Recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs have seemed to fall behind and then rally like crazy to tie the game and, mostly, go on to win. That wasn’t the case against the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Eve. For once, the team played it differently.
Led by the usual suspects Auston Matthews and William Nylander, who each had a goal and an assist, and John Tavares, who scored into an empty-net, the Maple Leafs beat Minnesota 4-1. By the way, Alexander Kerfoot also scored a goal and Frederik Andersen didn’t give up much at all, saving 26 of 27 shots.
As the team prepares to play in Winnipeg against the Jets on January 2, in this post I want to outline five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ win over the Wild.
Takeaway #1: Maple Leafs’ John Tavares Is Ending 2019 Strong
It seems like a long time ago that John Tavares broke his finger and was out for a series of games. Against the Wild, he scored a goal and an assist. When 2019 ended, the veteran center had totaled 35 points in 34 games, including 10 points in his last five games.
Tavares simply keeps getting better, it seems. He has an extremely accurate shot, and in some games I’ve watched seems to be able to shoot the puck through a tiny window. He’s also been hot against the Jets throughout his career, and in 26 career games against them has had 29 points.
Takeaway #2: William Nylander Stays On Fire
Only a few games ago, William Nylander was benched by head coach Sheldon Keefe for uninspired play. Obviously, Nylander got the message. He’s been on fire and scored two points in the 4-1 win. Nylander has now eight points in his last four games and has had a goal in each.
His horrible 2018-19 season seems far behind him, and the 23-year-old Swede has made good on his offseason commitment to dominate play. His 35 points in 41 games – exactly halfway through the season – puts him on pace to have his best season ever.
Takeaway #3: Auston Matthews Will Score 50 Goals
Auston Matthews scored both a goal and an assist in the 4-1 win. He currently ranks second in NHL goal-scoring with 27, behind only the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak (who has 29). Matthews is a pure shooter, and his quickness and accuracy are tough to match. He’s totaled 17 points in 13 December games, and in seven of those games had more than one point.
Is it possible that Matthews could score 100 points in the 2019-20 season? He hasn’t done that yet, but he looks on pace to score half that number in goals alone. But, can his assist total keep up? That seems like the bigger question as the team faces the second half of the season.
Takeaway #4: Frederik Andersen Is Back on His Game
In recent games, it seemed to me that Frederik Andersen was tired. He certainly didn’t seem sharp and I had to wonder if the sheer volume of his minutes had caught up to him. Well, apparently not – at least not for this game. He was sharp in stopping 26 of 27 shots.
Specifically, Andersen had given up 11 goals in his previous two games, but the team had bailed him out by scoring more. Except for one puck that escaped his grasp, Andersen was perfect and finished 2019 with a 7-3-1 record. Also, congratulations to him for being named to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. It was his first time.
Takeaway #5: Justin Holl Is Playing a Bigger Role on the Team
Justin Holl’s ice-time is rising. From early this season, it’s grown to over 16 minutes per game; and, against the Wild, he played over 18 minutes. That amount of ice time is unusual and might be a function or either his coach’s growing confidence in his play (he was recently signed to a three-year contract extension at $2 million per season) or the fact that Holl was playing before a home-state crowd. He is a Minnesota native and Keefe has seemed considerate about playing players in games where they are “at home.”
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