The Minnesota Wild came into Scotiabank Arena to play the Toronto Maple Leafs after a game the night before in Ottawa, where they had beat the Senators 2-0. The Wild seemed ripe for the picking, given that the team was coming off a back-to-back, but somehow it took the Maple Leafs more than a period to catch some wind in their sails. Not that they played poorly, but they just couldn’t put the puck home.
During the second period, the Maple Leafs took the game over and held on. The Wild didn’t go away, but the game never seemed in doubt after the four-goal explosion of the second period.
In this post, I want to offer a review of the players’ games and how each player contributed to the success of the team.
Player Review #1: Morgan Rielly, the Assist Guru
I know that it seems par for the course to call Morgan Rielly’s top-line defensive partner Cody Ceci’s play into question. But, sometimes it strikes me that a player’s impact must be measured within the context of the entire game. If that’s the case, then Ceci is hardly slowing Rielly down at all.
During the second period against the Wild, Rielly scored four assists (two on the power play). By doing so, Rielly tied a Maple Leafs’ record for assists during a single period of a regular-season game. Rick Vaive had set the previous record on March 12, 1984.
After the game, Rielly spoke about the Maple Leafs’ game plan. ”We just talked about being patient and not trying to force too much.” Rielly added, ”I thought we played a good first and obviously didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Of the Maple Leafs four goals during the second period, Rielly had an assist on each of them. Interesting, that 20-minute scoring eruption almost doubled his point total on the season. In total, Rielly has nine assists in the team’s seven games. He hasn’t scored a goal yet.
Player Review #2: Mitch Marner: Three Points
I have to admit that I’m watching Mitch Marner lots these days. There’s something about his game that is interestingly different from this season to last season; however, I’ve not quite put my finger on what it is. It seems as if he’s looking to score goals first, whereas last season he seemed to look to set up his teammates more. But, I think there’s more.
Regardless, he contributed big time on Tuesday night by scoring a power-play goal and adding two assists (one on the power play). As I noted earlier, Rielly had an assist on each of the team’s goals; but, it was Marner who was the driving force behind the goal-scoring surge.
It’s odd how such a surge can erase some of the concerns. To me, Marner simply went AWOL on some of the games I’ve watched. But, when taken in the context of the entire season, the young forward has totaled nine points in seven games. That’s an average any NHL player these days would probably covet. Six of Marner’s nine points (two goals and four assists) have come on the man advantage.
Player Review #3: Trevor Moore, Zach Hyman Lite
It seems as if head coach Mike Babcock finally had enough and acted on a new plan. The first-line unit of John Tavares, Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen simply wasn’t generating the offensive oomph the team needed. Sometimes, over the early course of this season in five-on-five situations, Tavares simply seemed not to have the puck much at all.
Whatever, after a few empty shifts, Babcock acted. He replaced Kapanen – pushing him down to the third line – and moved Trevor Moore up to play with Marner and Tavares. It worked –immediately.
Of anyone on the team, Moore plays most like Zach Hyman, and that’s something we know Babcock likes. For all the talk of Babcock being stubborn, sometimes he makes good choices. And, during the Wild game, he acted at the right time.
I don’t doubt that Babcock had been thinking about this change for a while. He knew who he wanted on the line, and it worked. That said Babcock was circumspect about the change. His simple comment was, “We just tried it and it seemed to be okay, so we just stayed with it.”
I don’t doubt that this change will be for a while. And, honestly, I don’t feel too bad for Kapanen. He’s joining a line with Ilya Mikheyev and Alexander Kerfoot, which isn’t too shabby. They have speed to burn.
Player Review #4: John Tavares Is Finally Scoring
Tavares got the first Maple Leafs goal when he slapped a shot past Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk for his second goal of the season. As noted, it came on a great play (although he had no assists on the night) from Moore.
What was as valuable for the team was Tavares’ face-off success: he won three of the four offensive-zone face-offs the team took on their power plays. Two times those face-off wins resulted directly in goals. That’s good work and something Tavares isn’t often praised for. In fact, during last week’s drubbing by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Maple Leafs had been regularly beaten in the face-off circle.
I’m thinking we might see more of Tavares in the circle on special-teams play.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There isn’t much rest for the team this week. Tonight, the Maple Leafs play the always-dangerous Capitals in Washington. The Capitals’ defense has struggled this season, and the team comes into play having lost four of their last five games. In addition, they seem to be giving up lots of goals.
That said, the Maple Leafs can’t count on the Capitals remaining in their early-season funk. The Maple Leafs seem to make a habit of falling behind early. They cannot afford to fall behind against the Capitals.
Likely Michael Hutchinson will be in goal in the back-to-back. Personally, I’m rooting for him and would love to see him stone the Capitals.
We will soon see. I predict a high-scoring game; and, being a fan of Canadian-based teams, I predict 7-5 Maple Leafs.
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