Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs had the lead until less than a minute was left in regulation time. Then the Florida Panthers came to win the game in overtime by a score of 3-2.
This is such a unique time of the season. First, it’s pretty clear that the Maple Leafs will hang onto second place in the Atlantic Division and have the home advantage for the playoffs. Second, the goal is not so much to win but to ready the team for the postseason.
Takeaway One: Three Positives in the Maple Leafs’ Loss
As a result of the context, I’m going to list three positives to take out of the game. The loss is a loss, and the single point helped. Here are three things that Maple Leafs’ fans should be happy about, even though their team lost:
First, Ilya Samsonov came back after the birth of his first child (a son) and his performance in the net was solid.
Second, Auston Matthews looked like a Hart Trophy winner once again. He actually seemed to play better as the game went on.
Third, a new defensive pairing is showing promise – night after night. We have all seen the emergence of the Jake McCabe & TJ Brodie defensive pairing. Right now, they are the Maple Leafs’ number-one defensive pairing. That twosome had another strong outing.
Takeaway Two: Zach Aston-Reese Is Playing Great Hockey
Zach Aston-Reese (ZAR), who’s new to the Maple Leafs this season, has been playing exceptionally well in recent games. Last night, he scored a goal, had five shots on goal, and delivered three hits. Even better, he accomplished all this activity in just over eight minutes of ice time.
ZAR’s performance is not an anomaly. He’s been consistently playing his best hockey of the season lately. He has scored eight goals this season; and, although he’s currently playing on the fourth line, that’s just fine. He helps make that line a deal with the postseason coming up.
Takeaway Three: Maple Leafs New First Line Continues to Play Well
The Calle Jarnkrok-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner threesome is clicking. The three players are building chemistry. Jarnkrok’s been a pleasant surprise since joining the team. That’s especially true since he’s been on the team’s top line.
Jarnkrok’s combination of two-way play, combined with Matthews’ scoring ability, and combined with Marner’s playmaking skills make for a formidable line. This like has proven to be difficult for opposing teams to defend.
Keefe’s line juggling has allowed different players to get a chance to play with Matthews and Marner. As a result, he’s discovered Jarnkrok’s fit with the top line. Because it’s important for the team’s success to have depth scoring, the potential pairing of Michael Bunting and Ryan O’Reilly could provide that.
If the Maple Leafs (a) continue to utilize their depth and (b) continue to build chemistry, they have a solid chance to experience playoff success. The Jarnkrok-Matthews-Marner line has shown it can be a dominant force. Now, how will they play with the postseason comes?
Takeaway Four: Auston Matthews Is Putting It All Together for the Playoffs
Auston Matthews had another strong performance last night. He scored his 37th goal of the season and extended his point streak to seven games. Mitch Marner also had a solid game, extending his point streak to 11 games. The Maple Leafs’ two top players are actually beginning to play better. Matthews looks to have found his top form as the playoffs approach.
Really, when Maple Leafs’ fans think about it, there’s little surprise that Matthews and Marner are playing so well. They’re two of the NHL’s most talented players. Matthews is a prolific goal scorer with a lethal shot, and Marner is an elite playmaker who can make magic happen with the puck on his stick.
Both players have been hot recently. Matthews has registered six goals and five assists in his last seven games. Marner has recorded points in 11 straight games. One reason they have such success is because, together, they have great on-ice chemistry. Certainly, they each have individual skills. However, they also seem able to read each other’s movements and anticipate where the other will be on the ice.
If Toronto is going to push far into the playoffs, Matthews and Marner will be two players who’ll be counted upon to do much of the heavy lifting. Their offensive production is the key to the team’s success.
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