The Tampa Bay Lightning came to town on a five-game winning streak but became witness to one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best all-around game of the season. The final score was 4-1 Maple Leafs.
It was an overwhelming defensive shutdown win for the Blue and White Maple Leafs. Toronto held Tampa Bay to the team’s lowest shot total of the season. During the first two periods, the Lightning were only able to get eight shots total on Maple Leafs’ goalie Matt Murray.
Perhaps even more impressive was when the Lightning scored a greasy goal in the third period, the game’s momentum could have changed. If anything, the Maple Leafs buckled down harder and came out with even more energy.
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Those qualities bode well for continued success on the season; and, perhaps beyond. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the player news from the game.
Item 1: Michael Bunting Scores His 100th Point
Michael Bunting’s goal last night was the 100th point he’s scored in his NHL career. He’s played 138 games, which is a pretty good point-per-game average for a young player who took so long to make his NHL debut.
It was also Bunting’s eighth goal of the season; and added to his 15 assists, he’s up to 23 points in 33 games. He scored 14 points with the Arizona Coyotes before he signed with the Maple Leafs.
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Bunting’s on a bit of a hot streak over the past 12 games, scoring four goals and adding nine assists for 13 points in that span. Given that he was deployed to the team’s bottom six for a while this season, he’s bounced back nicely and looks at home in his usual first-line spot.
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In an odd incident, at the end of the first period, Bunting was involved in a scrum with some Lightning players after Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare had thrown a hit on Mitch Marner. At first, Bunting only got involved in some shoving with Anthony Cirelli. Suddenly, in separating the scrum, former AHL hockey player and now linesman Dan Kelly began to “move” Bunting toward Toronto’s locker room.
Kelly seemed to use a bit of “extra force” to shove Bunting through the door. It was an interesting exchange. Later Bunting noted that it was just the emotions of the game and wasn’t “really a big deal.”
What makes it more interesting is that Kelly was himself a former professional player (for seven American Hockey League seasons) and had played against Bunting. When Bunting was asked if there was a history with Kelly he answered: “No history, I mean, I probably have a history with everybody, no?” (from “Bossy linesman shows Maple Leafs’ Michael Bunting the door,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 21/12/2022).
Item 2: Matt Murray Gets “Easy” Win
The Maple Leafs were so dominant that their goalie Murray had what seemed to be an easy night in the net. Usually, for some reason, Murray has seemed to face far more pucks than Ilya Samsonov; however, not last night. Murray made 18 saves on the night in the team’s 4-1 win.
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[In fact, for fans who care about the numbers, both Maple Leafs goalies have now played 12 games on the season. Samsonov has made 300 saves in those games, while Murray has made 347 saves in his games.]
Unfortunately, Murray lost his shutout in the third period when Vladislav Namestnikov scored from close in, but Murray looked good and stopped everything else. The 28-year-old successful reclamation project is playing the best hockey of his career this season. In 12 games with his new team, his record is 8-2-2, with a goals-against-average (GAA) of 2.34 and a save percentage (SV%) of .925. His rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins might have better numbers, but Murray has been very good for the Maple Leafs this season.
In Murray’s 11 starts since coming back in mid-November from his adductor (groin) injury, he’s only lost a single game in regulation. His record has been 8-1-2, with a 2.18 GAA and a .932 SV%.
Item 3: William Nylander Isn’t Slowing Down His Point-Scoring Pace
William Nylander scored a goal and added an assist last night against the Lightning. He assisted on Bunting’s first-period goal and then added an empty-net goal late in the game.
Talk about hot, Nylander has now logged three multiple-point games in his last six. During those games, he’s scored five goals and added five assists (for 10 points). Now in his eighth season with the Maple Leafs, he’s never had a point-a-game season, but he’s well on his way in 2022-23.
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As interesting is the turnaround in his plus/minus. Last season, the 26-year-old Nylander was a minus-9 for a solid Maple Leafs’ team. This season, he’s a plus-12. That’s quite a turnaround.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
In sad news for the community, the Maple Leafs announced that one of the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting in Vaughan, Ontario, was 79-year-old Vittori Panza. Panza was Victor Mete’s grandfather.
Prior to the game, the Maple Leafs made the sad announcement. The 24-year-old Mete is from the Vaughan suburb of Woodbridge. He’s currently recovering from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 6.