The Toronto Maple Leafs played one of their best games of the season and exacted revenge on the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-2 last night. There were two highlights of the game.
First, John Tavares scored early in the game. It was his 400th career goal. Second, Matt Murray faced his old team and played really strong in the crease. He stopped numerous good shots and his play sort of took the air out of the Penguins’ tires.
As well, the top-six remix worked. Mitch Marner and Tavares had instant chemistry and carried the first part of the game Then Auston Matthews and William Nylander also looked on the same page all night. Although Nylander isn’t known for his defense, he was dogged on the puck last night. Matthews was as well.
It was a strong game all the way around for the Maple Leafs.
Takeaway One: Congratulations to John Tavares for His 400th Goal
Tavares scored his 400th goal, and Murray made 34 saves in his return to Pittsburgh. Although the Penguins scored two quick goals in the second period to make the game seem close, it wasn’t. The Maple Leafs raced away with the 5-2 win.
Tavares became the 107th player in NHL history to reach 400 goals. He was left alone in the slot just over halfway through the first period, and the 14-year veteran made no mistake. He was an integral part of an early scoring that allowed the Maple Leafs to win their fifth game in the past seven.
Not only is Tavares the 107th NHL player to reach 400 goals, but he’s also the second Maple Leafs’ player. Mats Sundin also scored his 400th goal twenty seasons ago in October 2002. That also came against the Penguins.
Takeaway Two: Matt Murray Stood on His Head for the Win
For all the concern about the goalie play entering this season, at least in this one game Matt Murray simply played great. When the Penguins pushed, he stopped them. He made a good save after a good save when he needed to. His play simply held his team in the game.
As Maple Leafs’ fans know, Murray won Stanley Cups with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017. After Pittsburgh cut an early three-goal deficit to a single goal, his solid play allowed Toronto time to regroup. They eventually pulled away.
If Murray plays this way for the rest of the season, watch out. He moved well laterally and there was no sign of an injury. There’s also something to be said for experience and instinct. Both seemed to pay off for Murray. He faced 37 shots and let in only two goals for a .946 save percentage.
After the game, one Maple Leafs’ player (I think it was Jordie Benn) noted how fired up Murray’s teammates were on the bench. Murray’s calm presence inspired his team and gave them confidence.
Takeaway Three: Jordie Benn Has His Second Straight Solid Game
Jordie Benn also played another strong game. He jumped in on the offense once again and almost scored.
He played another game of smart hockey. He registered an assist and was a plus-2. At the end of the evening, he had logged almost 22 minutes of TOI during the game.
Takeaway Four: The Top Two Lines Were In on All the Goals
The top two lines were involved in all five goals. Matthews didn’t score a goal, but he helped others. He carried the play and dominated. His nice pass set up Michael Bunting’s first goal of the night.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe’s decision to break up Matthews and Marner paid off in spades. Marner and Tavares looked strong together. Tavares had more jump in this game than he’s had in the past few.
Matthews and Nylander also played well together. The two players pursued pucks hard all game long. Michael Bunting also helped dig out the puck. Although the second line highlighted the game, the first line was a handful.
Takeaway Five: Yet Again, the Fourth Line Played Well
Speaking of good lines, the fourth line was once again good. Denis Malgin was strong. Zach Aston-Reese could have scored and missed. David Kampf was strong.
In short, the difference in the game was that the Maple Leafs’ good players outplayed the Penguins’ good players. The result was a win.
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