Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said it well after the game. It was a “good win, but not a good game.” But, as a fan, it was a game I was totally into the entire night. In the end, the Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 7-4. It’s a win; and, as a fan, I like that.
Did I like that the team was horribly outshot and fell behind by a score of 3-1? No. But I did like that they didn’t quit and kept on pushing. They had, as my dad used to say “fire in their bellies.” Did I like that – whether the saves were tough ones or not – former Red Wings’ goalie Petr Mrazek let in three goals to put his team behind the eight ball? No. But I did like that, when he needed to, he stopped a number of tough chances.
Give the Red Wings’ players credit, they were throwing it on the line all night long – blocking shots when their goalie was pulled and showing a strong work ethic all night long. It isn’t their season for a playoff push, but they played above their pay grade all night and it was a great hockey game to watch.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the events of the game. However, as you will soon see, I have focused the post on Michael Bunting and his contribution to the team. That wasn’t the intention when I started; but, by the time I was done, that’s what it turned out to be.
Item One: This Team Really Roots for Each Other
At my age and academic background and research on leadership on teams and in organizations, I might look at the inside of the house through a different window than many other fans. And I am a fan. I root for the Maple Leafs and would love to see them go on an extended Stanley Cup run this season. From a player-need perspective, I wonder if they might be a big, tough, minutes-eating defenseman short of their goal this season. However, they are a good team.
One thing happened during the game that really made me believe this team might have a chance for bigger success. It was the way teammates treated Bunting on the bench after his hat trick. What a party. They genuinely love this 26-year-old rookie (and he is a rookie). They hugged him, head-rubbed him with their gloves, and made him feel like he’d done something important – which, indeed, he had. He almost single-handedly rallied the team from a 3-1 deficit into a 4-4 tie.
The point is that, although I don’t know how the players get along in the dressing room, everything I see from the outside tells me that this team is tight. What I know is that this is a team that will work together and for each other. That level of belonging won’t replace skill and hockey IQ, but it does matter in successful teams and organizations. And this team has it.
Item Two: Micheal Bunting Scores His First Maple Leafs’ Hat Trick
As noted above, Bunting scored his first hat trick with the team. He isn’t driving the offense by himself like an Auston Matthews or even a William Nylander, but he sure is in the right places at the right times and doing the right things.
His three goals showed guts, skill, hand-eye coordination, and high hockey IQ. All three goals happened because Bunting was around the opponent’s net. On his first goal, he showed great hand-eye coordination when he tipped a shot from the point into the net. His second goal was cat-quick. Again, blocking the goalie’s vision, he tipped a low shot with his stick into the air and, with one hand (I think), reached around and batted the puck from the air past the Red Wings goalie before he knew it.
But, perhaps Bunting’s last goal was his best because it showed how quickly he processed the play and chose wisely. When Mitch Marner cut toward the net from the right, Bunting took the same line at the same speed from the left. Marner, who’s also a quick thinker on the ice, slid the puck to Bunting for a tap-in goal.
On those three goals, Bunting showed a willingness to stand in front of the net as a target; the deftness needed to accurately use his stick; and, great hockey IQ. Did I say he was a rookie?
Item Three: Even If My Maple Leafs’ Readers Don’t Like It, I’m Still a Zach Hyman Fan
As those who read my posts know, over the years I’ve been a great Zach Hyman fan. I’ve written lots about him – both his play on the ice and his life off the ice. I remain a fan even though he’s no longer with the team. Last night, I know he scored two goals and added an assist as the Oilers – with Evander Kane on the bus – beat the Montreal Canadiens by a 7-2 score.
Good for Hyman. But boy do I also like Bunting; and, from a dollars and cents perspective, I know which player is the better bang for the buck. Thus far, and his game totals are down because he’s been out under the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, Hyman is having a strong season with his new team.
On the season and counting last night, Hyman has scored 13 goals and added 11 assists (for 24 points) in 34 games. But, Bunting is also having a good season with his new team. In his 40 games, Bunting’s scored 12 goals and added 15 assists (for 27 points). Good for the Oilers that Hyman is signed for $5.5 million per season. Better for the Maple Leafs that Bunting is signed for $950,000 for the season.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
When I started this post, as I usually do my plan was to write about a number of different Maple Leafs’ players who had made contributions to the team’s success. But here I am, with my 1000 words spent on writing only about Bunting and there’s no room to write here about the other players’ contributions to the Maple Leafs’ victory last night.
As coach Keefe noted, it might not have been a good game for the team, but it was a great win. Later today, I’ll start another post where I can spend more time writing about Bunting’s Maple Leafs’ teammates. He wasn’t the only player on the ice last night.