The NHL season is underway and the Toronto Maple Leafs have already got three games under their belts in the first four nights of this young season. It’s time to reflect on what was a very eventful first week.
Game One versus their forever rival, the Montreal Canadiens. 4-3 Loss
A game littered with nerves, defensive miscues and a lack of discipline. The Maple Leafs racked up the penalty minutes early on with four minors in the first period. However, even with the parade to the penalty box they found themselves up 1-0 going into the first intermission thanks to Michael Bunting scoring the first goal of the season for the blue and white. The lead was short lived as Cole Caufield found twine just 33 seconds into the second to knot it up at 1-1. Shortly after the Leafs could not capitalize on a power play opportunity, Denis Malgin found the back of net to get the buds on top 2-1. Cole Caufield tied it up 2-2 at the 15:56 mark of the second. Alex Kerfoot was gifted a penalty shot which to his best effort he was not able to find the back of the net. The Habs and Leafs exchanged goals in short succession in the third period to increase the score to 3-3 and then Josh Anderson sealed Toronto’s fate with 17.9 seconds left in the third to secure a 4-3 victory for the Canadiens.
Game Two, Samsonov against his former team the Washington Capitals. 3-2 Win
The Maple Leafs and Capitals squared off in Toronto’s home opener with both teams coming off losses the night before. Both teams ended up on the wrong side of the box score so you know both teams were going to come in hungry. The Leafs got on the board first thanks to a power play marker by the Captain John Tavares to make it 1-0. But the Capitals answered just over three minutes later and added another five minutes after to go up 2-1.
The Caps held the lead until new addition Calle Jarnkrok tied it up 3:53 into the second period where it remained tied until the 6:55 mark of the third period when Auston Matthews got a piece of a Mark Giordano point shot to redirect it past Charlie Lindgren to put the Maple Leafs up 3-2. This would turn out to be the game winner as Toronto played a defensively responsible can and held Washington to only 6 shots in third. This was a tale of two games, the Maple Leafs played a far better game and the pairing of Holl and Muzzin went from goats the night before to stand outs on this night. Not a completely flawless game as there was a couple questionable decisions made defensively, once again Morgan Rielly gave too much space to an opponent which led to Washington’s first goal and the two goals by the Caps are ones that Samsonov should of had. However, once the nerves passed he really settled in and shut the door stopping 24 of 26 shots he faced to claim victory over his former club.
Game Three, The first edition of the Battle of Ontario. 3-2 Win.
Before the game could start, the Maple Leafs were hit by the injury bug again. Matt Murray who was penned to start sustained a abductor injury that landed him on the LTIR for at least four weeks. Erik Källgren was called up to back up Samsonov. When the puck was actually dropped the game got off to a fast pace. Both teams exchange opportunities before Marner took a holding minor to give the Senators a power play which they capitalize on as the vet Giroux set up Shane Pinto put Ottawa up 1-0. The Sens held the lead until 19:43 of the second when David Kampf scored his first of the season to tie the game.
The Leafs got a second power play opportunity midway through the third and made good use of it as Nylander scored his second of the season to put Toronto 2-1. That was short lived as Claude Giroux scored just over a minute later to tie it back up with just over five minutes left in the third. But Justin Holl pounced on a juicy rebound and scored with just under two minutes left in the third. This turned out to be a game winner. Samsonov stood tall once again stopping 25 of 27 shots faced to get his second win.
The Leafs have shown early on that they are a more physical team. The penalty kill has been tested a lot so far which is a bit concerning as the lack of discipline that has caused them to take some soft and unnecessary penalties, which at the beginning of the season the refs tend to call more to set the standard and as the season progresses that will tale off. However they need to work on their discipline. They have been one of the least penalized teams over the last couple seasons. Last season they amassed 702 minutes in penalties which landed them at 15th overall in comparison to Nashville who lead the league with 1035 PIMs. Defensively the team as a whole needs to tighten up which they showed signs of that in the home opener.
This starts at the top of there D corps with Morgan Rielly. He’s been too passive so far and needs to be more aggressive on his opponents, He needs make it more difficult on the opposition, whether it be closing the gap between him and the attacking player and having a more active stick to clog up the lanes. He showed signs in game two and three of making strides to improve his defensive game, Rielly also showed a bit more of a snarl which is a good thing.
That being said, things aren’t all doom and gloom by any means. There is a lot of positives to take in consideration. They walked out with a 2-1 record in the first 3 games. The second line has looked great so far, lead by the Captain John Tavares who missed most of training camp but has not missed a beat. William Nylander has shown early on to have elevated his game to another level and found the next gear. Heck even Denis Malgin scored in the season opener. The top line had a somewhat lack luster performance against Montreal but quickly rectified it the next night against Washington and followed it up with a strong performance again on Saturday against Ottawa.
Samsonov started shaky in the first period of his debut but found his rhythm and settled in shutting the door the rest of the way in the victory on Thursday and looked settled in and more confident securing the victory against the Senators on Saturday. We will need this to continue given the news of Murray being out on the LTIR. On a related note the Maple Leafs also recalled Wayne Simmonds, Nick Robertson and Victor Mete. It’ll be interesting to see where and when these guys will get an opportunity to get game action. Nick Robertson could see action as early as tonight and will slot in place of William Nylander who is dealing with an illness or Denis Malgin. Toronto is back in action tonight when they face the Arizona Coyotes.