In a battle of a couple of struggling teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs faced off against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City. All the eyes were on the Blackhawks and their historically bad start to the season that included never having the lead in their first six games. Sure enough, they scored first. Cue the comeback via a few backhanders as we dive into some of the takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ character win in overtime.
Matthews: Intense as Ever and Determined to Win
There was zero chance Auston Matthews was going to let his team lose on Wednesday night. He was the Maple Leafs’ best player, and his newfound line with William Nylander and Michael Bunting was strong from their opening shift. The trio led the Maple Leafs in takeaways (combined for six), while Mitch Marner was the only other forward with one.
Matthews led all forwards with 24:03 of ice time and held his teammates accountable for their performance, something we haven’t seen before. Specifically, Matthews was seen shouting at defenseman Justin Holl, whose decision to go after the puck led to Chicago’s second goal.
He also wasn’t a fan of Holl going offside for no apparent reason on a later play.
It was a side of Matthews we don’t normally see but one that is welcomed. Holl and his partner Jake Muzzin were terrible on Wednesday and have been for a few games now. Look for these two to be split up if they continue to struggle as the Maple Leafs look to build on this character win in Chicago.
Campbell Made Key Saves for the Maple Leafs
Campbell was stellar on Wednesday and both goals that beat him were great shots. He may want the first goal back – he didn’t get his glove up in time – but overall, his 27 stops were impressive. Campbell has had two so-so games this season, but the rest of his play has been very strong.
Campbell made some excellent reads against the Blackhawks, and he’s shown he can be a step ahead of the play at times this season. Both of his biggest saves were on quick cross-seam passes and Campbell showed his athleticism to slide across and get there for his teammates. He also acknowledged his teammates who stepped up in the locker room to give the team a spark:
Campbell’s passionate effort gave him a 3-2-1 record, with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. After allowing two goals on 11 shots in the first period, he shut the door on the next 18, including a couple of poke checks that are becoming his thing. It was a great performance, and if he were in Toronto, his name would have been chanted from the stands.
Nylander Continues to Shine
Nylander has been reunited with Matthews on the team’s top line, and he deserves it. “Willy Styles” has been the Maple Leafs’ best forward through eight games, and against the Blackhawks, he continued his strong play. The smooth-skating winger took a nice bump pass from Matthews, and with a backhand deke, he potted the overtime winner. Check out the beauty snipe below and pay attention to Matthews coming in hot for the celebration that included some chirps for the Blackhawks faithful.
Nylander has been a beast since last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. He continues to show his uncanny ability to control the play, find the open man when you don’t expect it, and he’s not shying away from contact like he has in the past. He leads the Maple Leafs with six points in their first eight games, and his teammates have him to thank for the extra point in Chi-Town.
Quick Hits from Wednesday’s Matchup
Kudos to Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe who started David Kampf’s line for the opening faceoff. Kampf spent four seasons as a Blackhawk and was playing in his first game against his former club. This type of gesture goes a long way in boosting a player’s confidence. Keefe is a great coach who cares about his players, and Kampf went on to snipe a beauty backhand to tie the game at two, fittingly, his first as a Maple Leaf.
Wednesday night might have been Holl’s worst game as a Maple Leaf. I was adamant about protecting the right-handed defenseman in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, but I have to admit, he hasn’t looked good. Expect to see more of Timothy Liljegren and less of Holl if he keeps this up.
Nick Ritchie played only 9:34 of ice-time on Wednesday and looked disengaged. He’s been demoted from the first to fourth line early on this season and hopefully he can get himself a cheap goal to build off of. He’ll need to go to the net for that to happen, something we haven’t seen much of.
The Maple Leafs showed a ton of character in Wednesday’s win and whoever spoke up and pissed off the group in the first intermission deserves a ton of credit. The team welcomes the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night and it feels like things are starting to trend in the right direction.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can find Seney also contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween