By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs played two games in two nights in two different states. They came away with two impressive wins. They doubled the score on the Arizona Coyotes to the tune of 6-3 on Wednesday night. Then they did one better against the Las Vegas Golden Knights defeating them 7-3 on Thursday night.

Related: Great News for Maple Leafs: Joseph Woll Will Soon Be Playing

The Good

Dominant First Periods – Four Lines Contributing

The Maple Leafs outshot their opponents 39-20 and outscored them 7-0 combined in the first 20 minutes of each game. They led Arizona 3-0 after one and the Golden Knights 4-0. Then, it was a matter of trying to stay focused for the last 40 minutes of each game. They did that well enough to walk away with four points in the two games. 

Sixteen skaters, including twelve forwards, contributed to the thirteen goals the Maple Leafs scored in the two games. Nine players had multiple points, and four players had multiple goals.

Auston Matthews

As you might expect Auston Matthews led the way with three goals, his 50th, 51st, and 52nd goals of the season. Matthews has ten goals in his past five games and 19 goals in his last 14 games. He remains on pace for 76 goals. While the main focus is on Matthews and the 70-goal target, I’m starting to wonder if 80 goals are not out of reach. 

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

I also want to mention that it must have felt extra special for Matthews to score his 50th goal in his hometown.

Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner’s five points, all assists, were tops on the team over the two games. Marner has 15 assists in his past six games and is now the Maple Leafs record-holder for consecutive games with multiple assists. Marner has two or more assists in each of his last six games. That breaks a 39-year-old record held by Borje Salming. Salming had two or more assists in five consecutive games in March/April of 1985.

Marner is on a ten-game point streak. He has 19 points in those ten games and is flirting with a 100-point season for the third consecutive year. In the past two seasons, he has had 97 and 99 points. Marner is presently on pace to score 103 points this season.

William Nylander

William Nylander scored two goals and added an assist in the two games. He saw his five-game goal streak end in Vegas, but he did record an assist to keep his points streak alive at six games. He has six goals and four assists in those six games. Nylander will likely shatter his personal best in goals, assists, and points this season. He has 26 games in which to score ten goals, four assists, and 14 points to set new marks in each of those categories. 

John Tavares

Tavares also scored twice and added an assist in the two games. After going pointless in nine straight games it appears that Tavares has his mojo back again. He has five goals, four assists, and nine points in his last eight games. Tavares has 43 points in 54 games which is well off of the close-to-point-a-game status he has had since joining the Maple Leafs.

Related: Maple Leafs Call Up Marshall Rifai from AHL Marlies: Who’s He?

Other Players Of Note

Bobby McMann continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal and two assists. McMann has seven goals and ten points in his last six games. Max Domi scored twice in the Vegas game. Pontus Holmberg had a goal and an assist in Las Vegas. TJ Brodie and Timothy Liljegren each had two points. 

Sheldon Keefe

Head Coach Sheldon Keefe rejigged his lines in the past two games moving Tavares to the third line alongside Bobby McMann and Nick Robertson. The second line now has Max Domi at center with Nylander and Tyler Bertuzzi on the wings. As a result, Tavares has averaged about two minutes less playing time but the move has now made the Maple Leafs a three-line threat instead of just the top two lines it has been of late. 

Not only has the line change worked well, but it has also given Nylander two linemates who play with an edge. Twice in the Vegas game when a Golden Knight’s player started giving Nylander grief both Bertuzzi and Domi jumped in to defend him. Plus, as I noted earlier, Domi benefitted from playing with Tavares and scored two goals in the Vegas game.  

Not only does Keefe get credit for the new lines, but I also like how he has been using his timeouts. Once in each game, when things looked like they might go south Keefe called a time-out to settle the players down. I don’t know if it is just me but it appears that Keefe is using his timeouts more this season.  In the past there have been times I felt one should or could be called but they weren’t. 

The Bad

Speaking of the time-outs called by Keefe, there were two short periods where it looked like this team would falter. After taking a 3-0 lead into the second period in Arizona, the Coyotes scored two goals in 1:10 to pull to within a goal at 3-2. 

In Vegas, it was two goals in 26 seconds to start the third period that did the damage. Toronto still had a 6-3 lead at the time but there were still just under 19 minutes left in the game at that time. One more goal by the Golden Knights could have made a big difference in the outcome of this game.  

Each time the Maple Leafs weathered the storm, regained their composure, and recaptured control of the game. 

The Ugly

There really was nothing ugly for the Maple Leafs in these two games. This week was an ugly one for the Tampa Bay Lightning though. Tampa started the week a point up on Toronto and in third place in the Atlantic Division. Last Saturday, while the Maple Leafs were demolishing the Anaheim Ducks to the score of 9-2, the Lightning were getting rolled over by their cross-state rivals the Florida Panthers by the same 9-2 score. Tampa would go on to lose 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators and 5-3 to the Washington Capitals. At the same time, Toronto would post wins in St. Louis, Arizona, and Las Vegas. As a result the Maple Leafs now lead the Lightning by seven points and have two games in hand over them. 

This is the time of the season when the Lightning are usually hitting their stride. It appears this week they might have hit a wall. I don’t want to read too much into that. There is still a long way to go. The one thing the present six-game winning streak has done is all but lock the Maple Leafs into a playoff spot. They have a 12-point cushion on ninth place in the East.  

What’s Next?

Things don’t get any easier for the Maple Leafs. They travel to Colorado to take on the Avalanche on Saturday night and then fly home and await a rematch with the Golden Knights next Tuesday.  

The Avalanche are a powerhouse again this season. Up front, they have Nathan MacKinnon on a pace to score 130 points and Mikko Rantanen headed for his second 100-point season. They also have Norris and Smythe winner Cale Makar on their backend. 

The Avs are one point out of first in the Central Division with a game in hand over the first-place Dallas Stars. If Colorado has a weakness it is defensively. They are not as stingy as they’ve been in the past when it comes to giving up goals. Their #1 goalie Alex Georgiev has a 0.899 save percentage and a 2.90 goals-against-average.

Georgiev has played all but 11 games this season. If the Maple Leafs offense can keep producing like they have been, they might be able to take advantage of that. 

Related: Auston Matthews: Making NHL History in His Hometown

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *