Last week, one reader commented that the Toronto Maple Leafs never win games when the other team has a Staal brother playing. Perhaps it’s that simple – because last night the Hurricanes played without centre Jordan Staal for the second straight game. (He has a concussion.) The result? The Maple Leafs finally won a game.
It could be that “finally” is a bit of an overstatement on my part, because the Sportsnet game recap noted that the team won for the third time in four road games. Where have I been? It seems to me forever since the Blue and White had a decent game that ended in a victory.
Obviously, it’s easy for fans like me to get lost in the immediate memory of a team drifting through most of a game with the Detroit Red Wings, finally getting it going, but not having enough juice to pull out an overtime victory. Or, more immediately, a team failing to show up in Boston, where an undermanned Bruins’ team gave them a good licking.
But, tonight it was all Maple Leafs. They started fast and didn’t seem to let up the entire game – only slowed by a double minor that they killed off, but that killed their momentum. That’s why this game was “only” 4-1, instead of something like 6-1.
The score didn’t lie – the Maple Leafs won easily. It was a night when things seem to finally go right. Here are four things I thought went the Maple Leafs’ way.
What Went Right?
Went Right #1: William Nylander
No matter what side you leaned towards during the Nylander drama, you have to admit this young player has talent. It’s not that Nylander is playing near full speed; and, when he took a penalty, he seemed barely able to catch his breath. But he sure is a slick passer. His two assists were his first points of the year.
In his third game back with the Maple Leafs, he finally showed some of that offensive flash that made Maple Leafs’ fans stick up for him when – well, regardless. His third period assist on Patrick Marleau’s redirection inside the far post was really nice.
Went Right #2: Skilled Forwards
Starting quickly, the Maple Leafs had a 13-3 advantage in shots through the first half of a first period they dominated. Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs’ had only one goal to show for their blitzing offense – a Tyler-Ennis-on-the spot rebound flip about half way through.
No question: the Maple Leafs were far better than they had been, and played most of the game in the Hurricane’s zone. By game’s end, Maple Leafs’ forwards Marleau and John Tavares had also scored. Even Morgan Reilly – the Maple Leafs’ highly offensive defenseman – seemed to be playing in the offensive end. In one of those good luck, bad luck (depending on whose team you play for) scenarios, his goal-mouth pass bounced off an opponent’s stick into the net.
Went Right #3: Frederik Andersen Came up Big
Andersen didn’t face his magic number of 40 shots, but he made 29 saves. The only goal he allowed was a second-period power play by Justin Williams. Andersen was on his game, shut the door early, and held it shut during a busy third period where the Hurricanes fired 12 shots on goal. It was a good rebound game for him.
Went Right #4: Bad Luck for the Hurricanes, Good Luck for the Maple Leafs
For this game, the Hurricanes luck was all bad.
First, the Hurricanes shared one thing with the Boston Bruins, who beat the listless Maple Leafs just one game earlier. Both teams’ line-ups were depleted by injury. In the Bruins’ game, you wouldn’t have known the Bruins’ were missing anyone. Tonight, it was obvious the Hurricanes were under-manned.
Second, the Hurricanes had just come off a near-death experience when their charter plan was forced to make an early-morning, emergency landing after their 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks. During the flight, players could smell smoke and the plane, as Hurricanes’ Jordan Martinook relived the experience, “went down pretty quick from 35,000 feet, and landed pretty fast.”
Third, Rielly’s 10th goal of the season looked like it bounced off Hurricane’s Dougie Hamilton’s stick as he was trying to break up the play. Not that Rielly didn’t deserve something for his work – he had had made a neat pass in front of the net towards Andreas Johnsson. However, the result was the kind of extreme bad luck that seems to happen when things are speeding downhill and out of control – as the Hurricanes were experiencing this night and the Maple Leafs had experienced three nights earlier on Hockey Night in Canada.
This was one night where the Maple Leafs beat a team they were supposed to beat, and did it convincingly. On the immediate horizon is a game in Florida against the NHL’s number one team – at least at this point in the season – the Tampa Bay Lightning. It could be a good one.