Maple Leafs News & Notes: Matthews, Marner & Bunting’s First-Line Magic

Last night’s 5-4 Toronto Maple Leafs’ win on the road over the Columbus Blue Jackets was a story of dominating the first period, keeping one’s poise and confidence, and the team giving itself the space to come back and win the game. In the end, it was a victory that the team needed to get back onto the winning track. 

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120

In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Notes, I’ll take a look at some of the team’s successes during the game and comment upon how these might be impactful over the near future. I’ll especially focus on the first line and all the magic it has been producing throughout the season.

Item One: Auston Matthews: First NHL Player to 40 Goals

Auston Matthews and his first line played a strong game last night and overwhelmed the Blue Jackets during the first period. The team headed to the locker room with a 3-0 lead. The Blue Jackets eventually came back strong in the second period, but the game never seemed in doubt. Then, in the third period, the first line stuck again when Michael Bunting scored what turned out to be the game-winner. (from “‘A win is a win, right?’ Leafs start hot and hang on in Columbus,” Mark Zwolinski, Toronto Star, 07/03/22).

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Matthews, after a very slow start – for him – to the 2021-22 regular season, hit the 40-goal milestone. He was the first NHL player to do so this season, which he did in just 53 games. He might have had two on the night, but Bunting just beat him to a bouncing puck near the crease for the winner.

Related: Best NHL Goalies of the 1980s

Matthews now has seven goals and six assists (for 13 points) in his last seven games and simply continues to carry the team’s offense. Even more amazing is that he’s not just a goal-scorer; he’s now pumped his point total to 72 points. That puts him in fifth place in the NHL on the season. 

Item Two: Mitch Marner Now Has Points in Seven Straight Games

Matthews is not alone in his point-producing exploits. And, obviously, that makes perfect sense. He’s partnered on a line with two other productive players in line-mates Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting. Marner scored a goal and added assist last night. 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Both Marner’s points came in a first period that the Maple Leafs dominated as he extended his point-scoring streak to seven games. In those contests, Marner has an amazing 15 points (with five goals and 10 assists). That moves the 24-year-old winger to 60 points on the season, which is a milestone he’s reached in all six of his NHL seasons. He also has a plus-16 rating in 47 games.

Item Three: Michael Bunting Now Is on a Five-Game Point-Scoring Streak

Not to be left out, Michael Bunting kept his own personal point run intact by scoring a goal and adding an assist last night. He now has scored 20 goals and added 25 assists (for 45 points) in 56 games on the season. I’d love to see him become a point-a-game player for the season.

Related: 2022 World Juniors Rescheduled for August

Bunting’s now on a five-game, point-scoring streak; and, in that streak, he’s scored three goals and added seven assists (a two-points-per-game average). He not only thrives beside Marner and Matthews on the top line but I think he adds a different component. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I haven’t done my homework on this point, but my eyes suggest that the first line is scoring a lot more greasy goals from the tough places of the ice. To my mind, Bunting has had that impact on the line. It’s no longer depending upon a goals-from-distance agenda. If I’m right, that bodes well for the team in the postseason.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Last night’s game against the Blue Jackets – especially after the dominating first period – should have been an easy victory for Toronto, and probably the team thought that it would be. In the end, the team had to scramble to hold onto that victory. Hopefully, it might be a bit of a wakeup call for the team? But, then again it might not be.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Two-Year Stanley Cup Window Has Begun

It was interesting to hear Sportsnet’s Justin Bourne talk about the team’s second period on last night’s television broadcast. He noted that it’s tough for head coach Sheldon Keefe to get the players all worked into a frenzy for each game by pretending that every game is do or die, when it obviously isn’t.

Bourne noted that the team – especially in a road game in the middle of the season to Columbus – needed to rely on its leaders to get them going. As a professional hockey player, he noted that it’s a long season and tough to be up every night. I have to trust him on that point.

Latest News & Highlights