3 Takeaways From Maple Leafs’ 5-4 Win Against Blue Jackets – 12/7/21

After dropping a pair of games over the weekend, the Toronto Maple Leafs got themselves back in the win column with a 5-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Maple Leafs entered this game missing several key players. Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, and Rasmus Sandin are all dealing with injuries, meanwhile veteran Jason Spezza was suspended six games for a retaliatory hit on Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk after he injured Sandin with a knee-on-knee hit.

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Amidst the absence of these players, the Maple Leafs recalled forward Alex Steeves and defenseman Kristians Rubins, both of whom made their NHL debuts against the Jackets. Steeves is off to a hot start with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Toronto Marlies with 12 points in 12 games, and the 6-foot-5 Rubins earned a call-up after an impressive preseason with the Maple Leafs.

Nick Ritchie Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Ritchie, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

While both players were quiet in their debuts on Tuesday night, there were some other things worth talking about from that game. Here are three key takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ win in their season debut against Columbus.

Maple Leafs’ Ritchie Finally Scores His First Goal

It’s been a long time coming, and nobody knew it more than Nick Ritchie. The 6-foot-2 power forward finally scored his first goal of the season in his 27th game. Ritchie, who signed a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs in August with an average annual value (AAV) of $2.5 million, had been feeling the heat all season long and finally got the monkey off his back after Ondrej Kase found him wide open in front of the net.

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After starting the season on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Ritchie had trouble finding his footing , and didn’t register his first point until the ninth game of the season. But as the Leafs started winning more games, Ritchie’s play started steadily improving, and lately the points have finally started to come.

He’s found a comfortable role on the third line alongside Kase and David Kampf, and has six points in his last eight games. Not only that, but he’s been regularly generating chances, and has finally started to find his identity with the team. Overall, Ritchie’s looked much more comfortable lately, and scoring that first goal had to have been a massive relief for him.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews Extends Goal-Scoring Streak to 7

Remember at the start of the season when we were all panicking because the Maple Leafs’ top players weren’t performing? Yeah, me neither. On a serious note, Matthews has been hotter than any Leaf as of late. Only a week after scoring a hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche, the Scottsdale, Ariz. native added another two goals against the Blue Jackets Tuesday night. That brings him to seven straight games with a goal, with 10 goals and 13 points over that span.

With Marner out with a shoulder injury following a collision with defenseman Jake Muzzin in practice, Matthews has been without his usual linemate for the past three games. With William Nylander stapled to John Tavares’ wing, Matthews has been seeing time with Wayne Simmonds on his right side and Michael Bunting to his left. The latter set Matthews up for his first of two goals Tuesday night with a beautiful between-the-legs touch pass.

Evidently, the lack of a Marner or Nylander on his wing has proven to be a non-issue for Matthews. Both of his goals came at even strength tonight, and his line was one of the best for the better part of the game tonight. He now has 17 goals and 28 points in 24 games, which is about the level of production we would have expected to see from him at this point in the season.

Maple Leafs’ Rielly On a Torrid Pace of His Own

Matthews is getting most of the spotlight with his goal-scoring streak right now, but Morgan Rielly has quietly been incredible in recent games. After a three-assist performance against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, Rielly upped the ante and notched four assists against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday. That gives him eight assists in his last four games, and 22 points in 27 games on the season.

Rielly has seemed to channel the 2018-19 version of himself to start the season, which is huge for both him and the team. His last two seasons have been below his standards, at least compared to his 72-point campaign three years ago. And heading into the 2021-22 season, one of the nagging storylines was his upcoming contract negotiations.

But when Rielly shocked the Maple Leafs’ universe and signed an eight-year contract extension with an AAV of $7.5 million, it almost seemed as though a massive weight was lifted off his back. He’s looked better than ever to start the season, and he’s playing with more confidence at both ends of the ice. When Rielly’s on top of his game, he can be one of the best point-producing defensemen in the NHL, and the hope is that he can maintain this play all season.

Maple Leafs Will Host Reigning Cup Champions on Thursday

The Maple Leafs will be back in action to face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time this season tomorrow night. The first time these two teams played, the Maple Leafs scraped away a 2-1 victory. The win was a big one for the Buds, and showed the fans that the team was capable of winning tight, low-scoring games against good defensive hockey teams.

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The Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night keeping them within two points of the Maple Leafs for the Atlantic Division lead. While it hasn’t been confirmed who will be between the pipes for the Maple Leafs on Thursday, it’s safe to assume Jack Campbell will get the start for the Buds as they look to start another winning streak.

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