The Toronto Maple Leafs were looking for a bounce-back game after a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. However, last night’s game didn’t start out like that. The team looked listless and allowed the New York Islanders to take the lead in the first period.
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Obviously, the first intermission was productive, and the Maple Leafs came out on fire for the second period. Although they allowed the Islanders to take a 2-1 lead, that lead was short-lived. The Maple Leafs returned the fire and ended the second with four goals to ultimately seal the victory.
William Nylander had an outstanding game, scoring two goals and adding two assists. Teammates John Tavares, Calle Jarnkrok, and Auston Matthews also contributed goals to the winning cause. Justin Holl had two assists.
With the win, the Maple Leafs continued a recent strong run, with a 3-0-1 record in their past four games and 6-2-1 in their last nine. Even with some goalie issues and injuries suffered, this is a positive sign for a team continuing to push toward a playoff spot.
Latest News & Highlights
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the key player news from the game as well as other news emerging from the team.
Item One: Ilya Samsonov Wins 15th Game of the Season
Ilya Samsonov made 31 saves on 33 shots during last night’s 5-2 win over the Islanders. Although New York scored the game’s first goal and then took a 2-1 lead early in the second period, he didn’t look shaky. Once his team ramped up their offense, Samsonov shut the door.
Samsonov also contributed a power-play assist when he laid out a beautiful stretch pass on Tavares’ game-tying goal. He has now had three straight starts and has played in four straight games. He’s been great over these four games, putting together a 3-0-1 record with a .947 save percentage.
With the win, Samsonov improved his season’s record to 15-4-2, with a goals-against average of 2.21 and a .920 save percentage. Although, until now, the coaching staff has been balancing starts between the tandem of Samsonov and Matt Murray, the former seems to be emerging as the goalie of choice.
Although Murray has a solid 11-5-2 record, with a goals-against average of 2.73 and a .911 save percentage, Samsonov’s recent performance is hard to match.
Item Two: William Nylander Continues His Career Season
Nylander had an outstanding game against the Islanders, scoring two goals and two assists. All four points came during the second period, which the Swedish winger helped blow wide open. Nylander has been on fire in January, racking up four multi-point games in 11 contests, with five goals and nine assists (for 14 points).
It was Nylander’s second four-point game of the season, and he now leads the Maple Leafs with 26 goals (one more than Matthews) and is tied with Mitch Marner in scoring with 56 points. He’s having a second career season in a row, and it’s the third time in his NHL career that he’s reached the 25-goal milestone. He now has 399 points in his career.
William’s father, Michael Nylander, played 920 NHL games, scoring 209 goals and 470 assists (for 679 points) in 12 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers, Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, and the New York Rangers. William has played 487 games, scoring 163 goals and adding 236 assists (for 399 points). This is his eighth season with the Maple Leafs.
Item Three: John Tavares Collects Two Points Against the Team that Drafted Him
Tavares scored a power-play goal and added an even-strength assist in last night’s win over the Islanders. He was the Islanders’ first-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. However, since he signed with the Maple Leafs, the now-32-year-old hasn’t had much success against the team that drafted him; he’s only scored four goals and three assists (for seven points) in 10 career games against his former team.
Last night, Tavares made a huge offensive impact, assisting on the Nylander goal to tie the game 1-1 early in the second period. Then he scored his 21st goal of the season less than three minutes later by converting Nylander’s helper on Samsonov’s secondary assist.
Tavares has had a strong January, scoring six goals and seven assists (for 13 points) in his past 10 games.
Item Four: Justin Holl Shows Great Passing Ability
Justin Holl registered two assists against the Islanders. He helped second-line winger Calle Jarnkrok score what became the game-winning goal midway through the second period. Then he saw Matthews alone and hit him with a beautiful stretch pass for the final goal (Matthews’ 25th) that put the icing on the cake.
Not usually much of a scorer, it was Holl’s first multiple-point game of the season. He’s up to two goals and nine points in his 48 games played. However, he’s blocked 84 shots, collected 93 hits, and now has a plus-12 rating on the season.
Item Five: T.J. Brodie Is Taking Longer to Heal than First Believed
T.J. Brodie did not play last night, and he won’t play Wednesday against the New York Rangers. His rib injury has caused him to miss the past eight games, and he’s expected to miss a ninth.
He’s taking longer to heal than was first anticipated, but his rehab seems to be trending in the right direction. He should soon be cleared to play.
Item Six: Pontus Holmberg Returns to Maple Leafs Roster
Pontus Holmberg returned to the Maple Leafs’ lineup last night after being promoted from the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies on Sunday. He’s done well with the big club this season, with 11 points in 28 games.
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Holmberg’s last game with the Maple Leafs was a loss to the Detroit Red Wings just under two weeks ago (on January 12).
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Newcomer Dryden Hunt was placed on waivers Sunday and cleared them on Monday to join the AHL Marlies. The 27-year-old has now played for three NHL teams this season and will play for a fourth when he sees action with the Marlies.
He played nine games with the Maple Leafs between December 29 and January 19. Perhaps the move was made to give him more playing time and the chance to continue to develop his game in the AHL before rejoining the big club in the future.
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
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He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf