Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Murray, Nylander, Tavares & Marner

The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Nashville Predators 2-1 in a classic goalie battle on Wednesday night to extend their winning streak to three games.

Although the Maple Leafs have a good record when Auston Matthews is out with injury (since the start of the 2021-22 season, they’ve put up an 8-2-0 record without Matthews), they missed him last night. The team struggled to find offence and generate much with the man advantage. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In addition, Juuse Saros looked like a goalie who had just come off facing a combined 100 shots in two games. He was amazing, but then so was Matt Murray. The difference was an accidental stick to Maple Leafs’ defenseman Morgan Rielly‘s face that gave the Blue and White four minutes of power-play time, and the Core Three of John Tavares, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, just enough time to create something magical. 

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In a three-sentence summary of the win: Tavares, Nylander, and Marner led the way offensively; Murray was amazing in goal; and the Maple Leafs generated enough offence to win the game.

Item One: Matt Murray Has Bounced Back

After a poor game against the Seattle Kraken last week, Murray delivered his second-straight solid game in the Maple Leafs’ net. He was as good as Saros.

Murray looked composed and was in good position all night. However, when he had to play fire-drill hockey, somehow, he made stops on shots that kept coming his way. The Maple Leafs gave the Predators many chances with ill-advised turnovers, but Murray bailed out his Buds all night.

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To my mind, Murray was the difference in the game. It might have been his best game of the season (although he was also outstanding against the Dallas Stars in December). His save percentage of .970 might support last night’s best-game assessment.

Even better, Murray showed something that past Maple Leafs’ goalies haven’t always done well. He bounced back from a poor game. After the 5-1 loss to the Kraken, he had great games against the Philadelphia Flyers (6-2) and the Predators.

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Murray now has a goals-against average of 2.48, a save percentage of .919, and a record of 11-4-2 this season. Offseason complaining aside, right now, general manager Kyle Dubas’ gamble on Murray and Ilya Samsonov has proven a wise one; it’s tough to complain about Murray’s play.

Item Two: The Maple Leafs Limp Power Play

Last night, the Maple Leafs seemed to struggle to generate much on the power play. Perhaps it was the solid play of the Predators or that the team missed Matthews. Who knows? But the power play didn’t get anything going. 

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After the first three power plays, it was hard to remember a great scoring chance. The Maple Leafs couldn’t seem to get the puck into the offensive zone, and once they did, the Predators intercepted pass after pass and turned the puck up ice. 

Oddly, the fact that the Maple Leafs were spinning their tires with the man advantage might have helped them win the game. During their third-period, four-minute power play on the double minor assessed (at the 15:38 mark) to Mark Jankowski for high-sticking, it took the team almost the entire four minutes to score. That left little more than 30 seconds for the team to protect the lead. 

Morgan Rielly Toronto Maple Leafs
Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Eventually, Tavares’ quick hands added to Nylander’s offensive threat, and with Marner’s patience, they created the magic that turned into a goal that even Saros – as good as he was on the night – could not move quickly enough to stop.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The Maple Leafs have a quick turnaround and head off to Detroit to meet the Red Wings tonight. Although it seems that the two teams are always playing each other, it’s only their third game this season; Toronto won their previous two games and scored four goals in each.

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Right now, the Maple Leafs only trail the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division. They have put together a record of 25-9-7 and will play the Bruins on the road on Saturday night. Samsonov is expected to start tonight, while Murray will get the start in Boston.