By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in a shootout in a closely fought playoff-like battle on Saturday night. What were the Good, Bad, and Ugly aspects of the game?

Related: Oilers’ Zach Hyman Gives the Maple Leafs a Scoring Lesson

The Good

For the second time in three tries this season, the Maple Leafs have defeated the team that leads the Metropolitan Division and is one of the best teams in the league. 

Team Effort

The scoring for the Maple Leafs was as spread out as it can get. Eight players recorded one point and not one player recorded more than a single point. Three of the four lines scored a goal.

Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner opened the scoring for Toronto when he walked out of the corner, fanned on his first shot attempt, which caught Ranger goalie Igor Shesterkin off-balance, and then slid the puck under Shesterkin into the goal. Marner then scored a huge goal in the shootout. With the Maple Leafs down 1-0 in the shootout after Mika Zibanejad scored on his attempt, Marner was the last shooter up for Toronto. He had to score to send the shootout into extra shooters and give the Maple Leafs a chance to win.

Marner did that, or did he?  

Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs

It appears fans are divided as to whether Marner’s goal should have counted. There were two contentious issues with the goal. First was the question about whether Marner lost control of the puck (which would constitute a failed attempt). Just before Marner fired the puck into the goal it appeared he did bobble it, but it was ultimately ruled he never completely lost control. The second issue was whether or not he skated backward during the attempt, which is also illegal. 

For the goal to count a player must progress forward throughout his attempt. Marner did appear to skate backward as he was following through with his shot. However, the puck had already left his stick before he did. It did take a short video review for the officials to decide it was a good goal ultimately. The goal was Marner’s fourth shootout goal in five attempts this season. Marner is second in the NHL for the most shootout goals. According to, he is tied with Montreal’s Nick Suzuki at four. Another Canadiens player, Cole Caulfield leads the league with five.  

Related: The Good, Bad, & the Ugly In Maple Leafs 4-2 Win Over Arizona

William Nylander

William Nylander continued his career year with a goal midway through the second period. His shot that tied the game at two appeared to glance off the stick of Ranger defenseman Erik Gustaffson and change direction enough to fool Shesterkin. It was Nylander’s 33rd goal of the season and his 83rd point. He now needs seven goals to tie his previous high of 40 set last season. He also needs just five points to surpass his personal best points for a season, a mark he also set last season. Nylander has 22 games in which to accomplish those feats. 

With the goal, Nylander extended his present point streak to ten games. It is the third separate point streak of ten games or more he has had this season. Nylander began the season with a 17-game streak. He then had a 13-game point streak that began on November 30th and continued throughout most of December ending on the 29th of the month. Nylander becomes the first player in franchise history to have three separate ten-game streaks in a single season. Before this season started Nylander had only had one previous ten-game point streak in his career. 

Ryan Reaves

The much-hyped fight between Ryan Reaves and Matt Rempe did happen late in the third period. Despite the 21-year-old Rempe, at 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds, having a distinct size and reach advantage over the 37-year-old 6-foot-2 and 225-pound Reaves, the fight was a pretty even tilt. If you count hits to the helmet and left jabs while clutching a fist full of Reaves’ jersey, Rempe had the advantage early. However, Reaves got stronger as the fight went on. Reaves appeared to get the more solid shots in, jolting Rempe’s head back a few times. All in all, I would call the fight a draw.  

After being a healthy scratch for most of the early going this season Reaves has appeared to have solidified a roster spot. He not only uses his physicality and his ability to fight. However, he also has shown some hockey skills. If he can continue to bring the physical element to the team without hurting the team on the scoreboard, he might find himself on the roster come the postseason.

Ilya Samsonov

I didn’t like the second goal Ilya Samsonov gave up in the game. However, he made some huge saves with the game on the line in the third period, the overtime, and the shootout. While I wouldn’t say that Samsonov stole this game, he played a key role in the win. 

Samsonov’s midseason comeback has been miraculous. If we look at the before and after his forced two-week “reset” they look like this:

Before 15 Games 5-2-6        3.94 GAA     0.862 SV%

After 13 Games   10-3-0       2.52 GAA    0.905 SV%

Since Samsonov’s return, according to, he has the highest winning percentage of any goalie with ten or more appearances (0.769%).

Max Domi

Max Domi celebrated his 29th birthday by assisting on Nylander’s goal and scoring the winning goal in the shootout after Marner tied it up.  

The Bad

William Nylander’s game wasn’t all good. He was benched for the last nine minutes of the first period after he attempted to “cheat” to create offence. With the Rangers in possession of the puck in the Toronto zone, Nylander made a stab at the puck attempting to knock it free from New York defenseman Adam Fox. He then headed up ice on an attempted breakaway. 

Unfortunately for Nylander, he missed the puck. Fox kept control of it and sent it to the middle of the zone to Alex Lafreniere. Lafreniere used a multiplayer screen to fire the puck past Samsonov into the net to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. Meanwhile, Nylander was nowhere to be found. It was the last shift Nylander had in the first period. Nylander returned in the second period and played a solid game from then on. 

John Tavares & William Nylander, Maple Leafs

Just 1:07 after Marner tied the game at one, Matthews turned the puck over deep in the Ranger’s zone catching him and Marner up-ice. Knies attempted to bat a stretch pass out of midair and missed. That error gave New York a 3-on-2 break the other way. Vincent Trochek capped off a three-way passing play with a wrist shot from the faceoff dot to the right of Samsonov that went between Samsonov’s blocker and his shin pad into the goal. While Samsonov did have to slide across the crease from his left to his right on the play, this was the goal I thought he should have had. I might be a little harsh on him but he was in position and just missed it. As I stated earlier, he more than made up for it later in the game. 

The third New York goal was scored just over a minute left in regulation after the Rangers pulled Shesterkin for an extra attacker. It came on a faceoff in the Toronto end after Marner had hit the outside of the goal post on a backhanded empty net attempt from in front of his own net. Icing was called on the play leading up to the tying goal. While Marner came within inches of ending the game with his shot, a better choice would have been to just alley-oop the puck out of the zone.  

The Ugly

In my opinion, Matt Rempe should not have been still in the game when he fought Reaves. Late in the second period,, Rempe threw a hit on the newly-acquired Ilya Lyubushkin in the corner of the Toronto zone that was textbook charging. Four components constitute charging in the NHL. 

#1 A player travelling a long distance to hit an opponent. Rempe came across from the other side of the rink to deliver the hit.

#2 A player taking three or more strides to deliver a hit. Rempe took four full strides before hitting Lyubushkin.

#3 A player leaving his feet or jumping while delivering a hit. Rempe was a good foot in the air when he hit Lyubushkin.

#4 (And this is what makes the penalty a major that comes with expulsion from the game) A player targeting an opponent’s head. Lyubushkin’s head was the main contact point of Rempe’s forearm and elbow.  

Just to add, Rempe already had a 5” height advantage over Lyubushkin. By jumping as he hit him, how could the main point of contact not be the head?

I will be shocked if the NHL does not review this hit and either fine or suspend Rempe. I could not believe the referee who was standing 10 feet away from the play looking right at it, did not make a call on it. 

The ugliest part is that the Maple Leafs have lost a player they just acquired. He was in his first game. All Head Coach Sheldon Keefe said afterward was that Lyubushkin suffered a “head injury.” Like in Mark Giordano’s case, it usually means concussion. 

Fortunately, Lyubushkin went to the bench under his own power and was not suffering as badly as Giordano was after his injury. There are different degrees of concussion. Hopefully, Lyubushkin won’t miss that much time. The playoffs are still almost two months from now. There is lots of time for Lyubushkin to recover. 

What’s Next?

Toronto’s win combined with the Boston Bruins’ 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders moved the Maple Leafs to within six points of the Bruins with two games in hand. The Maple Leafs play the Bruins twice this week. The first game is Monday in Toronto. The second is in Boston on Thursday. 

To make matters more interesting and difficult for the Maple Leafs, they play a home game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday, the day before their second encounter with Boston. If Toronto can manage to take both games from Boston, they would be only two points behind the Bruins with two games in hand. 

With Toronto having three games in four nights and carrying three goaltenders, I could see all three of Samsonov, Joseph Woll, and Martin Jone getting the call this week. Samsonov and Woll would split the Boston games while Jones could get the start against Buffalo. 

It is also just five days until the trade deadline. My gut tells me that GM Brad Treliving will try to add at least one more righthanded defenseman to the roster. 

Related: Making Sense of the Maple Leafs Lyubushkin Trade

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