After a rough stretch of games over the past two weeks, the Toronto Maple Leafs tallied their second win in a row, defeating the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 5-4. This was another one of those games where there were a lot of good things to say about the way the Maple Leafs played, but they still managed to make it an ugly win.
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With Detroit on the second half of a back-to-back and missing a top forward in Tyler Bertuzzi due to his decision to not get vaccinated, the odds were in the Leafs’ favor tonight. While they outshot the Red Wings and controlled the play for most of the game, they also shot themselves in the foot a few times and as a result, made the game closer than it probably had to be.
I had the pleasure of taking in this game in person, and while there was a lot to take away from the win, I’m going to narrow it down to three major takeaways from Saturday’s tilt.
Maple Leafs Finally Score More Than Three Goals
If, before the season started, you asked me what the Maple Leafs’ biggest issue would be through the first nine games, I definitely wouldn’t have said their offense. The Maple Leafs have had several flaws throughout the team at different points over the past five years, between defense, goaltending, and lack of killer instinct, but their offense has never been a problem.
This year has been a different story so far. The Maple Leafs haven’t really gotten the offense they wanted thus far, but on Saturday, their scoring touch was on full display as they scored more than three goals in a game for the first time this season. They got help from all over the roster, including two-point performances from Jake Muzzin and Alex Kerfoot, a three-point night from John Tavares, and Mitch Marner’s long-awaited first goal of the season.
Speaking of Marner, his goal was probably the ugliest one he’s scored in his young career, but it was without a doubt the exact type of goal he needed to get the monkey off his back. This team is light years better when he is on top of his game, and despite all of the criticism he’s taken from the media and fans alike, I’m sure everybody was happy for him and hope this goal leads to some more consistent production.
Maple Leafs Need to Learn to Keep Their Foot on the Gas
Time to play bad cop for a second. Like I said earlier, there were a lot of good things to take away from tonight’s game. But when you lose 5-4 to an inferior team missing arguably their best player on the second half of a back-to-back, to pretend like there are no improvements to be made would be silly.
Keeping the motor going for a full 60 minutes has been an issue for the Maple Leafs for a couple of years now. Sometimes it’s the inability to start on time, sometimes it’s the inability to hold a lead late in a game, and sometimes, it’s the inability to grab a comfortable lead and keep it that way. Tonight, it was the latter.
After Kerfoot made it a 3-1 game 17 seconds into the third period, Detroit trimmed the lead down to one just over a minute later. When Tavares responded six minutes later to make it 4-2, Detroit scored to make it 4-3 just over two minutes after that. And one more time for good measure, the Red Wings would score with 28 seconds left in the game after Marner scored to make it 5-3 with three minutes left.
The Maple Leafs got the win, which is the bottom line, but they made it harder on themselves than it should have been. And the blame for this could be attributed to multiple different factors, including the horrible giveaway from Travis Dermott on the 3-2 goal, and Petr Mrazek’s shaky play in the second half of the game. Again, they got the two points which is obviously the main goal in the end, but they need to learn to tighten up their game in comfortable situations.
Maple Leafs’ Tavares Starting to Look Like Himself Again
Speaking of the aforementioned offensive struggles to start the season, the microscope was under Tavares arguably more than anybody else, seeing that he had a full training camp to warm up and wears the “C” on his jersey. And coming into Saturday’s game with four points in eight games, well below his standards, Tavares had easily his best game of the season with a goal and two assists.
Since head coach Sheldon Keefe shuffled the top-six and gave Tavares new linemates in Marner and Kerfoot, he’s tallied four points in three games. So, maybe the shakeup was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Oakville native. His eventful night ended with a picture-perfect 2-on-1 goal courtesy of a nice dish from Kerfoot, and in general, he looked like the Tavares the Maple Leafs paid for.
The fact of the matter is, when the Maple Leafs’ big guns up front aren’t producing, the odds are the team isn’t winning many games. And I would say tonight was the first night that any of the big four really stepped up and took control of a game offensively, so, hopefully, the trend continues and we start to see a couple of these performances from Marner and Auston Matthews.
Maple Leafs Have a Tough Week Ahead (Maybe?)
The Maple Leafs will be in action next when they welcome the Vegas Golden Knights to town on Tuesday night. After that, they’ll host the reigning Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday and the Boston Bruins on Saturday. This type of week would typically be looked at as a gauntlet, but all of these teams have had their own mediocre starts to the season.
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The Golden Knights are 4-4-0 to start the season, meanwhile, the Lightning are 4-3-1 and the Bruins are 4-3-0. Not the worst records, but they certainly haven’t been dominant so far. Having said that, these are still three very good hockey teams and three games the Maple Leafs can’t take lightly. They will look to keep building momentum and carry their positives into next week’s homestand.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 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.