Maple Leafs: Week 13 in review

Welcome to 2023. I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday. Now that the Holiday break is over it’s time to get back to the business at hand. Toronto ended 2022 on a positive note with a big 6-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. The Leafs schedule starts with 4 games in 6 nights to kick off the 2023 portion of the regular season schedule. Toronto starts the year with a three game home stand followed by heading out on the road for a single game. First up on the schedule is a date with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday followed up on Thursday with a match up against the Seattle Kraken. Then the weekend features a back to back with the Leafs hosting Detroit on Saturday and then heading out on the road for a rare Sunday night match up against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Game 38: Missed a note. Maple Leafs vs Blues. 6-5 OT Loss

St. Louis enters this match up with a even more depleted roster then prior to the two teams faced off just eight days prior. On Monday the Blues placed both Vlad Tarasenko (hand) and Captain Ryan O’Rielly (foot) on the IR. O’Reilly will be out a minimum of six weeks with a broken foot. Meanwhile Tarasenko will be re-evaluted in four weeks with a hand injury. Already on the LTIR prior are Torey Krug (Lower Body), Scott Perunovich (Shoulder) and Marco Scandella (Hip). If that wasn’t bad enough Logan Brown was injured during practice on Monday and his status is questionable. Toronto can relate to this all to well as they have had to endured more then their share of injuries this season. However the Maple Leafs are fairly healthy at the moment which should put them in a advantageous position heading into this however the game still needs to be played to determine the outcome. The Blues on the other hand will look to serve up some revenge for the 5-4 OT loss the that were served just eight days prior in St Louis. The Blues come into this one having won the last five straight meetings in Toronto. A couple other things to keep an eye on is Marner and Matthews chase for 500 career points. Matthews needs only a single point. Meanwhile Marner is three points shy of the milestone.

New Year, but old habits reared their ugly heads early on in this affair. St Louis came out strong. Unfortunately the Maple Leafs to use a tired but all too true adage did not start on time. The Blues struck first in this one. St Louis’ Justin Faulk is sent off for tripping sending Toronto to the power play however just over 40 seconds into the man advantage Brandon Saad gets into the Leafs zone and puts one five hole on Ilya Samsonov and its 1-0 STL just 4:52 in. St Louis would add to the lead at 13:01 when the Blues special teams strike again. This time it is the power play that gets one as Brayden Schenn scores his eighth goal of the season and it is 2-0 Blues at 13:01 of the first period. At this point St Louis is outshooting the Leafs 10-2. Toronto begins to turn it on and responds late in the first as Pierre Engvall gets his eighth of the season thanks to a beautiful deflection as he was trying to screen Bluesand the lead is now cut to 2-1.

The Blues would get their two goal back just 3:09 into the second. Once again its the special teams getting it done as Jordan Kyrou gets his 18th of the season on the powerplay. The score is now 3-1 St Louis. The refs missed a hooking call against St Louis as Alex Kerfoot was hooked as he was attempting to impede the Kyrou shot. Toronto wastes little time responding as just over a minute and a half later William Nylander fires a rocket past Binnington to get his 22nd of the season and that draw the Leafs back within one. The score is now 3-2 Blues. On the Nylander goal, Auston Matthews gets the secondary assist which is his 500th career point. Matthews becomes the fastest Maple Leaf player to 500 career points. Completing the feat in 445 games. This eclipsed a pair of Leaf legends Mats Sundin and Rick Vaive who both did it in 495 games .

St Louis would regain their two goal lead just over the half way point of the game as Josh Leivo puts home his fourth of the season to push the score to 4-2. However 17 seconds later Michael Bunting gets on the board with his 12th of the season courtesy of TJ Brodie and Toronto claws back within one to make it 4-3. This was short lived as exactly one minute later Brandon Saad pots his second of the game and once again St Louis has a two goal lead as now the score is 5-3 Blues. Auston Matthews would draw the Buds back within at 14:37 when he snipes home his 19th of the season. Toronto now trails 5-4 heading into the third.

Toronto would be sent to the powerplay just before the seven minute mark of the third when the Blues foward Robert Thomas is sent off for High Sticking. The Leafs would make St Louis pay for the indiscretion as the red hot Michael Bunting puts home second of the game and 13th goal of the season to even it up at 5-5. The game would be sent to overtime as neither team could a deciding marker in regulation.

The Leafs would dominate puck possession in overtime as there were able to make three wholesale changes of personnel before St Louis could get their starting unit off the ice. However it was the Blues who got the most dangerous scoring opportunities. Samsonov made two huge five bell saves to prevent St Louis from getting the bonus point during overtime. The extra frame proved to a very exciting and intense period of hockey but neither team could get the game winner which meant this game was going to be settled via the shootout.

After both Nylander for the Leafs and Jordan Kyrou for the Blues could get one past the opposing netminders. Matthews notches a beauty of a bankhander past Binnington to briefly put Toronto up. Robert Thomas exploited a glaring hole in Samsonov as he slid one through his five hole to even it up 1-1 in the shootout. Next up is Mitch Marner who absolutely undresses the Blue backstopper to put the buds back up. But St Louis is equal to the task as Pavel Buchnevich dekes out Samsonov and puts it in to even it out. It’s now to extra shooters, first up for Toronto is the Sandman. Rasmus Sandin comes in wide and then cuts back in on Binnington and almosts gets one past but the last ditch effort the Blues tender made to just stop it with his skate. This sets the scene for Brayden Schenn who puts on up and over the blocker of Samsonov to ice it. The Blues walk out with the 6-5 Shootout victory.

St Louis now has claimed victory in six straight visits to the SBA. Toronto was able to salvage a much needed point to now up their total to 53 points on the season. The top line lead the way with four of the five goals recorded by the Maple Leafs. Marner was able to get an assist in this one to move him within two points of the 500. Matthews now sits with 501 points. He became the fourth youngest active player to reach 500 points at 25 years amd 108 days old. Only Sidney Crosby (22 yrs and 244 days), Connor McDavid (24 yrs and 35 days) and Alex Ovechkin (24 yrs and 140 days) did so sooner. Also worth noting Matthews did it in the fifth fewest amount of games for active players at 445 . Once again he is amoungst some elite company in this regard. Connor McDavid and Sid the Kid did it in 369 games. Ovi accomplished it in 373 games and Evgeni Malkin did it in 413 games(all stats courtesy of NHL.com).

Toronto recovered from a slow start to scrape out a point in this one. At times this game looked to be quickly falling out of reach as the Leafs fell behind by two goal margins on four occasions in this one. So I will credit them for their persistence in this game but still fell short laying claim of the extra point. Samsonov’s performance in this one is best describe as shaky. Their were a couple goals, both coming off the stick of Brandon Saad that just had an aroma to them. St Louis had pin pointed the five hole as a glaring opening as they were able to slide a few pucks through as well I found him going down early on couple occasions. I don’t want to read too much in as his play thus far this season has been outstanding with the exception of the last couple of starts. He will work with Curtis Sanford to make adjustments to try to correct his game and get back on track. But it is not all on him as the coverage was too laxed in this one as I seen the defenders giving the attack players a bit too much room. They need to tighten things back up which aided them so much throughout the successful stretch they’ve strung together. Next up is a Thursday night match up against the Kraken.

Game 39: Release the Kraken. Maple Leafs vs Kraken. 5-1 Loss

Heading into this match up a lot mainstream media and the fanbase were starting to raise some red flags with concerns of the Maple Leafs defense reverting to bad habits and tendencies. Also concerns were being raised about the goaltending. With the exception of the Colorado game, the goaltending has had a couple blips. This game just poured a lot ton of fuel on that fire.

The first period was the only good period for Toronto. They outshot Seattle 9-3. However, neither team were able to hit the scoresheet. Kraken starting goalie Martin Jones looked solid. Jones has sported a respectable 9-4-2 record in the last 15 games prior to this visit to Toronto(stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com). The score remained scoreless until 7:02 into the second period when recently claimed Eeli Tolvanen snaps home a powerplay marker to make it 1-0 Seattle. Toronto answers back just shy of 11 minutes into the second. Yanni Gourde is serving a four minute double minor for high sticking Rasmus Sandin. Leafs Captain John Tavares puts home his 16th of the season to even it up. That was short lived as Seattle responded 14 seconds later when Vince Dunn scores. Once again Seattle are back on top 2-1. They would not look back from there. The Kraken were the far superior team on this night. Jared McCann would make it 3-1 at 13:50 of the second when he gets in all alone on Murray and snipes one over his glove. At this point the Kraken completely control this game and further put this one away when the leading rookie scorer Matty Beniers adds to the lead to make it 4-1. Seattle would add one more goal 2:57 into the third thanks to Alex Wennberg notching his 8th of the season to round out the scoring. The Kraken take this one by the final score of 5-1.

Once again Toronto’s defence was awful in this one. The coverage was far too laxed. The PK really struggled in this one again. The special teams as of late for the Leafs have been out of sorts. Things just seem to be disjointed. They need to get back to what was working previous to the recent decline in play. Matt Murray did not have his best performance in this one. There were a couple goals that from my standpoint he should have had. Vince Dunn’s maker to retake the lead after JT’s goal is one that stands out as one that shouldn’t have gone in. However this is the first regulation home loss for Murray. Both Murray and Samsonov have been battling the puck as of late and couple that with the dip in the quality of the defensive play by the team as whole has been the main contributing factor to the poor results. The two Maple Leaf netminders have a sub .900 save percentage in the last five games leading into this match up against Seattle. Murray possessed a .885 prior to this loss and Samsonov is even worse with .849.

Fact is Seattle is a good team that played a great game too earn this victory. Full credit to the Kraken. Toronto was completely outclassed. Seattle’s offence was clicking and dispatched wave after wave of attack and could seemingly score at will. Martin Jones stood tall in net for Seattle, stopping 26 of 27 shots faced. The Leafs squandered their opportunities as they went 1 for 5 on the man advantage. One minor bright spot is Mitch Marner got an assist on the Tavares goal to move within a single point of 500 for his young career. He will look to continue his pursuit on Saturday when the Maple Leafs look to get back on track when they host the Detroit Red Wings.

Game 40: Clipped Wings. Maple Leafs vs Red Wings. 4-1 Win

A classic original six match up on a Saturday night in Toronto. Does it get any better then this? For some it does. For me, these are the match ups I relish the most. There is something about a battle with a historic rival such as the Detroit Red Wings on Hockey Night in Canada that just brings something extra to the game itself. This game did not disappoint.

In net for Detroit tonight is Magnus Hellberg. Hellberg who has been a well travelled individual seeing time on three different NHL rosters this season. He had initial signed with the Seattle Kraken in the off season. However he was claimed off waivers on October 3rd by the Ottawa Senators. The Sens claimed him due to Cam Talbot going down to an injury. He was won his only start with the Sens. He would be reclaimed by Seattle on November 10th. Once again the Kraken place the netminder on waivers without appear in a game and he was claimed off by the Red Wings on the 24th of November. So far he has found home for now in Detroit. He has a 2-2 record in his four starts in the Motor City. Toronto counters with Ilya Samsonov. Sammy is looking to get back on track as he last couple starts have been shaky. Sheldon Keefe kept the lineup intact that he iced in the loss to Seattle. He’s wanting to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves after that disastrous outing.

Statistically the first period is very even. The eye test on the other hand seems to favor Detroit. The one main stat that Detroit dominates in the first is that on the shots. Detroit outshot Toronto 8-2 in the first. The Red Wings were able to get one past the Leafs goalie as Jake Walman fresh out of the penalty box gets in all alone and puts one past Samsonov to make it 1-0. Other then this marker it was a quiet period.

The second period was different story all together for the Leafs. Toronto enter the period on an abbreviated man advantage. They made the most of it as 24 seconds into the period as Auston Matthews one wide of the net and Mitch Marner picks up the rebound and buries it to get his 500th career point in style as that evens it up 1-1. For Marner that is his 15th of the season. The Leafs would take the lead just over six minutes later as John Tavares scores his 17th of the season to make it 2-1. This is back to back games that the Leaf captain has scored in. That goal went straight to the Maple Leafs legs as they poured it on for the balance of the second period. Toronto outshot Detroit 12-10 in the middle stanza. The Red Wings had a slight edge overall with 18-14.

Toronto would continue to the strong play in the third. After a successful penalty kill the Leafs gain the zone. Morgan Rielly puts one towards the net and Pontus Holmberg has a beautiful redirect past Hellberg to make it 3-1 6:37 into the third period. Mitch Marner would show off some fancy foot work as provides a remarkable heel kick pass to JT and he puts one into the empty net for his second of the game and 18th of the year to make it 4-1 with 1:39 remaining in the third period.. That is how the score would remain as Samsonov shut the door. He stopped 22 of 23 shots faced. The team in front of him played a solid defensive game. They played a structurally sound game. Samsonov looked confident between the pipes. This game was reminiscent of the way the team played prior to the holiday break.

The Leafs will look to build off this solid victory as they have a quick turnaround as they head to Philly for a Sunday night game against the Flyers.

Game 41: Broad street beat down. Maple Leafs vs Flyers. 6-2 Win

Toronto heads out on the road for a rare Sunday night game in Philadelphia to take on the Flyers. Philly enters this one on a four game win streak. The Flyers last played on Thursday a 6-2 win over the Coyotes. Meanwhile Toronto comes in on the second half of a back to back in which they travelled following their victory against Detroit at home the night before. The Flyers went with Carter Hart in net while Toronto went with Matt Murray. The Leafs made a couple lineup changes as both Wayne Simmonds and Conor Timmins draw in. While TJ Brodie and Dryden Hunt both will watch this game from the press box.

Philly entering this one with the advantage on rest however that didn’t factor too much into this as Toronto looked good in this one. The Leafs would open the scoring when Calle Jarnkrok would snap his 9th of the season past Hart to make it 1-0 9:51 into the first. The Leafs depth scoring would add to their lead late in the first when ZAR wrists his fourth of the season and just like that it is 2-0 Toronto. However just 14 seconds last Marner gives the puck away to the Flyers and Travis Konecny scores his 21st to draw his club back within one of the Leafs. This was a goal Murray would like to have it back also a giveaway Mitch Marner would like to have a redo on as well but both just need to pick up their play and move past it. The Leafs hold the 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

The Leafs look to build off a good start in the first and that they do. Conor Timmins who has looked good so far since being acquired from the Coyotes. Mitch Marner feeds him a cross ice pass and he takes a couple steps in and wrists his first career NHL goal past Carter Hart to put Toronto up 3-1. Philly cuts into the lead 1:49 later when Nicolas Deslauriers capitalizes on a Maple Leaf giveaway and makes it 3-2. It’s his first goal in 31 games. The Leafs almost answers right back moments after the goal but are turned aside. Toronto would not be contained as Timothy Liljegren would get a short handed goal just over a minute after the Philadelphia goal right off the face off to make it 4-2. A costly turnover by Philly would end up on John Tavares stick and he puts his 19th of the season past Hart to extend Toronto’s lead to 5-2. With the goal it now makes it three straight games the the Leafs centre has registered a goal. Calle Jarnkrok is credited the lone assist on the goal and that game him his third point of the game. The Maple Leafs have taken control of this game as they head into the second intermission looking to close this one out in the third.

Entering the third Toronto looking to shut things down. Home ice has not been kind to the Flyers this season as their reflects. Currently the Flyers are 8-9-1 prior to the conclusion of this game. Toronto’s big boys would add another to the scoresheet when Rasmus Ristolainen is sent of for slashing sending to Toronto to the power play and Auston Matthews would finish off a beautiful passing play to score his 20th of the year to make it 6-2. This would be the final as Matt Murray would match the effort that his teammate Samsonov displayed the night before in to earn the victory on this evening. That was a much needed bounce back effort for the Leaf netminder to regain his swagger. Toronto now heads home for a couple days rest before they are back in action on Wednesday when they host the Nashville Predators.

The Wrap Up

The start to 2023 was not ideal for Toronto. Falling short to a heavily depleted St Louis Blues team in the first shootout Toronto has had to participate in this season in their first game of 2023. Then being served an absolute manhandling by Seattle to start the new year was far from how the Maple Leafs would draw it up. However the character they showed to bounce back to win both games convincingly against Detroit and Philadelphia was the response that is required. This team returned to the form of play that they demonstrated nightly which brought them success the past couple months. They need to maintain this play and not revert back into old habits as they exhibited the last couple game of 2022 and the first couple games this week. Both goalies had a tale of two games each this week. Sammy and Murray’s first starts of 2023 had some questions being raised about their play. Of course awaking a bunch of panicked opinions of major concerns with some small blips in their performance that paled in comparison to their overall play this season. This was followed up by back to back wins in which both played great along with the team in front of them. Neither wins were perfect but they showed more of the style of hockey that has made this team a top tier team this season. The defense was solid. Played a simple but structured game. The forwards were backchecking and helping out in their own zone. The big boys and the bottom six were all contributing offensively. Even the D was chipping in with some offense as well. Both goalies had bounce back performances. Now they get a couple days off at home before getting back to work on Wednesday when they host the Predators. Follow up on Thursday with a trip to Detroit for a rematch with the Red Wings. The weeks schedule concludes with an original six match up with the league leading Boston Bruins.