The Toronto Maple Leafs are no strangers to a chaotic game, and they entertained yet another on Tuesday night as they defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 in the shootout.
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The win didn’t come without a couple of hiccups, as an abundance of penalties on their part contributed to a blown 3-1 lead. But despite being outshot 34-18 and ending up in the box more often than they wanted to, the Maple Leafs were able to pull together the victory and bounce back following their 5-4 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night.
As always with the Maple Leafs, there was lots to talk about. But to narrow it down, here are three key takeaways from Tuesday night’s shootout victory.
Maple Leafs’ Mikheyev Looking Like a Brand New Player
It can’t be said enough; it’s a small sample size, but Ilya Mikheyev looks like an entirely different player this year. After suffering a thumb injury in the preseason, he made his debut on Dec. 14 against the Edmonton Oilers, the game right before the Maple Leafs saw a string of postponements. And while he was held off the scoresheet in his debut, he’s seemed to turn a new page in 2022.
Mikheyev scored the third goal for the Maple Leafs tonight off a Wayne Simmonds point shot, giving him four goals in four games to start the calendar year. He’s played with various linemates, including a game with John Tavares and William Nylander on the second line, but overall, he’s looked most comfortable on the third line.
While Pierre Engvall has done a good job alongside David Kampf and Ondrej Kase on that third line, Mikheyev gives it a notable boost whenever he’s on the ice. His defensive game and speed are the two most glaring aspects of his game, and if you can combine that with his newfound offense, he could give the Maple Leafs arguably the best third line in the league. He had 23 points in 39 games before his season-ending wrist injury in 2019-20, so to suggest he could give them an additional offensive threat in the bottom six isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Maple Leafs’ Stupid Penalties Nearly Cost Them
Looking at the calls for each team, the Maple Leafs appeared to play an undisciplined game. While some of the calls, such as Kyle Clifford’s tripping penalty in the third period, were questionable, the Maple Leafs shot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions tonight, and they’re lucky they were able to stay in the game.
First, Nick Ritchie took a hooking penalty while the Maple Leafs were on a power play of their own. This would lead to Vegas’ first goal of the game. Ritchie took a similar unnecessary penalty in Saturday night’s game against Colorado with only two minutes left in the third period, but it didn’t end up affecting the Leafs.
To follow this, Jake Muzzin tossed the puck over the glass in the second period. The Maple Leafs were able to kill that penalty off. Still, later in the game, a miscommunication at the bench between William Nylander and Alex Kerfoot gave the Maple Leafs a delay of game penalty while they were already killing a separate penalty. Vegas tied the game shortly after.
While taking this many unnecessary penalties in one game isn’t something the Maple Leafs do enough to be considered a concerning trend, it didn’t help their case at all tonight. This certainly isn’t something they should want to make a habit out of because despite getting the win, it made the process far shakier than it had to be.
Maple Leafs’ Nylander Starts and Ends the Game In Style
If I were to go down the list of players who had a good game tonight, Nylander probably wouldn’t be in the top five. In fact, he told media following the game that he felt his second line with Tavares and Kerfoot had an off night. And if he didn’t contribute offensively, it probably would have been easy for me to give him a pass seeing that he has 20 points in his last 14 games.
But even though his line wasn’t clicking as much as they usually do, he was a key contributor in tonight’s victory. It all started with the Maple Leafs’ first goal of the game only a minute and a half into the first period. Morgan Rielly found Nylander with a crisp pass to spring him on a breakaway, and he converted on a nifty backhand-forehand.
Then, as it all came down to the wire in the shootout, Nylander secured the win for the Maple Leafs by scoring the only goal between the six shooters. This time around, he opted for more or less the same move, only going top shelf instead of keeping the puck on the ice. Nylander now has 36 points in 34 games on the season, good for second on the team behind only Matthews. He’s been a pivotal part of the Maple Leafs’ success, and even in games like this one where he didn’t play his best, he still finds a way to contribute.
Maple Leafs Will Look To Sweep Back-to-Back Against Coyotes
After falling in overtime to kick off the Maple Leafs’ western swing and evening things up in the second game, the Maple Leafs are back in action tonight to face the Arizona Coyotes. There was originally concern that the game may not be played after they canceled Monday’s practice due to precautionary reasons, but they practiced Tuesday, and so the game appears to be a go tonight.
Petr Mrazek will make his first start of the calendar year and his first since Dec. 11, a 5-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. With Mrazek sort of being eased back into a 1B role after his season started off shaky due to injuries, it makes sense to give him the nod against the weaker Coyotes versus the Golden Knights.
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The Maple Leafs’ win last night brings them to 23-8-2 on the season, and they’ll look to start building another winning streak against the Coyotes tonight.
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.