The Maple Leafs return to action after the league wide holiday break, They look to continue to build on the momentum established prior to the hiatus in action. Toronto is on the road for the three games to play this week to close out 2022. First they head to St Louis to take on the Blues on Tuesday. After that it’s a trip to the desert to face the Coyotes on Thursday. The final game of 2022 will be a duel against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche.
Game 35: Blue notes. Maple Leafs vs Blues. 5-4 OT Win
After four days off for the Christmas break both teams look to avoid to fall victim to the holiday hangover. Toronto enters action with consecutive wins prior to the Holiday stoppage. St Louis looks to bounce back after losing the last two games which included a 5-4 shootout loss against the Golden Knights in their last game on Friday.
Entering this game, St Louis is ranked 29th in the PK. Binnington has allowed 75 goals against going into the game. St Louis is ranked 27th overall in goals against with 124. This in theory could be a padding the stat night for Toronto. But nothing can be assumed. St Louis had a couple key changes to the line up. Torey Krug was placed on the IR with a lower body injury but Jordan Kyrou returned to the line up after missing the previous game for the Blues with a upper body injury.
The game it self started off well for the Maple Leafs. Just over three minutes in Justin Holl was able to pounce on a big rebound from a Mark Giordano point shot and put home his second goal of the season to make it 1-0 Toronto. The Leafs came into this game ranked 31st in the league in scoring from the defense. St Louis would answer back quickly with one from their own defense. Former Maple Leaf Calle Rosen puts one past a down and out Ilya Samsonov who lost his footing on the play to even it up at 1-1 with 12:26 remaining in the first. Toronto retakes the lead in the final minute of the first period. Mitch Marner takes a hit to make a pass to John Tavares who rips home his 15th of the season. The score is now 2-1 heading into the first intermission.
Toronto extends its lead 5:26 into the second period when St Louis has a defensive breakdown coupled with an awful line change and Alex Kerfoot taps home one of the easiest goals he’ll get into an open net to make it 3-1. At this point it looked as if Toronto was going to run away with this one. However St Louis had other thoughts on this. What appeared to be a harmless zone entry by St Louis. The Leaf defender Justin Holl gave far too much space between him and the attacker and the Leafs pay for it as Blues captain Ryan O’Rielly draws them back within one with 12:21 remaining in the second. St Louis keeps the pressure on and draws even less then a minute later when a point shot from Justin Faulk finds its way past Samsonov. The score is 3-3. Both the second and third goals are ones that Samsonov would love to have back. Toronto would respond with a goal of their own at 15:16 of the second when Calle Jarnkrok tucks home his seventh of the season to put the Leafs back ahead 4-3. They would maintain this lead heading into the third period.
St Louis would battle back to even it up around the quarter mark of the third period. The tying marker came of the stick of Jordan Kyrou who places a perfect shot pasted a heavily screened Samsonov.Once again the score is knotted up 4-4. Both teams exchange opportunities and late in the third Zach Aston-Reese is hit in the mouth with an arid high stick but the play goes uncalled. ZAR is left bloodied and in need of some repairs. This would not cost either team at this time. However neither team could find twine which lead to an extra frame in this one.
Toronto would start overtime with David Kampf, Timothy Liljegren and TJ Brodie on the ice. TJ Brodie would be gifted a golden opportunity in overtime as he gets in on a break and is mugged by Blues forward Jordan Kyrou which leads to a penalty shot to be called on the play. Brodie unfortunately is unable to make the best of the opportunity as he is turned aside by Binnington on the play. However Toronto was determined to get the second point in this one. William Nylander picks Vladimir Tarasenko’s pocket and get in on a break and makes no mistake as he dekes out Binnington and puts on backhand top shelf on the Blues netminder to seal the victory as the Leafs take this one 5-4 in overtime.
Ilya Samsonov didn’t have his best game on this night. Despite that he is able to secure the win. This is consecutive games where he has not looked great but able to do enough to get the victory. Prior to his last two outings, Samsonov had not gotten a win after allowing more then two goals. However his last two games he has allowed more then two goals and gotten the win in both. Not all victories are pretty but take them however you can get them. Next up for the Maple Leafs is a trip to Arizona to take on the Coyotes.
Game 36: Dogged in the Desert. Maple Leafs vs Coyotes. 6-3 Loss
The Maple Leafs announced on Wednesday that a key member was returning to the line up on Thursday against Arizona. The player in question was Morgan Rielly. He has been sidelined with a knee injury since November 21st. The Leafs were 12-2-1 in his absence. To make room for Rielly’s return, Jordie Benn would be a healthy scratch. Rielly was on the second pairing with Timothy Liljegren. One other lineup change for the Maple Leafs saw Dryden Hunt make his debut. He was replacing Joey Anderson on the fourth line.
The game got off to a bad start for Toronto. Only 46 seconds into this one Justin Holl wipes out taking his defence partner Mark Giordano with him. Meanwhile Nick Bjugstad gets the inside lane on the backchecking Matthews and is drive to the front of the net and put a backhander past Matt Murray to quickly put Arizona up 1-0. Toronto would answer back on the power play. Conor Timmins puts a shot towards the Coyotes net and Pontus Holmberg redirects it home past Karel Vejmelka to square it back up at 1-1. Toronto would take the lead just over three and a half minutes later. Once again they are on the power play and it is the second unit that strikes again. After the first unit had some glorious opportunities that lead to them ringing two off the posts. The second takes the reigns and once again Conor Timmins is at the center of the play as he feeds Calle Jarnkrok a cross ice pass and he wires home his 8th of the year to make it 2-1 Leafs. Toronto would maintain the lead heading into the first intermission.
Early on in the second period things got a little chippy. Dryden Hunt made his presence felt early on. After a big hit in the corner by Hunt on Jack McBain. McBain gathered himself and went after Hunt and the two dropped the gloves. The two combatants are sent off with fighting majors. A couple minutes later Toronto is sent on the PK. After some confusion, the officials have a conference send Mitch Marner off on a miscalled tripping penalty. Clearly if you watched the game and saw the replays it was Pontus Holmberg who had hooked a Coyotes player. Marner was an innocent bystander just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way the officials got the call wrong and Arizona capitalized on it immediately. The Coyotes win the face off and get it down low. Nick Ritchie puts a shot on net and the rebound comes out to Jakob Chychrun and he buries his fourth of the season. Once again the game is all even at 2-2. The Leafs would retake the lead just over four minutes later thanks to Alex Kerfoot gaining zone entry and is able to cycle the puck back to the point to Mark Giordano. Gio puts a shot on the net and Kerfoot puts home the rebound to put the buds back up 3-2.
Toronto would hold the lead until 4:40 of the third period. Arizona would even it back up with just one second left on their powerplay when J.J Moser would find twine to even it back up. Arizona would take the lead with just over six minutes left in the game. After a bad giveaway from Morgan Rielly. The Yotes take possession. Lawson Crouse puts a cross crease pass on the tape of Jack McBain and he deposits it in to make it 4-3 Arizona. The Coyotes add two empty net goals by Jack McBain and Barrett Hayton to secure their fourth straight victory at home against the Maple Leafs. The final score of this one was 6-3 Coyotes.
Toronto needs to shake this one off and move on. 2022 was unkind to the Leafs as they went 0-4 against Arizona. They close out the year on positive note when they head to Denver on Saturday night for a New Years Eve clash against the defending Cup champs, the Colorado Avalanche.
Game 37: Mile High End to 2022. Maple Leafs vs Avalanche. 6-2 Win
Saturday night the Maple Leafs closed out the year in Denver with a New Years Eve match up against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche. The Avs welcome back their cornerstone superstar Nathan MacKinnon to their line up. Dryden Hunt and Denis Malgin face each others former clubs for the first time since being traded for one another a couple weeks back. Colorado came into this one losers of two straight which included a 5-4 shootout loss to the Kings on Thursday and a 6-3 defeat against the Coyotes on Tuesday. Ironically the matching score of the Maple Leafs loss against Arizona. Both teams look to end the year on a positive note. However only one will do so.
Colorado came out strong out of the gate as get a high danger scoring opportunity not even a minute in but Murray stood tall to the test to keep it scoreless. The two teams would exchange a couple more scoring chances before the Leafs on the board first. Calle Jarnkrok and Mitch Marner team up on an outstanding give and go play that Marner starts back in the defensive zone. that leads to Marner getting in on Avs defender Andreas Englund. Englund goes for the hit and Marner undresses him to get an open lane and snipes one blocker side past Georgiev to make it 1-0 Toronto 6:51 into the open period. The Maple Leafs double up their lead just over two and a half minutes later when the third line all contribute as Kerfoot from his back passes it out to Kampf who puts a shot on and the rebound is found by Engvall and he puts it past the Avs goaltender to make it 2-0. Colorado gets back within one with 2:32 left in the first. Toronto’s defense pairing of Holl and Giordano give too much time to the attacking player Compher and play him to soft. Compher takes advantage of it and rips an uninterrupted past Murray to make it a 2-1 score. This is a goal Murray should have had but time to brush it off and play on.
Toronto gets an early powerplay chance in the second as the Avalanches Ben Meyes is sent off for slashing just 8 seconds in. The Maple Leafs waste little time making the most of the man advantage as Matthews feeds Tavares down low. He goes for a shot and it ends up on Bunting’s stick and he puts it in. Toronto is now up 3-1 just 34 seconds into the second period. Colorado would get one back at 9:34 of the second as their third line puts in the work and is rewarded for their efforts as a cross crease pass banks in off of the skate of Auston Matthews to make it 3-2. Devon Toews is the awarded the marker with former Leaf Denis Malgin getting a secondary assist on it. Matthews would get on the scoresheet the way we are accustomed too with five minutes left in the second. Matthews puts pressure on the Avs play who coughs up a giveaway to Nylander. Willy feeds it too a wide open Matthews. He out waits Georgiev and puts it home for his 18th goal of the season which also is point number 499 of his career. It’s now 4-2. Toronto wasn’t done their as TJ Brodie adds another goal just 24 seconds after the Matthews marker. The score is now 5-2. The Avalanche head coach Bednar makes the change in goaltenders replacing Alexandar Georgiev with Jonas Johansson. Johansson did not allow a goal on the seven shots he faced in the 23:15 of ice time he played. Michael Bunting did score an empty netter late in the third to ice the 6-2 victory for Toronto.
The Wrap up
The Toronto Maple Leafs end the calendar year on a high note. They have much to be positive about heading into 2023. Toronto owns a record of 23-8-6 with 52 points. They currently sit third overall in the NHL. They trail divisonal rival Boston by 8 points for first overall. And only 2 points behind Metropolitan division leading Hurricanes for second spot in league standings. Matthews, Marner and Nylander all tied with 42 points a piece. The Leafs are getting healthy with Rielly returning this week. They did lose Sandin but by the sounds of it. This neck injury will be something that only sidelines him short term. There are some questions to be answered with this roster as they head into the new year and start looking ahead to the trade deadline and beyond.
The depth pieces of the roster are starting to contribute a bit more. Michael Bunting has been riding a hot hand and showing much of the form of last season. Calle Jarnkrok heads into the new year with a five game point streak (3 goals 4 assist 7 points). Is his production sustainable? We shall see. If so that may be the answer of whom they need to fill the spot permanently beside Tavares and Marner. Jarnkrok has looked at home when deployed on the left wing of the second line. Another depth player that has started to find a bit more offence as of late is Pierre Engvall. He’s pitched in with 2 goals and 3 assists in the last 5 games as well. Toronto will need more production from the role players in the bottom six without sacrificing the defensive side of the game. The bottom six has provided a lot of low event playoff style hockey thus far. As of late these lines have seen more action thanks to this as they have earned the trust of head coach Sheldon Keefe. He has instilled a solid defensive structure within this group and it is paying off as the teams record indicates. However more offensive production from the bottom six will be needed for a deep run come spring as things really tighten up through the second half of the season and even more so in the playoffs. If the bottom six can continue to contribute more on a consistent basis this will only provide another dimension to this team.
Toronto’s 2023 schedule kicks off with four games in six nights. First the play host to the Blues who will be hungry for redemption after losing back on the 27th at home to Toronto. Next up the welcome the Seattle Kraken in on Thursday. Saturday night features a original six battle as the Red Wings roll into Toronto. The weeks schedule concludes with the Leafs heading to Philly to take on the Flyers on Sunday.
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