Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs won a bit of a ragged game with a 5-4 overtime victory over the St. Louis Blues on the road. It was a good way to come out of their Christmas Break; and with the win, the team halted a two-game road losing skid.
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The Maple Leafs’ record is now jumped to 22-7-6 on the season. They are the third team in the NHL to reach the 50-point plateau. The Carolina Hurricanes, who are on a nine-game winning streak, and the Boston Bruins, who are tearing up the NHL with 57 points, are the only two teams ahead of Toronto.
Latest News & Highlights
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at some of the player news emerging from last night’s game.
Item One: William Nylander Is Playing at a Different Speed
William Nylander is literally playing at a different speed than others on the ice. He scored the game-winning goal late in the overtime period when he found more fuel than his opponent and decided to use it to explode into action.
On an overtime shift, when everyone was bagged and seemed ready to head to the bench for a change, Nylander found more. He engaged Vladimir Taresenko against the boards and used his crafty stick work to collect the puck from his opponent. He wasn’t finished. He then turned on the jets to bear down on Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington, faked a forehand, and deposited a backhand shot into the back of the net. It happened because Nylander made a confident decision and his speed made it doable.
It simply was a beautiful goal, which was made possible only by Nylander’s determination to make it happen. That ended the game with less than a minute left in overtime. It also pushed Nylander’s streak of games in which he’s scored at least one goal to four games.
During that four-game streak, Nylander collected seven points. On the season, he’s the Maple Leafs’ leading goal-scorer with 21. He now has 19 assists to go along with his 21 goals (for 40 points) in 35 games. Personally, he’s on a 49-game goal pace.
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But it’s his sensational play – that includes speed and confidence – that makes him exciting to watch. He’s taken his game to a new level this season, and the team is continuing to benefit.
Item Two: Calle Jarnkrok Is Thriving on the Second Line
Calle Jarnkrok collected three points for the Maple Leafs last night by scoring a goal and contributing two assists to the win. Throughout this game, he was one of the Maple Leafs’ best players. He just seems to play smart hockey and put himself in positions where he can help his team.
Jarnkrok was rightfully named the first star of the game, which I’m guessing had more to do with his point total than his overall play. However, his overall play was intelligent. Curiously, the end-of-the-game box score showed that he was the only player on either team who had a multiple-point game.
Since he’s come back from a groin injury that kept him out from November 30 to December 20, Jarnkrok has collected at least a point in each game. In total, that’s five points in three games.
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When the regular season began, few would have predicted that Jarnkrok would find himself in the team’s top six. That’s because the 31-year-old Swedish forward has never scored more than 16 goals or totalled more than 35 points per season during his 602-game NHL career. However, he might also have never played with the kind of talent the Maple Leafs can ice on their second line.
My guess is that, because the Maple Leafs’ injury situation is growing worse, Jarnkrok will continue to play in the team’s top-six forward unit for a longer time.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
If there was one iffy aspect of the game last night for the Maple Leafs, it was the play of goalie Ilya Samsonov. This is now his third game in a row when he’s let in more goals than we’ve seen during the first part of his season. Samsonov noted that he would work on the mental aspect of his game during the Christmas break.
The truth is that, if you can forgive a player for losing his balance (which happened on the Blue’s first goal), only the Blues’ third goal was one Samsonov would like to have back. He should have stopped it. Still, a win is a win, and Samsonov made some decent stops.
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Maple Leafs’ fans will have to see how the Russian goalie handles the lack of recent success. His history suggests that having good starts and then falling off a bit isn’t unusual. Fortunately, the team covered for his play last night. His next game might be one to watch.