The Maple Leafs’ Core Four After Three Games

It hasn’t been easy, but the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be back on track. The sky looks a bit brighter today than it did on Thursday morning. Last night, the team beat the hard-working and much-improved Ottawa Senators by a score of 3-2.

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For those fans who like good hockey games just for the sake of watching a good game, last night would have suited their taste. The goalie play was strong; the game was back and forth; and, there were two good teams going against each other. It was a game the Maple Leafs had to work hard to win. 

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: John Tavares, Aging & Holding His Own

In this post, I’ll look specifically at the team’s Core Four and report how they did in this game and where they stand on the season.

Item One: John Tavares’ Play Isn’t Dropping Off So Far This Season

For much of the offseason, a topic of interest among conversations about Maple Leafs’ fans has been the 32-year-old John Tavares‘ age and the decline of his game. However, so far this season, that talk has been off base. Even coming off an oblique injury, Tavares has been playing well. 

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs Center John Tavares screens Tampa Bay Lightning Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He’s now on a point streak of three games (scoring one goal and adding three assists). Furthermore, he’s sitting now at 899 points in his 14-year career. So far, so good for the Maple Leafs’ captain. He’s the team’s leading scorer after three games.

Item Two: Auston Matthews Playing Well, But Quiet on the Scoresheet

So far this season, it’s not so much Auston Matthews’ goal-scoring ability that’s front-and-center, it’s his playmaking skills. Last night, he threw a picture-perfect pass from the left half-wall onto Nylander’s stick to set up the power-play goal. 

Related: Best NHL Goalies of the 1990s

Matthews seems to be taking what he’s been given; and, the opposition’s tight-checking isn’t slowing him down as much as it is changing his game. He’s still playing well. On the night, he had seven shots on the net and laid out six hits. 

Given his goal-scoring ability, it’s tough to think he won’t have a breakout game soon. For now, he’s helping his teammates pad their statistics.

Item Three: William Nylander Isn’t Slowing Down from Preseason

Maple Leafs’ fans are hoping that the William Nylander they’ve seen in the preseason and first few games of the regular season is the player who’ll stay with the team all season. To my eye test, I’ve seen nothing but speed, skill, and involvement. He’s helping the team’s second line carry the play thus far in the regular season.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As noted earlier, Nylander’s quick release ended up as a power-play goal. Perfectly placed, Nylander’s shot went over Senators’ goalie Anton Forsberg’s glove and tucked itself into the net right under the crossbar. Last season, Nylander came close to a point-a-game pace. If he keeps playing as he has this season, he’ll make it for sure.

Item Four: Mitch Marner Has Put Together Three-Game Point Streak

Mitch Marner is on a three-game point-scoring streak – all assists. In last night’s game, his assist was the genesis of the team’s game-winning goal. His pass to Micheal Bunting turned into a Bunting shot that turned into a rebound that Justin Holl deposited into the net. 

Related: Matthews Goal Scoring Is More Impressive Than Just the Numbers

It was the kind of scrambly play that was needed to beat Forsberg, who was on his game all night long. Marner hasn’t scored his own goal yet, although he’s looking to shoot more. However, he’s now registered an assist in each of the team’s first three games of the season.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs play the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night. The team will likely face goalie Karel Vejmelka. Maple Leafs’ fans have to remember that last January, the Maple Leafs were on a hot streak heading into Arizona to play the Coyotes.

In that game, they ran into a hot goalie and Vejmelka stopped everything the team threw at him except a perfect shot by Matthews. In the end, the Czech goalie ended up saving 45 of 46 shots in his team’s surprise win over the Maple Leafs. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Although the Coyotes haven’t won yet on the season, stranger things have happened between these two teams. Also, don’t look now but Nick Ritchie has scored two goals in two games for the Coyotes. Hockey is interesting, isn’t it?

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