After a huge bounce back week that saw them run the table against some stiff competition, the tough tasks continue as the Maple Leafs look to continue to climb up the standings. Last week we saw Timothy Liljegren return to the line up which was a much needed boost to the ailing defense. Unfortunately we all saw Ilya Samsonov sustain a knee injury which will keep him out of action this week. In the meantime Toronto will look to keep the momentum rolling and continue the strong play infront of Erik Kallgren and newly signed Keith Petruzzelli. With all this being said let’s delve into the weeks events.
Game 14: Knighted. Maple Leafs vs Golden Knights. 4-3 OT Loss.
Toronto came into this game on a high after rattling off three straight wins including a tough pair of wins on the weekend against Boston and Carolina. On this night they were presented yet another stiff test as they take on the Vegas Golden Knights that are riding a seven game winning streak of their own. This game did not get off to a good start as just 45 seconds into the game the Golden Knights get on the board thanks to offensive zone giveaway that lead to William Carrier getting on a break, Kallgren was able to make the initial save however the puck was still up for grabs in the crease and Nicolas Roy was able to tap it in to put Vegas up 1-0. The Maple Leafs responded just over four minutes later when Timothy Liljegren snipes one past Logan Thompson to tie it up at 1-1 a piece.
Untimely turnovers proved costly on this night as with just over two minutes left in the first period Timothy Liljegren whiffs on a pass and it lands right on Vegas’s Stephenson and a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play is finished off by Jack Eichel as he taps one in past Kallgren to put Vegas back on top 2-1. The score remained this way until the 13:50 mark of the second period when Mitch Marner take a Matthews feed and puts on clinic and scores a highlight reel goal to even it back up. Shortly after that the Leafs hem Vegas in their defensive zone for an extended period of time when Marner shows off his hands again with a fantastic no look back door feed to Liljegren and he one times a bullet past the Golden Knights goalie to go up 3-2. This was the first time that Toronto held the lead in this game. The held the lead until the 11:43 mark of the third period when Las Vegas takes advantage of a misplay where Nylander falls and the puck goes between him and Marner to give them an odd man rush leading to Rielly Smith finishes off a passing play to score a short handed goal to even things at 3-3. It remained this way through regulation, ust 23 seconds into overtime once again Rielly Smith victimizes the Maple Leafs after getting a lead feed by Shea Theodore that splits a gased Marner and a flat footed Morgan Rielly and roofs one past Kallgren to end it. Vegas runs their win streak to eight in a row by ending the Maple Leafs three game streak.
All things considered the Leafs walking out with a point against the top team in the league is something to remain positive about. Especially considering they’ve got five of a possible six points during a tough three game in four night stretch. Yes it would have been nice to get the extra point but it is still better then nothing. Toronto can now get some much needed rest before hosting the Penguins on Friday.
Game 15: Hall of Fame Game. Maple Leafs vs Penguins. 4-2 Loss
The annual hall of fame game kicked off with the traditional pregame ceremony which first introduces so current members of the Hall of Fame which greet the newest inductees. On this eve, there was a very special guest Borje Salming who was greeted to a heartfelt heroes welcome. The iconic Maple Leafs legend is battling ALS but that did not stop him from being in attendance. A moment in which left fans in attendance and viewers at home alike fighting back tears. Words can’t do the justice to explain this moment that it truly deserves. To add to this night it was also Remembrance Day. The Leafs held another ceremony to honor those who have served, continue to serve and those who’ve paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom with a beautiful ceremony. In attendence for this was some World War 2 veterans.
Once all of the pregame festivities wrapped up we got to the game itself. The Leafs came out strong to start for this one. Toronto had a some quality opportunities and with 6:06 left in the first period, former Penguin Zach Aston-Reese was able to jump on a rebound and put one past Pens goalie DeSmith open the scoring. After taking two minor penalties, first a high sticking penalty just before the four minute mark and then a tripping penalty at the 16:10 mark. Evgeni Malkin capitalizes on a huge rebound and buries it to knot it up at one a piece with just 35.6 seconds left in the first period.. Malkin takes a jab at the refs as he mimics the tripping signal during his goal celebration.
The Penguins hit the score sheet for the second straight time just a minute into the second when Jason Zucker one times a spin-o-rama feed from Malkin past Kallgren to put Pittsburgh up 2-1. After Nylander just came up short on a scoring opportunity he made up for it when he wired a one timer on the powerplay past DeSmith to even it up again at two with with less then three minutes in the second period.
The third period was dominated by the Penguins, just under two minutes into the final frame Brock McGinn puts one past Kallgren to retake the lead and they held it for the remainder of the game. To the Leafs credit they put up a good fight but they came up short. The Pens failed on four attempts at the net but Jake Guentzel finally walked one in to wrap up the scoring in this one to make it a 4-2 final. Toronto is back in action Saturday night against the Canucks.
Game 15: Win it for Borje. Maple Leafs vs Canucks. 3-2 Win.
On this evening the Maple Leafs honoured the trailblazing Maple Leaf alumnus Borje Salming with a touching pregame ceremony. The club which he starred for 16 seasons had him in attendance along with his family. The water works was on full display as those in building along with the viewers at home and the Hall of Famer himself were overcome with emotion. After a classy tribute video the trailblazing Swedish legend that was followed but a emotional charged extended standing ovation for the second straight evening. Salming performed a ceremonial puck drop to fellow Swedish countrymen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and William Nylander. As another fitting tribute to Salming the Maple Leafs started an all swedish lineup to take the opening face off. The line up consisted of Nylander, Engvall, Jarnkrok, Liljegren and Sandin as well as Kallgren in net. This is just showing the significance of how important Salming is to the Maple Leafs and how loved he is by the hockey world in general.
We noticed a significant piece of blue line missing as TJ Brodie was absent from the line up, which we found out on Monday that he has an oblique injury. In his place Jordie Benn made his Maple Leafs regular season debut against his former team the Canucks. Once the puck was dropped on this game the Leafs came out with a burst of energy right off the hop but then went down 1-0 just 3:41 into the game as Bo Horvat tipped home his 13th of the season. Vancouver doubled their lead at the 12:11 mark thanks to JT Miller powerplay marker. This game looked to be going the wrong way for the Maple Leafs going into the first intermission but there was a lot of hockey still left.
The second period was a different story altogether. Just 30 seconds into the second the Leafs draw a penalty and Auston Matthews makes the Canucks pay as he puts home his seventh of the season to draw Toronto within one goal. Less then five minutes later Pierre Engvall evens the game up as he bangs home a rebound into a gapping cage. The Leafs kept it going as at the midway mark of the game Jordie Benn made his mark on this game as he jumps in on the play and capitalizes on a juicy rebound to put it top shelf and score his first as a Leaf against his former team to put the Maple Leafs up 3-2. This would become the final score as Kallgren shut the door the rest of the way for the Buds on route to a great bounce back victory.
The Wrap Up
Toronto finished this week with a 1-1-1 record. Head coach Keefe had the blender working this week as he did some experimenting with the line up trying to spark some more production. It has some signs of working as finally breaking up Marner and Matthews seem to benefit them well. Also the bottom six should some glimpse of finding their form as we seen the likes of Aston-Reese and Engvall get on the score sheet. Engvall who has really looked lost for the most part had a solid performance against the Canucks as they will be looking for more of the depth to contribute going forward.
The injury woes keep hampering the Leafs blue line with the loss of stalwart TJ Brodie due to the oblique injury will sideline him. The timeline of his return is unknown as of the time of writing but hopefully it is not a significant one as he has been one of the better defenders to dress this season. His stabilizing presence will be missed during his absence and the likes of Jordie Benn and Victor Mete will have to fill the void in the meantime.
Toronto looks to build off of the win on Saturday when they head to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to take on the Penguins. In a bit of positive news on the injury front. It’s sounding like Matt Murray will likely make his return to the Leafs line up to take on his former team. This will be a much needed boost for the blue and white to get one of their two goalies back. Samsonov is still working his way back from a knee injury but his return is not too far as well.
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