Last week started on the right foot with a decisive victory against Anaheim. Only to loss two straight in regulation for the first time this season. Toronto looks to right the ship this week. However they are in tough during this short week before the Christmas break. Up first they face Tampa Bay on Tuesday and then follow up with a matinee match up on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers to wrap up the schedule leading into the Christmas break.
Before the puck dropped on action this week for Toronto, the Maple Leafs made a trade. They sent Denis Malgin to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Dryden Hunt. This trade isn’t going to rock the hockey world by any means. This trade does address a depth need. Denis Malgin has not fit well on the roster. He is too talented to be in the bottom six. However lacks the tools to fit what Toronto needs from their bottom six players. When given the opportunity up in the top two lines he was not able to make the best of it either. A change of scenario will be more beneficial for him as he has been a scratch more as of late. Now that Calle Jarnkrok is healthy and being activated off the IR. Malgin was pushed further down the depth chart.
What can we expect from the newly aquired Dryden Hunt you wonder? Let me shed some light on that. The 27 year old 6’0 193lbs Cranbrook, B.C. native who has amassed 14 goals, 28 assists for a total 42 points over 193 career NHL games spanning 6 seasons. He’s spent time with Florida, Arizona, New York Rangers and Colorado prior to his arrival in Toronto. Although these offensive numbers are nothing impressive. Hunt has some offensive pedigree as history has proven. His last year in the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors, he record 58 goals, 58 assists good for 116 points in 71 games played. He’s also notched a pair of 20+ goal season in the AHL with the Springfield Thunderbirds. He scored 23 goals in 58 games played in the 2017-18 season and again had 23 goals in 51 games played during the 2018-19 season. Looking at some of his other stats he’s got 58 hits so far in 25 games this season and 440 in his career as of this point. So he will provide a bit more sandpaper to the bottom six. He resembles Zach Aston Reese in many ways. He may not fill the score sheet with points but he is the type of player that will give the opposition fits. He has a tendency to wear down opponents, he’s a hard nose player that will throw his weight around. Hunt’s attributes will compliment our bottom six with potential opportunities to see some spot starts with the Tavares, Marner line. We will see where Sheldon Keefe chooses to utilize him only time will tell. For now all I can say is welcome to Toronto Dryden. I look forward to seeing what you can bring to this line up.
Game 33: Storm Season. Maple Leafs vs Lightning. 4-1 Win
The Maple Leafs are looking to exact revenge on the Lightning. Last time these two teams met was back on December 3rd in Tampa Bay. The Lightning claimed a 4-3 Overtime victory. Toronto welcomed Calle Jarnkrok back to the line up. He’s been out of the line up since he left game on November 30th against the Sharks with a groin injury. His return to active duty is also marks a milestone for Jarnkrok. He is suiting up for his 600th career game.
The buds were hungry to get back on track and in the win column. They entered this game losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season. Toronto wanted to ensure that it did not extend to three straight losses. Toronto peppered Vasilevskiy with a barrage of shots from the onset of this battle of Atlantic Division rivals. The Lightning netminder held strong until 16:45 of first period when Michael Bunting one times a scorcher past him to make it 1-0. The goal marked Michael Buntings 100th career point. Toronto registered 15 shots in the first period. Vasilevskiy did everything he could to keep his team in this game with the scoreboard indicating that with only the single goal against early on. Right at the end of the first period draws to an end. A scrum ensues after a questionable hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on Mitch Marner just before the horn. Both Bellemare and Toronto forward Michael Bunting are sent off for roughing. Also just prior to that Ian Cole was sent off for tripping which lead to the Leafs starting the second with a power play.
Toronto would continue its domination of this game as just 1:01 into the second period Auston Matthews snipes home his 17th of the season on the powerplay to double up Toronto’s lead to 2-0. Tampa was being outclassed in this game for the first half of the game. Toronto had a 25-5 shot advantage with 9:30 left in the second period. Tampa went over 12 minutes without registering a single shot. The Maple Leafs would go into the third period of this game with 29-8 shot advantage and yet thanks to the Vasilevskiy held the host team to a two goal lead. The Leafs would be playing short a defensemen for the third it was announced by the Maple Leafs PR that Rasmus Sandin would not return due to a neck injury.
Tampa Bay finally show a little life in the third period. Vlad Namestnikov would get Tampa on the board just over four minutes in with his second of the season to cut the lead in half to 2-1. Both of Namestnikov’s goals this season has come against the Leafs. This was as close as Tampa Bay got as Toronto added two empty net goals from Pierre Engvall and William Nylander. Toronto would walk out with a 4-1 victory over Tampa. The Leafs outclassed their opponent on this night finishing with a 40-19 shot differential.
On a non-hockey note. Prior to the game it was revealed that one of the victims from the tragic shooting in Vaughan on Sunday was Victor Mete’s maternal grandfather. I want to send my deepest condolences to Victor Mete and his family and everyone that has been affected by this unspeakable tragedy.
On a brighter note, Auston Matthews was doing his part to help raise awareness for Sick kids by wearing some amazing custom skates that showcased the ugly Christmas sweater that he wore in to the rink. The sweater may look familiar as it was the one the Ryan Reynolds wore when a campaign was started to help raise money for sick kids hospital a few years back. Auston Matthews has quietly been a big supporter and contributor to sick kids as he frequently makes visits their and is involved in many events with Sick Kids. The Maple Leafs organization as a whole are heavily involved in supporting Sick Kids having the team make frequent trips to the hospital along with fundraising and other activities.
Game 34: Maple Leafs vs Flyers.
Toronto wraps up its pre-holiday schedule with the Next Gen matinee game at home against the Flyers. For the second time this season the Leafs will dawn the Drewhouse collaboration Blue and Black uniforms. The afternoon encounter with Philly is one of those games that can be categorized as a trap game. Contributing factors like it is the last game prior to the extended Christmas break. Players have a tendency let the mind wander or be distracted with other factors not necessarily related to the game at hand or hockey in general. Before the game started we were updated that Rasmus Sandin had been placed on the IR with a neck injury. Mac Hollowell has been recalled on an emergency basis.
The Flyers come in on the second half of a back to back. Philidelphia won 5-3 the night before against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Philly got off to a good start in this afternoon affair. Just over three and half minutes in William Nylander is sent off for hooking. The Flyers make the most of the man advantage and Tony DeAngelo puts the first shot against Samsonov count and just like that its 1-0. The Leafs looked a little sleepy early on but they started to show some life in the latter part of the period. Nothing came up from their opportunities and they would go into the first intermission trailing by just the one goal.
Toronto entered the second period looking to get back into this one. It took a almost three quarters of the second period but they got on the board. Calle Jarnkrok put home his sixth of the season to even it up at 1-1. Mitch Marner notched the primary assist on the goal. Marner seems to thrive in these Next Gen games and he would add to his point total for just over two and a half minutes later when he recorded his 13th goal on the season on the power play to give the buds the lead in the closing minute of the second period.
Once again the big boys waste no time adding to the lead as Michael Bunting puts one on the board just 33 seconds into the third period to give Toronto as 3-1 lead. Toronto would add to the lead at 11:39 when William Nylander scores his 20th of the season to make it 4-1. However the Flyers would not roll over and fold. Morgan Frost would answer back just 22 seconds later to make it 4-2. Philly would claw within one goal just a minute and 23 seconds later thanks to a bit of a soft goal by Joel Farabee to make it 4-3 Toronto. From that point on the Maple Leafs were able to weather the storm to hang on to win by that very score of 4-3.
The Wrap Up
Toronto wrapped up the pre-holiday break schedule with back to back wins. They enter the Christmas break with a 21-7-6 record good for second in the Atlantic. They trail the Bruins by 8 points in the standings. Toronto is 4th overall in the NHL only trailing the Bruins, Hurricanes and Golden Knights. There is a lot of aspects we as fans can be very happy with at this point. Through all of the adversity this team has encountered with the countless injuries depletting the back end and in net and to be able to have so many players further down the depth chart step in and be more then serviceable and see some thrive given the larger workload and roles thrust upon them is a very promising sign. The goaltending has been outstanding with both Murray and Samsonov shining and proving the gambles taken on them are paying off in spades to this point. Our core four have been money. Matthews was a little slow getting going to start the season but he’s found his rhythm. Michael Bunting is starting to show signs of the form he had last season.
The main critique I could have with this roster is the depth needs to contribute a bit more. We’ve seen glimpse’ of what they can do and the defense has provided a bit more offense as of late. However if the bottom six can contribute a bit more on a consistent basis. It would take some of the burden of the big boys. You can lean on your horses most of the time but that gets tired and when they get shutdown or have an off night you need some secondary contributions to offset that. Also with the added dimension of depth scoring just makes it harder on the opponent. If this can not be corrected with the current options on this roster. You can expect that management will not hesitate to make a move to address this.
With all this being said right now. Let’s just enjoy the moment. We in the fan base have become jaded with the past narratives that dog this group. There is so much to be optimisitic and savor. So take a moment and just drink it in. The boys get back to work on Tuesday with they pay a visit to St Louis to take on the Blues and then head down to the desert on Thursday to take on Arizona before they wrap up the 2022 part of the schedule with a meeting against the Avalanche on New Years Eve in Denver.
I want to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season. All the best to you and yours. Thank you for taking the time to read my blogs and I look forward to continue to bring you new and exciting content in 2023.
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