The Usual Suspects: Maple Leafs Pitchfork the Devils

The Toronto Maple Leafs snuck (I’m thinking) into New Jersey to play the Devils, smarting from a poorer road trip than most Maple Leafs’ fans hoped or expected. Over their last four road games, they had won only one game and lost three; but, with their single point in the overtime loss to the Panthers, their record was 1-2-1. They are now 2-2-1, which doesn’t seem that bad for a tough road trip – except I remember differently.

In their two losses in Florida, they fell behind and couldn’t come all the way back. Entering this game, you’d think the Maple Leafs would have learned a lesson about starting more quickly. They had. Against the Devils, they won the first period 3-1; and, they won the rest of the game 4-1.

Maple Leafs Were Led by Their Stars

The Maple Leafs were led by their stars – what I call here the usual suspects. John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Patrick Marleau – bing, bing, bing. Three goals: game over. Then, for good measure, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly both added goals in the second. That’s what happens when your team has a hand full of stars, and they all contribute. It was a game where the stars twinkled, and other players padded stats.

Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even (I admit) the Maple Leafs’ player I root for the hardest – Tyler Ennis – scored two in the final period. I know people questioned an earlier post I wrote lauding Ennis’ play this year in place of a reluctant William Nylander — but, doesn’t Ennis have the best play-for-pay contract in the NHL? Edmonton Oilers’ fans might make a case for 15-goal scorer Alex Chaisson, but Chaisson is playing on mega-star Connor McDavid’s wing – Ennis isn’t.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Tyler Ennis: More Valuable Than Nylander?

Random Thoughts

Although they had only two chances, the power play didn’t score again – zero for two. The Maple Leafs’ power play is now one for 24 in the last six games. Not that they needed everything to be working tonight, but the team might need that power play soon enough. They have the offense to make it happen; it just hasn’t. How come?

The defense played well, or got lucky. Rielly was left alone to cover a Devils’ two-on-one: he made a desperately good — or fortunate — play, which quickly turned into a three-on-one the other way and led to Tavares’ goal. From danger to excitement in four seconds. That’s hockey’s oh-oh effect, which makes it so much fun to watch.

Tavares seemed to be everywhere. His leadership stems from his play.

The end of the second period is an example that teams should play until the last second. Rielly’s goal with time expiring was a heart breaker that, I think, took all potential wind out of the Devil’s sails.

Connor Brown and Nazem Kadri both had three assists – good contributions. Kadri’s three assists tied his career record – I wouldn’t have thought it would have taken this long.

Hockey is a funny game. In the end, the Maple Leafs embarrassed the Devils. I don’t doubt the score left the Devils scolding themselves for not showing up in this game. As Devils coach John Hynes said, “We have to dig into it and get some answers.” Seems like it’s been the same story in reverse recently for the Maple Leafs – who only showed up sporadically in either game in Florida, not at all against the Boston Bruins, and not enough in their last home game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Seems like every night Patrick Marleau makes either personal or NHL history. In this game, he scored his 544th career goal, tying him for No. 30 in NHL history with Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens. I’m guessing the goal was one of the easier Marleau has scored. It ping ponged around and then just landed in the crease, where Marleau had only to see it and tap it in.

Toronto Maple Leafs Patrick Marleau Columbus Blue Jackets David Savard
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Patrick Marleau, left, carries the puck as Columbus Blue Jackets’ David Savard defends. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Finally, this is getting to be a broken record, but Marner has scored 16 points in the last 11 games. He’s a really good player.

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs return home for a three-game home stand after, as I noted earlier, a so-so road trip. They meet the same Florida Panthers on Thursday, who beat them in overtime five days earlier. By the way, Florida just beat Buffalo 5-2, with Maple Leafs’ recent nemesis Aleksander Barkov scoring a power play goal – his 15th goal of the season. I encourage someone to watch this guy on Thursday.

Related: Maple Leafs Simply Didn’t Deserve to Beat the Panthers