To cap off the month of January, the Toronto Maple Leafs played the role of the comeback kids for the second game in a row, defeating the New Jersey Devils 6-4 and extending their winning streak to four games. After the Maple Leafs came back from another 4-2 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, they were forced to pull out a victory in a similar fashion against the Devils on Monday Night.
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The game started horribly for the Maple Leafs, as New Jersey jumped out to a 3-1 lead within the first 10 minutes. This resulted in Jack Campbell being pulled after allowing three goals on only nine shots. But such as they did on Saturday night, they were able to figure things out in the third period and ended up winning a game they probably didn’t deserve to.
As always, there were lots to talk about regarding the game, but we’re going to narrow it down. Here are three key takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ victory over the Devils.
Maple Leafs’ Matthews Scores Hat Trick, Sets a Franchise Record
After going four games without a goal, Auston Matthews had himself a record-setting night. He exploded for his fifth career hat trick and his ninth career four-point game, making him the fastest Leaf to reach 400 career points. He did so in 372 career games, putting him ahead of Syl Apps (387), Lanny McDonald (416), and Darryl Sittler (436).
Coincidentally, Matthews scored a hat trick the last time the Maple Leafs played the Devils at home, back on Jan. 14, 2020. He spent a handful of games playing alongside Michael Bunting and Ondrej Kase as head coach Sheldon Keefe experimented with some new-look lines. Still, Keefe ultimately decided to return to his original top six, reuniting Matthews with Mitch Marner.
And it worked out well for him in the end, as he ended the night with the hat trick and an assist to give him 49 points in 38 games. It’s worth noting that while Matthews hadn’t scored in four games, his offense stayed intact, as he collected five assists in those four games. He finished the month with 16 points in 11 games, and with yet another record under his belt, the team will need his scoring touch as they head into a busy month of February.
Maple Leafs’ Mrazek Stands Tall in Relief of Campbell, Slow Start
A week ago, I wrote a piece on why it was important that the Maple Leafs start to give Petr Mrazek some extra looks between the pipes. Not only to take some of the weight off of Campbell’s back but to get him into a rhythm after an injury-riddled first half of 2021-22. And last night’s game was a picture-perfect example of why it’s so important to get Mrazek into this rhythm.
After Mrazek started Saturday night’s game against the Red Wings, Campbell got the nod between the pipes for the first half of the back-to-back against the Devils. The idea was that Campbell would start the first game and Mrazek would start the second game, but after Campbell was pulled only 10 minutes into the first period, Mrazek’s shift started early. And while he did allow a goal on one of the first few shots he faced, the Czechia netminder stood tall and wound up stopping 19 of 20 shots to keep the Maple Leafs in the game and earn the win.
It’s no secret that Campbell has been struggling lately. With last night’s game, he’s allowed three or more goals in six straight starts and has a save percentage (SV%) of .853 in that span. And while the Maple Leafs certainly didn’t do him any favors last night, a .667 SV% isn’t going to get you anywhere.
To be fair to Campbell, however, the Maple Leafs need to step up and play some stronger hockey in front of him while he works out his issues. The Michigan native’s play throughout the first half of the season is a big part of why the Leafs are where they are in the standings, and while the team as a whole had a good first half, you can’t help but wonder where they’d be if Campbell wasn’t as good as he was.
But regardless of how the team plays in front of him, my point is that he needs to start sharing the load with Mrazek stands. They originally signed him for this exact purpose, and it would be foolish to continue relying on Campbell as much as they have been while Mrazek and his $3.8 million contract waste on the bench.
Maple Leafs’ Marner Extends Scoring Streak to Six Games
For a guy who’s arguably taken more criticism than anybody else on the team, Marner is certainly doing everything he can to ensure his doubters eat their words. He scored the tying goal last night and finished the game with three points, making it six games in a row with a goal and 12 points in those six games.
Ever since Marner came out of COVID protocol, he’s looked like an entirely different player. The thing about the Thornhill native is that when he’s at his best, he can take over a game and be the best player on the ice. But his confidence is such a big part of his game that getting into his own head oftentimes proves to be the worst thing that can happen to him. He acknowledged this after a game on Oct. 30 against the Red Wings after scoring his first goal of the season and went on to rattle off nine points in the following three games.
With Marner back on Matthews’ wing for the foreseeable future, he has all the means necessary to keep this level of consistency up. And while his scoring streak isn’t going to last forever, his overall play since coming off the COVID list gives me reason to believe we’re going to be seeing more of Marner at his best.
Little things like not trying to go for the perfect pass every time and simply trusting his shot more often, or, in his own words, “just ripping it,” do wonders for his game, and it makes him more unpredictable as a player. If he keeps utilizing his shot the way he has been in recent games, it will make the one-two punch of Matthews and Marner on that top line one to be reckoned with even more so than usual.
Maple Leafs Will Play Road Rematch Against New Jersey Tonight
The Maple Leafs are in New Jersey today for the second half of the home-and-home against the Devils. A starter has yet to be determined as of the publishing of this article, as Keefe said he would see where both Mrazek and Campbell were at following practice before naming a starting goalie.
I think Keefe will end up going back to Campbell, seeing that the Maple Leafs will have five days off after tonight’s game for the All-Star break. But at the same time, I wouldn’t hate it if they went back to Mrazek. As much as it makes sense to give Campbell another shot and balance out the workload between the two, the Maple Leafs should simply be starting the goalie who gives them the best chance to win. And if Mrazek is feeling confident after last night’s game, then he should get another shot at it.
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Either way, the Maple Leafs need to step up and start on time tonight against the Devils. As fun as these two comeback stories have been, you never want to make playing from behind part of your routine, especially when the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning are playing some of their best hockey right now. Every game matters right now, and they’ll look to head into the all-star break on a winning note.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.