In this post, I’ll take a look at last night’s game action during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-0 shutout victory against the Dallas Stars. I’ll focus on who did what for the Maple Leafs.
On the Defense
Conor Timmins played his first game with the Maple Leafs last night, and what a game it had to be for him. As a fan, I wanted to know how well he would play in his debut. I’m sure that head coach Sheldon Keefe wanted to shelter his minutes with Victor Mete on the third pairing. However, when Mete went down, Timmins was only one of five defensemen left.
Early in the game, Timmins had trouble with his skating (which could have been related to the poor ice) and went to the bench for an equipment change. That seemed to fix things; and, by the end of the game, he was playing well. He played solid defense, and his play helped lead to Alex Kerfoot’s empty netter to put the Maple Leafs up by a score of 4-0.
Rasmus Sandin has been playing big minutes on the Maple Leafs’ second pairing with partner Timothy Liljegren. Last night, in a wild scramble in front of the Stars’ net in the second period, Sandin pinched in and scored the team’s third goal of the game.
It was Sandin’s second of the season; and, interestingly, both goals have been in his past four games. In his 27 games on the season, the 22-year-old Swedish defenseman has chipped in nine points. He also has a plus-5 rating.
Liljegren registered an assist in last night’s game, which ended a four-game point-scoring drought. But his offense was less of a contribution than his solid defense. When the Stars were pressing hard, both Liljegren and Sandin hung in there well.
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After the game, coach Keefe was effusive about the pairing. He shared with the media that, “those two (Sandin and Liljegren) really stepped up for us today. They played hard. They moved the puck well. They were physical and competitive. They were doing a lot o it on half a tank or at the bottom of their tank. Impressive.”
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On the season through 16 games, the 23-year-old defenseman has a plus-11 rating. That’s tied for second on the team with fellow defenseman Mark Giordano. Michael Bunting leads the team with a plus-12 rating.
Giordano was his reliable self last night. He also added an assist in the win and was plus-2 for the game. Giordano’s assist came on John Tavares’ first-period goal.
Giordano, who at 39 years of age is the oldest skater in the NHL, now has registered three assists during his last six games. Given the team’s fallen defensemen, Giordano has taken on a much larger role with the team. In his 27 games, he’s collected seven points and has a plus-11 rating.
[By the way, Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Craig Anderson is the oldest NHL player at 41 years old. The Stars Joe Pavelski is the second oldest skater at 38 years of age.]
Mete left last night’s game in the first period with a lower-body injury. Later word was that coach Keefe didn’t think that Mete’s injury was serious, but he’d probably miss the next two games.
In Mete’s place, look for Mac Hollowell to return to the lineup if T.J. Brodie’s oblique hasn’t yet healed completely. Brodie has been engaged in full team practices and might be able to return.
With the Forwards
The wait wasn’t long; and, Mitch Marner extended his point-scoring consecutive-game streak. As most Maple Leafs’ fans know, Marner’s point-scoring streak has hit 20 straight games. His shot on the net generated a juicy rebound that Tavares was able to fight through multiple checks to fire into the net.
Marner began his current streak on October 27; and, during that streak, he’s generated 27 points in those 20 games. The 25-year-old potential (he should be) Selke Award winner has been steady on the ice. During the course of the season, Marner now has generated 32 points (on 10 goals and 22 assists) in 27 games.
Tavares scored the game-winning goal in the first period. It was early and was the only goal the team needed. What was so special about the goal was the determination Tavares put into fighting for position, finally freeing himself from the tight-checking, and then using his great hand/eye coordination to fire the puck into the net.
With that goal, Tavares ended a five-game drought without a goal. It was his 13th of the season, and pushed him to 27 points in 27 games. That’s a point-a-game pace.
Michael registered an assist by setting up Sandin’s second-period goal. This assist was Bunting’s seventh in his last six games. In fact, he’s on a six-game point streak himself. Over those six games, he’s generated a plus-9 rating to push his team-leading plus/minus to plus-12.
Similar to Tavares, Bunting’s been working hard. That work ethic seems to be catching on fast. As much as anything else, it’s pushing the team to on-ice success.
Auston Matthews scored another goal last night on a determined end-to-end rush where he didn’t score on the first attempt, then he circled once again with the puck to score on the second attempt. On the game, Matthews generated two points. He also was credited with an assist on Sandin’s goal.
It might be that Matthews has begun one of his patented rolls. He’s on a five-game point streak, where he’s scored four goals and added five assists. On the season, Matthews now has 13 goals and 17 assists (for 30 points). He’s also now a plus-10 in his 27 games played.
Kerfoot scored the final goal of the game – an empty-netter – to end his 21-game, goal-scoring drought. The goal was Kerfoot’s first since October 20.
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It isn’t that the 28-year-old Kerfoot isn’t playing well. He’s been a rock on defense, has worked hard, and has been reliable in whatever middle-six role he’s been given. But his 11 points in his 27 games on the season aren’t close to what his totals were in 2021-22.
In the Goal
What can you say about Matt Murray? He was perfect last night in the shutout win. Not only did he stop all 44 shots on his net, but he looked calm under relentless pressure. That was especially true during the five-on-three chaos that ensured when the Stars’ seemed destined to overwhelm the Maple Leafs at the end of the second period.
Murray and a stick-less Marner helped save the game for the Blue and White. It was the Stars’ last hurrah. The third period was tame in comparison.
It was Murray’s first Maple Leafs’ shutout and the 15th of his NHL career. His record in the eight games since he returned from his groin injury is now 6-0-2. His only loss came before the injury in the team’s first game of the season in Montreal against the Canadiens.
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.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
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