In what might have been one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best games of the season, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road by a score of 5-2. The win is a bit of revenge for the 4-2 loss the team suffered at the same hands of this team last week.
Perhaps even more encouraging was the play of goalie Matt Murray and the re-jigged top-six units that split up Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Murray made some incredible and desperate stops and looked good moving across the crease. Both the top two lines looked energized.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll look at other players who did well during the game as well as news about the team.
Item One: Congratulations to John Tavares for Scoring His 400th Goal
John Tavares is having a heck of a season so far. He’s also at a time in his career when he’s reaching some personal milestones. Last night, he started the team’s scoring with a seeing-eye goal from the high slot to beat Penguin’s goalie Casey DeSmith. It was Tavares’ 400th career goal.
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With that goal, the 32-year-old, 14-year veteran center Tavares became the 107th player in NHL history to reach the 400-goal milestone. He was also the second Maple Leafs’ player to do so. Twenty seasons ago, in October 2002, Mats Sundin also scored his 400th goal against the Penguins as well.
For the season, Tavares is keeping up his better than a point-a-game pace. He now has scored nine goals and added an equal number of assists (for 18 points) in 17 games. He was also part of a second line with Marner that dominated the game. To my eyes, Tavares had more jump in his game last night than he’s had for the past several.
Item Two: Matt Murray Looked Strong Last Night
Goalie Matt Murray tended the Maple Leafs to a win for his first in the Blue and White; and, he looked good doing it. He made 35 saves on 37 shots for a save percentage of .946 for the game. That’s as good as anyone can expect from any goalie.
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Obviously, given the negativity that surrounded Murray’s coming to the Maple Leafs, he’ll have to string a few of these kinds of wins together before fans jump on his bandwagon. Still, it was a great start.
The only shaky two minutes for Murray were early in the second period when Maple Leafs’ mistakes gave the Penguins a chance to come back within a goal. The game was suddenly interesting, but Murray held the fort and his team won going away.
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It was Murray’s second start of the season, but he looks to get more soon. Right now, although Ilya Samsonov is skating at practice, there’s no definite word on when he might be back. That likely makes the crease Murray’s until he loses it. The question is whether he can lock down the number one spot in the Maple Leafs’ depth chart.
Item Three: Goalie Keith Petruzzelli Returned to the Marlies
Yesterday, in news released before game time, it was announced that goalie prospect Keith Petruzzelli wasn’t on the Maple Leafs’ active roster. He likely was moved back to the AHL Toronto Marlies when Murray was activated for the game.
Petruzzelli signed an NHL contract when Samsonov was injured and backed up Erik Kallgren over the past four games when the two were the team’s only options in goal. Kallgren will remain on the roster and served as Murray’s backup last night. He’ll also likely stick around until Samsonov is ready to return to action.
Item Four: Morgan Rielly Hasn’t Scored a Goal Yet, But He’s Collecting Assists
Morgan Rielly seems to be an assist machine. He registered two more last night, and now he has 14 assists on the season. Interestingly, he hasn’t scored a single goal this season. That said, Rielly’s been especially productive recently. He now has five assists during his current four-game point-scoring streak.
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Rielly also looked good with new defensive partner Jordie Benn last night; or, perhaps it was the other way around. Benn looked good with Rielly. Whatever, it was the second game in a row where Benn looked experienced and smart on the ice.
Benn seems to have a better on-ice IQ than fans realized. He seems to have easily stepped into the lineup and has made an immediate impact. On one play, he assessed the situation and saw that he could jump into the offence. He helped stop a Sidney Crosby goal. He looked solid and made smart, simple plays.
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Matthews was dominant last night, but didn’t score a goal. Yet he helped on two. He made a great pass to Michael Bunting to set up Bunting’s first goal of the night.
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What was especially noteworthy about the Matthews and Nylander combination was how good they looked defensively. Nylander isn’t known for being that good defensively, yet both he and his line-partner Matthews seemed able to disrupt multiple Penguins’ offensive plays.
It’s a good look for Matthews, but perhaps not what we expected for his season. He might not score 60 goals again – although everyone keeps saying he’s going to break through soon – but he might help his team become more successful. Is it my imagination, but is his game coming closer to the way Connor McDavid plays with the Edmonton Oilers?