Ugly out of the way first.

Related: So Where Exactly Is the Maple Leafs’ Robidas Island?

The Bad

While it was an excellent game by the Maple Leafs and a total domination of the woeful Sharks, it was not by any means a perfect game. San Jose did score a goal. The “Bad” in this game was not only the goal but the events leading up to the goal.  

It started with what looked like a trip of David Kampf by Henry Thrun. I get it, the Maple Leafs were up 4-0 at the time and the entire game had been played in the San Jose end of the ice. I can see the referees going out of their way to not make things any harder on the Sharks. The play then came down into the Toronto end and Anthony Duclair attempts to get around Simon Benoit. Benoit does a good job knocking the puck off of Duclair’s stick but the referee calls Benoit for hooking.   

David Kampf, Maple Leafs

The NHL rule on hooking is very vague leaving it wide open for interpretation. It simply states “the act of using the stick in a manner that enables a player or goalkeeper to restrain an opponent.”

Usually, you see a hook called if a player uses the blade of his stick as a hook, to tie up an opposing player’s stick or any part of his body. 

It Didn’t Look Like Hooking to Me

I watch numerous replays of the play. I even watched the slow-motion replay shown on the broadcast slowed down even more on my PVR and Benoit’s stick never hooks any part of Duclair’s stick or body. It never comes close to the hands which is usually always called. Benoit was using one hand to push Duclair; and, Duclair did turn in toward Benoit’s push which could have resulted in a holding call if Benoit had not removed his hand. In fact, Benoit pulled his hand back like a player does when he might have done something wrong and overreacted to it. 

But, hooking? Not even close. Either the referee was reacting to Benoit’s pulling his hand back or the referee was looking for anything to call on the Maple Leafs because the game was so lopsided.

Martin Jones, Maple Leafs

As it is, the Sharks would score their only goal on the power play as Thrun would deflect a pass from Mikael Granlund past Martin Jones. To add irony to injury on the next shift Benoit was obviously hooked by Justin Bailey with no call being made.

Related: Three Reasons Knies Thrives Playing with Matthews and Marner

The Ugly

The only Ugly incident in the game also involved Benoit. He got a stick across the nose by Scott Sabourin early in the third period. Benoit went down in a heap on the play and stayed down as a referee blew the play dead. Once the play was called dead, Benoit got up under his own steam and exited the game with blood streaming from his nose. He did return to finish the game after getting some attention in the locker room. It would not surprise me if Benoit had a black eye or two the next day.

The Good

Where to start? It was a point night for Toronto. Mitch Marner along with the newly crowned $92-millionaire William Nylander made the most of it  Marner had two goals and two primary assists, while Nylander had three assists in the game. Altogether 13 Maple Leafs’ players had at least one point in the game. 

Mitch Marner

With the four points, Marner moved past Maple Leafs’ legend Frank Mahovlich into seventh place in all-time Toronto scoring. Marner did so in 175 fewer games than Mahovlich. He now has 598 points in 545 games played. Marner needs 42 points to catch Ron Ellis for sixth place on the list. With 44 games left in the season and Marner having scored more than a point a game in his career I think it is likely he will accomplish that feat before the end of the season. 

William Nylander

Obviously having his new eight-year, $11.5 million deal in his back pocket did not faze Nylander at all or have any effect on his play. His three points in the game put him in a tie for third in NHL scoring with David Pastrnak and Artemi Panarin at 57 points. A few weeks ago I wrote that Nylander was on a 117-point pace for this season and I did not expect him to keep up that pace. Well, now Nylander is scoring at a 123-point pace for the season. 

Jake McCabe

Talking about all-time Maple Leafs’ scorers, Jake Mccabe jumped 18 spots from 432nd to 414th in Maple Leafs franchise history. McCabe had the most productive night of his career scoring a goal and adding two assists. If my research was correct, it was the second three-point night of McCabe’s 536-game, 11-season career. His last three-point game was back in 2017 when he was playing for the Buffalo Sabres. McCabe had a goal and two assists in a 5-4 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Early this season I expressed surprise at seeing Maple Leafs’ Head Coach Sheldon Keefe using McCabe in the three-on-three overtime in a game. It appears that Keefe has found some offense in McCabe’s game. McCabe did not register a single point in his first eleven games played this season. After registering his first points on November 24th in Chicago, McCabe has gone on to score 14 points in 21 games. That is a 54-point 82-game pace. The most points McCabe has ever scored in his previous ten seasons in the NHL is 25.  

It is noticeable that McCabe has the green light to jump into the play and take more offensive chances; and, it seems to be adding an element to his game. It will be interesting to see how that impacts his play in the future. 

Morgan Rielly

Morgan Rielly scored his fifth goal of the season which surpasses the four goals he had all of last season. Rielly has five points in his last three games and 16 points in his last 16 games. At Rielly’s present rate of production, he is three points off the scoring pace he had when he finished the 2018-19 season with 72 points, which was the best season of his career.  

Related: How Good Can Maple Leafs’ Joseph Woll Be in 2023-24?

Simon Benoit

There is one thing I didn’t see mentioned anywhere else. One of the thirteen players to register a point in the game was Benoit when he registered the secondary assist on McCabe’s goal. That is Benoit’s first point as a Maple Leaf in his 24th game played. Benoit is becoming a fan favorite with his physical style of play. He leads the Maple Leafs with 70 hits this season. He started the season as the ninth or tenth defenseman on the Maple Leafs’ depth chart but has earned a full-time role with the team.  

Martin Jones

We can’t forget about Martin Jones, who has become Mr. Steady for the Maple Leafs in goal. Jones didn’t have a lot of work in this game with the skaters in front of him playing their best defensive hockey of the season. But he did make the saves when he needed to, especially in the third period when the Maple Leafs started to play a little loosy-goosy. 

Jones is now first in the NHL of goalies with 12 or more appearances with a Save Percentage of 0.934% and first in Goals-Against-Average with a 1.98 GAA. He now has a better Win’Loss record (8-3-0) than Joseph Woll’s 8-5-1. If Jones can keep playing at anywhere close to this level, he might just claim the starting role when Woll does return from LTIR.  

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs venture back into New York to take on the Islanders. Toronto lost their last game there 4-3.  After that, they play back-to-back home games on the weekend. They host the high-flying Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night. The Avs have lost just once in regulation in their last ten games posting an 8-1-1 record in that time. On Sunday the resurging Detroit Red Wings come to town. The Wings have won three of their last four games including a three-game sweep of the California teams on their recent West Coast trip. 

While I am sure we will see Jones in goal on Thursday and Saturday, I have no idea who we might see in the net on Sunday. Toronto sent Dennis Hildeby back to the AHL and the Marflies have announced he will start Friday night when the Marlies take on the Belleville Senators. The Leafs have recalled Ilya Samsonov, who has not played in a game in two weeks. The Maple Leafs have announced Samsonov will back up Jones on Thursday but have said nothing beyond that. 

Dennis Hildeby, Maple Leafs Prospect in Goal

Jones played both ends of their recent back-to-back games but that was with two days off before and after those games. This time they will be playing four games in six nights. I can’t see Jones playing all four.  

I can see the pros and cons of the Maple Leafs playing either Samsonov or Hildeby on Sunday. A lot will depend on how the team performs against the Islanders and the Avalanche as well as how Hildeby performs against Belleville. One side note on the Marlies. Hildeby starting on Friday might be more than just giving him a start. The Marlies are on a seven-game losing streak right now and desperately need a win. Hildeby has been by far their best goalie and was just named to the AHL All-Star game along with forward Alex Steeves.

Related: Marlies Weekly Report: Marlies Losing Streak Now 7 Games

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