In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs takeaways, I couldn’t help myself from having a bit of fun with the score. The Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings by a score of 10-7 last night. How often does a game have 17 goals? The answer is not often.
It was one of the strangest hockey games in a long, long time with a score reminiscent of a tight, defensive-battled professional football game. Instead, it was a defense-less hockey game that had to be exciting for the fans but just a nightmare for the coaches – both of them.
When the third period started, Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell looked as good as gold. His teammates had taken it to the Red Wings over and over again to have a “comfortable” lead and the Toronto bench was partying hard – especially the first line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and newcomer Michael Bunting.
That party suddenly turned interesting and things got tight.
Takeaway One: The Maple Leafs’ First Line Has Oodles of Chemistry and Skill
When the Maple Leafs signed Micheal Bunting during the offseason, they knew him a bit because he was with both head coach Sheldon Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas in Sault Ste. Marie with the Soo Greyhounds between 2013 and 2015. But could they ever have known the Bunting would be such a great match with Matthews and Marner?
That line works because Matthews is an amazing player, whose offense is off the charts. He’s also a great defensive player as well, and he’s absolutely slowed the game down and sees things more clearly than almost anyone around him. Marner is one of the best players with the puck, with a high hockey IQ; and, he too sees the entire ice. He’s also a defensive wizard. Bunting is the greasy rat who goes to the tough parts of the ice, does the dirty work in front of the opponent’s goalie, gets under the opponent’s skin, and has plenty of skill and hand-eye coordination himself.
It really is a great line to watch and is on a different – and higher level – than the line has been in any other season. It’s better; it’s stronger; it’s improving every game. And, it’s a ton of fun to watch this first line dominate the play. Could it be one of the best first-line combinations in Maple Leafs’ history?
Takeaway Two: Jack Campbell’s Slide Continues
Campbell could only stop 20-of-25 shots in Saturday’s 10-7 win over the Detroit Red Wings. Obviously, because he’s a team-first player, Campbell will be pleased with the team’s win. But as far as his own game goes, he’s going to have bad dreams.
While the Maple Leafs came out victorious on Saturday, Campbell is going to want to forget this one. The Red Wings scored four straight goals in less than six minutes into the third period to move a game that was out of reach clearly within reach. Campbell gave up three of those goals.
How soon before the 30-year-old former backup will become a backup again? He’s been on a dramatic slide and has surrendered 14 combined goals in his last three starts. It wasn’t pretty; but, fortunately, the Maple Leafs were determined to win this game; and, they did.
Takeaway Three: When the Going Got Tough: The Depth Players Came Through
For all the fireworks of the first line, when the game got tough a big thank you goes to depth players Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase, and David Kempf for winning this game. After the Red Wings scored their four goals to start the third period, the speedy Mikheyev turned on the jets and scored cutting through the crease to restore the team’s two-goal margin. Within a minute, the Red Wings had cut the lead to one goal.
However, then Marner committed a tripping penalty, and it looked as if the Red Wings had the momentum to tie the game up. Yet, within seconds after the penalty started, penalty killers and childhood friends David Kampf and Ondrej Kase broke down the ice on an odd-man rush and scored to ease the worry.
Eventually, the first line scored yet again on a beautiful goal where Bunting pulled off the same nifty pass Marner had done a week or so ago on Kampf’s short-handed goal. In the end, it was a win for the Blue and White, and one that would be memorable.
The game was completely fun to watch. Marner had six points on the night; Bunting had five points; but, Matthews only had four points.
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