Maple Leafs: Week 7 in Review

Hot off the heels of a solid week that saw the Maple Leafs get five of six points in the three games they played. Toronto is looking to keep the momentum going and build more of a cushion in the standings. They are in tough this week starting on Monday night against the New York Islanders. The tests will only get more difficult as Wednesday they visit the scorching hot Devils followed by the back to back this weekend and the Wild and the Penguins respectively.

Game 20: KALLGREN! Maple Leafs vs Islanders. 3-2 OT Loss

The Leafs controlled the play for the first half of the first period getting off to a 7-0 shot advantage which included one that Nylander rang off the post. However the game remain scoreless. The Islanders started to gain some momentum and thanks to some puck luck. Noah Dobson put one towards the Leafs net that hit David Kampf and redirected in to put the Isles up 1-0 with 4:39 left in the first period. Toronto out shot New York 9-6 but go into the break down one.

The Leafs picked up where they left off in the first and continue to drive the play. They keep bombarding Sorokin with shots and to his credit he keeps turning them away keep the Maple Leafs off the board. This changes as just 8 seconds after Alex Romanov is sent off for Cross Checking. John Tavares snipes on home against his former team for his 11th of season in his 300th game as a Maple Leafs to even the score at 1-1. Toronto would take the lead about 10 minutes later thanks to Matthews redirecting a Liljegren point shot. The barrage of shots continued into the third period but Sorokin keep holding the fort, denying opportunity after opportunity the Leafs had. This proved fortunate for the Isles as with just under three minutes left in the third period an arid pass by Erik Kallgren directly to Islander forward Josh Bailey and he makes no mistake and he puts one past Kallgren to tie it up and sending the game into overtime.

The extra frame has proved to be unkind to Toronto so far this season as going into this they have a record of 1-4. On this night it was much of the same as Brock Nelson leads the attack into the Leafs zone and drops a pass back to Anthony Beauvillier and he snipes one top shelf past Kallgren to complete the comeback as the Islanders take this one 3-2. A major development took place early in the third period when Morgan Rielly and Kyle Palmieri collided unassumingly in open ice. Both players were down for a bit but able to get off the ice under their own power but neither returned. The update on Rielly we got was not good as the club placed their star D-man on the LTIR with a left knee injury. No surgery is required however he will be unavailable until at minimum December 17th. Another key member lost for a significant time as the team is already missing Jake Muzzin (cervical spine injury) and T.J Brodie (oblique) whos recovery isn’t progressing as well as hoped. In the meantime the team has recalled Mac Hollowell and Victor Mete. Hollowell will make his debut on Wedmesday in New Jersey against the Devils.

Game 21: Revenge! Maple Leafs vs Devils. 2-1 Win.

The narrative tonight was a streak was going to end. Was it going to be Mitch’s 13 game point streak? No, sorry that has been extended to 14 games. Was it going to be the Devils 13 game win streak? In the immortal words of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Oh Hell Yeah! There was some bulletin board material provided to the Maple Leafs courtesy of Devils Forward Nathan Bastian. His comments from earlier day stating about extending the Devils win streak, “If there is any team in the league I’d want to beat, it would probably be these guys. 14 would be nice.” The Leafs already had enough motivation coming into this game. They lost there previous match up with Jersey just 7 days prior and then to have these comments further stoke the fire was all they needed to exact their pound of flesh. On this night Toronto exacted some revenge. This game get off to an interesting start.

Both teams came out solid to start and after trading a couple opportunities early on. It appeared the Devils had stuck first as point shot deflected off of Nathan Bastian and past Murray. However the goal was waved off and after the Devils challenged the call/ Video review confirmed that there was indeed goalie interference. The Devils were assessed a delay of game penalty as the punishment. Toronto wasn’t able to capitalize on the man advantage. But with 8:19 left in the first, Mitch Marner from his knees feeds a pass out front to John Tavares, who makes no mistake and buries one past the Devils netminder Vanecek to put the buds up 1-0. Just over two minutes later the Maple Leafs would add to their lead as Pontus Holmberg picks up a loose puck and puts it five hole and in for his first career NHL goal. The Leafs take a 2-0 lead into the break.

The second period got off to a similar start as the first. Both teams had some prime opportunities that each of their goaltenders were up to the task and stave off the opportunities. Once again another New Jersey thought they scored. However, Devils forward Tomas Tatar collides with Murray as he’s trying to make his way back to his crease. Meanwhile the puck goes out to point and is shot into the open net which could have been the second marker of the game for New Jersey however the score remained 2-0 for Toronto and it would go unchanged going into the third.

As the game approached the nine minute mark of the third. New Jersey gets an opportunity shorted handed and once again Bastian is in the middle of it as he threads a pass over to Erik Haula who one times towards Matt Murray who makes the initial save however the puck remains available. Mark Giordano gets a piece of the puck to attempt to clear it away from the danger area, only to go into the skates of Haula who kicks it towards the net and in. The call on the ice was a goal however, head coach Sheldon Keefe quickly challenges the call and is successful as after review it is overturned to make it the third goal disallowed in this game. That is just unheard of. I’ve been following hockey for over thirty years and I’ve never seen this before. Once it was announced in the arena, the New Jersey faithful begin to litter the ice with food and drinks. This caused the Leafs to exit into the tunnel until things settled down. Of course because of the actions of the disgruntled fans this lead to a lengthy delay in the game. Once the mess was cleaned up and the fans calmed down the game resumed. With 5:08 left in the third the Devils score a goal that wasn’t called back as Dougie Hamilton redirects a hard pass from Yegor Sharangovich top shelf past Murray to draw within one. New Jersey kept pressing hard but Murray stood tall and lead the way as Maple Leafs weathered the storm to walk out with a big two points as they took this one 2-1.

A side note prior to this game, Toronto went out and got some much needed help for the back end as they acquired Conor Timmins from Arizona for Curtis Douglas. This move will now be that much more important as yet another Maple Leafs defenseman was injured during this game. Jordie Benn sustained an upper body injury he missed a substantial part of the second period but did return in the third period. An update on his status is to follow on Thursday. Next on the agenda will be an afternoon tilt on Friday against the Minnesota Wild.

Game 22: For the King. Maple Leafs vs Wild. 4-3 Win.

The day before the game, The Toronto Maple Leafs and the hockey world were dealt some devastating news as the legend Borje Salming had passed away at the age of 71. No words can not properly describe what affect he had on this game and the legacy he’s left behind. He fought a courageous battle against ALS. He was just in attendance in Toronto just two weeks prior for the Hall of Fame game and a special tribute the following night. On both nights the Leafs faithful showered him with love and admiration. The images from those night will be forever engrained. With this news it was expected that this game would be played with heavy hearts especially given the large number of Swedish players that are on this roster.

This game was back and forth right from the get go. Both teams exchanged chances and 3:42 into the first Marner puts a wrister on net and through a lot of traffic it finds its way past Marc-Andre Fleury to put Toronto up 1-0 early on. Both teams keep the fast pace going and once again exchange some high danger chances to which both goalies are able to turn aside. However with 7:59 left in the first Krill Kaprizov was able to bury a rebound past Murray to knot this one up at one a piece. This was short lived as Toronto answers back just 42 seconds later when Zach Aston-Reese puts one through the wickets of Fleury to put the Leafs back up 2-1. This goal had a bit of an odor to it, but a goal is a goal and the Leafs will gladly take it. This would close out the scoring for the first.

The back and forth play continued in the second and just over two and half minutes into the second the Wild get into the Leafs zone and Matt Boldy finishes off a nice passing play to tie the game back up at 2-2. The Leafs retake the lead at just over the halfway mark in the second as Toronto hemmed the Wild in their zone and after Mark Giordano puts towards the net that puts a juicy rebound on the stick of Calle Jarnkrok with has a gaping cage to bury it into allowing the Maple Leafs to once again retake the lead 3-2. Minnesota got some good chances including a breakaway in the closing minute of the second that Murray stood tall and denied them of what could have been the game tying goal.

Going into the third Minnesota was hungry to tie this one back up. Chance after chance was thwarted by the Leafs backstopper as Minnesota kept the pressure on trying everything in their power to get the game evened up. However with just over six and a half minutes left William Nylander snipes an absolute bullet past Fleury to put Toronto up 4-2. With this goal Nylander tied Salming for second highest scoring Swedish born player in franchise history. This would turn out to be the game winning goal. However the Wild did make it interesting and a tense finish as they pulled Fleury with about four minutes left in the game and Mats Zuccarello got Minnesota within one with 3:34 left in the game. Murray closed the door the rest of the way and the Leafs weathered the storm to walk out of St Paul with a much earned 4-3 victory.

One note from this game is once again Murray is getting the ire of the opposition as he was at the center of controversy as he knocked the net off its moorings on three occasions in this game. Mind you the last occurrence was clearly by accident. However during the post game press conference, Minnesota head coach Dean Evason raised his concerns over the lack of penalties called in regards to these events. This will draw more attention to this and going forward you can expect the officials will be having a watchful eye on this.

Game 23: March over the Penguins. Maple Leafs vs Penguins. 4-1 Win

Both teams are coming into this game are on the second half of a back to back. Pittsburgh played Philly the night before in Philadelphia getting a 4-1 victory over there Pennsylvania rivals. They had a bit of an advantage as their travel back to Pittsburgh was a far shorter trip then that of the Leafs. However that did not matter to Toronto on this evening.

Just 40 seconds into the game Mitch Marner is fed a pass from Matthews and is sent in all alone and completely undresses Casey DeSmith to waste no time extending his point streak to 16 games as he opens the scoring 1-0 Toronto. This was an indication of how things were going to go for Toronto. Sidney Crosby ended up leaving the game on a couple occasions in the first period. No indication if it was equipment or a possible injury. He went off a bit on the boards after that early Marner goal. Although there were some prime opportunities no one else would find the score sheet in the first. The Leafs out shot Pittshburgh 17-5 in the opening stanza.

On to the second period where the Leafs continued their dominance as midway through the second the Maple Leafs net a pair of goals within a minute of each other. First Pontus Holmberg gets his second of the season and then William Nylander followed up with 12th of the season to put the Leafs up 3-0. With Nylander’s goal, he now surpasses his idol Salming and taking sole possession of second all time for Swedish born scorers for the Maple Leafs. Once again this concludes the scoring in this frame and Toronto goes into the third up 3-0.

The final frame of this one mirrored the previous two periods with Toronto dictating the play. The Leafs kept pressing with Pittsburgh offer a little bit of push back. Pittsburgh finally get on the board thanks to a fortuitous bounce as a shot towards the Leafs net ended up on the stick of Rickard Rakell and he makes no mistake and buries it to get Pittsburgh on the board to make it 3-1. But that’s as close as they would get on this night as just about three minutes after the Penguins get on the board. Michael Bunting does the heavy lifting and from his backside is able to slap a pass over to Matthews and he puts in his 10th of the year and his first 5 on 5 forehand goal. Which the sense of relieve in the celebration from Matthews indicated he got a much need monkey off his back with that goal. This would cap off the scoring in this one as the Leafs out shot Pittsburgh 41-26. Erik Kallgren looked steady in this victory making 25 stops.

The Wrap up.

This was a busy week for the Maple Leafs. Toronto was able to get seven of eight points available with Mondays overtime loss being the only blemish on their record this week. Injury woes keep haunting the blue line with the loss of Benn for what could be a couple weeks as he was placed on the IR on Tuesday. Good news is that front is that Samsonov is trending towards his return in the coming week barring any set backs.

The big news of the week was the loss of the Legend Borje Salming. His legacy will forever be a lasting one. He was and will forever be one of the greatest defenseman and Maple Leafs of all time. He paved the path for generations of Swedish and European born players to make their trek across the pond to the NHL will be one part of the legacy he leaves behind. But he will also be remember for his fearless play and his presences both on and off the ice. May the King rest in peace. You may be gone but you will never be forgotten.

Toronto will conclude their road trip on Monday when face off against their original six rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. They return home on Wednesday to host San Jose and head back out on the road to face Tampa Bay on Saturday.