This week started out with news on the injury front. Yet another member of the roster has landed on the IR. This time it is T.J Brodie. He will be out at minimum two weeks with an oblique injury. There was some light shed on the status of Jake Muzzin. He has been diagnosed with a cervical spine injury. He’s been out since Oct 17th and he will be re-evaluated in late February.
This is some difficult news for the veteran rearguard. We wish Jake all the best and hope for the absolute best in his recovery but at this point it’s time to focus on his long term health and his playing career is on the back burner. He has been diagnosed with a cervical spine injury. He’s been out since October 17th and he will be re-evaluated in late February. This is some difficult news for the veteran rearguard. Given this diagnosis it puts his playing career in question, but that is the least of the concerns as his health and long term well being takes precedence over. We wish Jake all the best and hope for the best possible outcome.
There was some positive news as well from the medical staff as Matt Murray has been greenlighted to return to the Maple Leaf lineup and will reclaim the crease on Tuesday against his former team the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Game 17: A Milestone and Murray’s Return. Maple Leafs vs Penguins. 5-2 Win
How fitting that Matt Murray makes his much anticipated return to the crease to where it all started for him in Pittsburgh. The netminder had been sidelined since October 15th with an abductor injury. Murray was not tested much early on but what little work he face he looked good. Toronto came out strong in this one. Just over the 12 minute mark of the first, with Mitch Marner parked infront. John Tavares’ pursuit of his 400th goal concluded as he puts one past the screen Penguins goalie DeSmith to open the scoring. Marner made his presence felt once again exactly three minutes later when he puts home his fourth of the season to double up the lead for the Maple Leafs. Toronto would hold this lead going into the intermission.
The Maple Leafs wasted no time to adding to the lead as 11 seconds in the second stanza Michael Bunting finds twine to put the buds up 3-0. However Pittsburgh answered right back as Richard Rakell has a Jason Zucker shot deflect off him and into the back of the net to get back within two just 54 seconds into the second period. The Penguins put the Leafs on their heels just over a minute later when Sidney Crosby is gifted a puck on his tape from Rasmus Sandin and proceeds to get in alone and put a backhander past his former teammate Murray to put the Pens within one to bring the score to 3-2 Toronto.
Things looked to be unravelling for the Maple Leafs as Mark Giordano is sent off at the 4:02 mark for tripping. Toronto comes up huge in killing off this penalty. Toronto was able to calm the waters and in the closing moments of the second period Michael Bunting was able to get in the scoring column again as he gets his second of the period with just 50 seconds left in the period to regain a two goal lead as it put Toronto up 4-2. There was no looking back for the Maple Leafs from this point on as Toronto kept the pressure on Pittsburgh. William Nylander added an empty net goal to finish off the scoring. Matt Murray earned his first win as a Maple Leaf in his return as he stopped 35 of 37 shots he faced.
Game 18: Running with the Devils. Maple Leafs vs Devils. 3-2 OT Loss
The red hot Devils roll into Toronto winners of 10 straight games. Toronto was coming off a big win on Tuesday against the Pens and looking to build off it. The game got off to a rapid pace as the two teams exchange early opportunities but neither could get one past the opposing goalie. The score remained at a deadlock until 4:45 left in the first when Auston Matthews is able to get lost in the slot and bury one to put Toronto up 1-0. However that was short lived, just 24 seconds later Jasper Bratt receives a pass wide open in the slot and snipes one past Murray to tie it up. The Devils take the lead just over 3 minutes into the second as Nico Hischier finishes off a nice passing play and puts one top shelf over the glove of the Leafs netminder.
New Jersey was pushing the pace and testing Murray but to his credit he held his ground and kept the Maple Leafs in this game. Murray’s determination and timely saves paid off as with just 2:09 left in the third period William Nylander was able to put a knuckler past Vanecek to knot it up at 2-2. This rounded out the score for regulation forcing the teams to square off in the extra frame to determine who was walking out with the extra point on this evening.
Coach Keefe decided to ice the trio of Tavares, Marner and Rielly to start overtime instead of his customary Matthews, Marner and Rielly as this season this trio has not been effective in overtime. This did not make a difference as after a failed pass attempt leads to a Jack Hughes interception and shot attempt which Yegor Sharangovich jumps on a juicy rebound and pots the game winning goal to secure the 3-2 overtime victory for the visiting Devils.
Game 19: Retro Night. Maple Leafs vs Sabres. 5-2 Win
Toronto squared off against their rivals from just down on the QEW, the Buffalo Sabres. The Maple Leafs debuted their 1962 inspired Reverse Retro jerseys on Hockey Night in Canada. I must admit I really like these jerseys. They are great representation of the tradition and history of the franchise. Now onto the game itself. Most times for me as a fan I dread these games. Historically Buffalo is one of those teams that always shows up for these match ups and the outcome usually isn’t a favorable one for the boys in the blue and white. However on this night that would not be the case. Buffalo came into this game losers of 7 straight.
So this just further sets the stage for a hungry Sabre team to come in looking to get back into the win column. The Sabres came out hot off the start getting a couple odd man rushes but nothing came to fruition. After the initial wave, Toronto turned the tide in their favor and took the reigns.
Johnny Toronto was the first to get the Leafs on the board as he notched his 10th of the season on the Powerplay to put the buds up 1-0 just before they 13 minute mark of the opening period. Tavares is the first Maple Leaf to crack double digits for goal total so far this season. With just over two and half minutes left Calle Jarnkrok adds to the lead when he netted his fourth of the season.
Just 25 seconds later John Tavares was sent off for tripping to send the Sabres to the man advantage. However this did not work in their favor as just 30 seconds as Toronto once again gets on the board when Mitch Marner gets in alone on a shorthanded breakaway where he proceeds to drop it to Mark Giordano, but before Giordano can get the shot off fully. Alex Tuch ends up going flying into the Sabres net knocking it off it moorings. After video review the officials indicated that this was an impending scoring opportunity that the puck would have crossed the line ruling a goal on the play. Giordano is credited with his first goal of the season a short handed marker to boot that give the Maple Leafs a commanding 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Toronto came out strong to start the second. However after a very questionable illegal checking to the head call on Matthews lead to a Sabres Power play. Alex Tuch unintentionally deflects one past Murray to get Sabres on the board to cut the lead to 3-1. Toronto responds with a power play marker of its own just under five minutes later as Matthews wires one on net which leads to a rebound that hits the Leafs captain Tavares and is just sitting in the blue paint where William Nylander wastes no time shovelling it into the back of the net to score his ninth of the season to make it a 4-1 Toronto lead.
The score would remain this way until just over the midway point of the third period when Nylander would notch another goal to tie Tavares for the club lead in scoring with his 10th of season to put the Leafs up 5-1. Casey Middlestadt would get one back for Buffalo on the power play but that was all she wrote as the Maple Leafs would take this one with a 5-2 final. Murray once again looked solid between the pipe making 32 stops in his home debut.
The Wrap up.
The Leafs finished off the week with a 2-0-1 record and have quietly amassed a 6-1-2 record as of this point in November. Much like last season where October was not kind to the club and raised concerns and then the calendar rolled over to November where the Leafs found their rhythm and have found themselves in a far better spot in the standings. Now sitting fourth overall in the entire league. The goaltending which was much of the concern going into the season and early part of this season has been good. Kallgren held the fort while the likes of Murray whom was injured after just one start. While has battery mate Samsonov also landed on the IR leaving the third string Kallgren holding the fort which he did a decent job of while the previous two were laid up. With Murray back and looking good so, and Samsonov not far from returning as well. Things have calmed down in Leaf land on that front.
Sandin who has been awful so far this season had his best game so far and even lightning rod Justin Holl was serviceable. All things considering things have made a turn for the better for Toronto. Things are far from perfect but strides have been made by the team as a whole to improve their play on both sides of the puck. The work is far from done but this team is a far cry from the one in disarray just mere weeks ago.
Next week will be no less of a test as it starts off with host the Islanders Monday and then embarking on a four game road trip that starts in New Jersey on Wednesday followed by a back to back on Friday against Minnesota and then Saturday where they face off against Pittsburgh.