What a difference a month makes. On Dec. 1, the Toronto Maple Leafs went into St. Paul and beat the Minnesota Wild 5-3 on Nazem Kadri’s tie-breaking goal. On Thursday afternoon, the same Wild team came into Toronto and beat the Maple Leafs 4-3 on Zach Parise’s tie-breaking goal.
Perhaps more interesting, is that William Nylander scored his first goal of the season. I say interesting because, just prior to the Dec. 1 game against the Wild, coach Mike Babcock broke the news to his team that Nylander was finally signed.
Same team, same Nylander, but, different ending to the game.
The Game: Looking at Maple Leafs’ Positives
The Maple Leafs scored three goals but lost their second straight game of the new year. Mitch Marner had two goals, and Nylander finally broke through with one. John Tavares added assists on both Marner goals.
Marner grabbed the opening faceoff and bounced a backhander off the far post just seven seconds into the game. That early goal tied the Maple Leafs’ franchise record for fastest goal at the start of a game, which had been set by Charlie Conacher on Feb. 6, 1932, against the Boston Bruins. It’s been 13 years short of a century, which shows how rare Thursday’s early goal was in Maple Leafs history.
The 21-year-old Marner made it 2-0 with his 15th goal of the season and ninth in the last eight games, scoring on a nice give-and-go with Tavares. But, in the end, Parise scored for the Wild to win the game, and Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk stopped 38 pucks to hold on for the win. The Wild were down twice – 2-0 and 3-2, but came back. The Maple Leafs threatened but came up short.
Michael Hutchinson’s Happy/Sad Game
Lost in the Wild victory was the excitement but ultimate disappointment new Maple Leaf goalie, Michael Hutchinson must have experienced. Hutchinson had a busy day: he was introduced to his new head coach and new teammates just a few hours before making his first start.
He went out and played well (making 18 saves in the first period alone) and kept the Maple Leafs in the game. That the team didn’t win wasn’t entirely on him. Auston Matthews’ giveaway in his own zone led to the quick, winning score. Sadly for Hutchinson, a day that started well didn’t end as well.
Because both starting goalie Frederik Andersen (groin) and backup Garret Sparks (concussion protocol after taking a shot in Wednesday’s practice) were out with injuries, the 28-year-old Hutchinson, from nearby Barrie, Ont., started. He received a great welcome from the crowd when he was introduced.
As Hutchinson noted, he only found out the night before the game that he would start. “Things moved pretty fast. You get traded here and hope you get a chance to play for the Leafs, growing up just north of here,” he said. Then added: “It was really exciting to get my first game under me, but it also makes you hungry to get more and to get the first win and go from there.”
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said that the status of both Sparks and Andersen’s is up in the air, which probably means that Hutchinson will play again on Saturday when the Maple Leafs plays the Vancouver Canucks at home.
Marner Scoring on the Ice…Comes Up Short off the Ice
Tavares and Auston Matthews were named the Maple Leafs’ All-Star representatives but, ironically, it was Marner who scored two goals in the game. It’s a shame Marner was left off the All-Star team. Marner has been this season’s leader and best player. Yet, teammate John Tavares was named to the team, probably in Marner’s place. It’s not that Tavares isn’t good or isn’t a leader, but to me, Tavares isn’t THE leader, Marner is.
Marner isn’t the only All-Star snub. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Braden Point was left off the team, but teammate Steven Stamkos was named. Point is having the best season of his career and is one of the NHL’s breakout stars of 2018-19.
Morgan Rielly also was left off the All-Star team. If I was choosing two Maple Leafs to be honored with a selection, they would be Marner first and Rielly second. Marner will have many more chances to be in an All-Star game; I’m not certain about Rielly.
Rielly’s having a breakout season and by far his best, but I’m not sure he will have this kind of season every season, but it would have been nice to have honored Rielly with an invite.
It’s Fun Involving Kids as Part of the Game
The game was a great party for kids. Prior to the game, the opening ceremony included children dressed up as players, referees, and announcers. There were even “Mini-Me’s” of Babcock and Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry.
On Saturday, the Maple Leafs play the up-and-coming Canucks. The Canucks are led by a great young rookie, Elias Pettersson who recently set a record for scoring 40 points in his first 40 games. Only four other current players had achieved this mark: Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Connor McDavid.
It would be nice to see Hutchinson play and have another strong game.