The Toronto Maple Leafs went into Columbus to play the Blue Jackets with both teams on winning streaks. Toronto won, beating Columbus 4-2.
The Leafs winning streak was four games; now it’s five, matching their longest streak of the season. The Blue Jackets winning streak was five, and they were riding a seven-game point streak. They didn’t win their sixth.
Three Maple Leafs’ Stars
The three stars of the game were John Tavares (no surprise), Mitch Marner (no surprise) and Garrett Sparks (big surprise). As the 1st Ohio Battery (the forum for the Columbus Blue Jackets) noted, “This is what it looks like when a team full of stars gets big performances from its key players – like Marner’s three-point night or Tavares scoring two goals.”
Blue Jackets’ head coach John Tortorella thought his team played well, despite the loss. He noted after the game, “I thought it was, out of our last four games including tonight, it was our best game,” praising Maple Leafs’ goalie Garret Sparks, but noting that many of his team’s shots missed the net.
It didn’t help that the Blue Jackets’ power play couldn’t get started. It probably also didn’t help that the Blue Jackets were on a back-to-back. They beat the New York Rangers in overtime, then flew to Columbus for this game. Although it was a home game, it probably didn’t feel that way. The Blue Jackets seemed to have enough energy, but just couldn’t finish. Tomorrow, it’s the Maple Leafs’ turn: they play the New York Islanders at home on their own back-to-back.
Tavares now has 26 goals in 38 games, and he’s well on pace to score more than 50 goals this season (actually 56.1 goals in 82 games). He doesn’t seem to be slowing down: in fact, he has had seven goals and four assists in the last six games: that’s one point shy of two points per game. He’s hot.
Tavares’ first goal was another tap-in, this time off his skate. This guy has amazing hand-eye coordination – or, in this case, foot-eye coordination. If a person didn’t know better, you’d think Tavares just gets lucky, night after night, but, he scores goals like this too often for it to be luck. His second goal was just a great shot, just over the left shoulder of Sergei Bobrovsky. Tavares is hard to stop.
Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews scored a beautiful four-on-four goal. A great pass from Matthews, a great shot from Marner, and over the outside shoulder of Bobrovsky. Marner scored three points for the third time in his last four games. Although he was scoreless against the Red Wings on Dec. 23, he has 12 points in his last six games: that’s two points per game.
Garret Sparks made his second consecutive start for the Maple Leafs, and his record now sits at 6-1-1. Tonight seemed easy compared to his last victory, where he allowed four goals against the Red Wings. He needed to be better tonight, and he was. Sparks was quietly solid and, really, it just didn’t seem that the Leafs had much to worry about during the game. It was one of those games where you just knew, eventually, the Maple Leafs would score more goals than the Blue Jackets.
Patrick Marleau played in his 1,613th NHL game, giving him sole possession of 10th place on the all-time list. He passed the great Ray Bourque for 10th all-time in NHL history. That’s good company, and it shows what great success Marleau has had in his career. I wonder if Maple Leaf fans appreciate that they are watching a future Hall of Famer in action.
Late in the third, Par Lindholm dug the puck from behind the net to set up Frederik Gauthier for his second goal of the season. That’s two goals in two games for Gauthier, in not that much ice time.
As noted, tomorrow night the Maple Leafs play their own back-to-back at home against the New York Islanders. Sparks played because Mike Babcock wanted to give Frederik Andersen an extra day to rest and practice after the Christmas break. Let’s hope the Maple Leafs don’t suffer a similar fate as the Blue Jackets did tonight.