Coming off a three-game road trip with a record of 1-2 and meeting a team that had won four games in a row, it was tough to know just what last night’s game was going to be. What happened was that the Toronto Maple Leafs made it a statement game, winning 4-1 over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins had the Maple Leafs’ number all season, first winning by a score of 7-1 in the Maple Leafs’ worst game of the season. Then, the Penguins shut out the Maple Leafs 2-0 in the last game the two teams played against each other. Last night was very different.
A Focus on the Four Goals as Representing the Maple Leafs’ Story
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ takeaways, I’ll take a look at the four goals the Maple Leafs scored during the game. To me, each goal seems representative of how the Maple Leafs as a team have matured into one of the best teams in the NHL.
While I know that it will be hard for many long-time Maple Leafs’ fans to come to believe in any team until they win the Stanley Cup, the goals the team scored are perfect as examples of the team that’s been built this season. I’ll use the nature of each goal the Maple Leafs scored to tell a story about the Maple Leafs’ success.
Takeaway One: Auston Matthews Is Determined This Season to Lead the Team
The first goal was a breakaway by Auston Matthews. Matthews was given a great pass from T.J. Brodie that put him in alone on the goal; and, with his quick hands went quickly from backhand to forehand quickly and slapped the puck past the Penguins’ goalie.
When the Maple Leafs’ season started, Matthews didn’t start with the team. He was nursing a surgically repaired hand. He missed a few games and then both he and the team started slowly. At one point in the early part of the season, many Maple Leafs’ fans had given up hope that Matthews could win the Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in goal scoring. That’s now changed and Matthews is tied for the NHL’s lead with 33 goals.
Takeaway Two: Morgan Rielly Has Been Playing Lights Out Since His New Contract
The second goal was a beautiful end-to-end, power-play goal scored by Morgan Rielly. Rielly took advantage of the Penguins’ propensity to watch for and defend the drop pass. Instead, he simply skated through the entire Penguins penalty-kill unit and rifled a beautiful shot past the goalie.
Rielly has been a new player this season since the team showed its confidence in him by rewarding him with a contract extension. He has been playing better than he has since his 2018-19 season when he scored 72 points in 82 games. Rielly has a chance to hit 80 points this season.
Takeaway Three: Newcomer David Kampf Is a Defensive Nightmare for Opponents
The third goal was scored on a penalty kill when David Kampf pressured a bad pass that Rielly picked up. Kampf joined the two-on-one and eventually faked it past a sprawling goalie. It was Kampf’s second short-handed goal in as many games.
Kampf has been one of the Maple Leafs’ best pickups of the offseason. He’s a shutdown defensive third-line center, penalty-killer, and faceoff maestro who helps give the team the defense it’s always wanted. For someone with only a single goal last season, he can score and now has seven goals on the season. No one expected that.
Takeaway Four: Rookie of the Year Candidate Michael Bunting Has Added to the Team’s First Line
The fourth goal was scored by the rookie newcomer to the first line Michael Bunting; however, both Matthews and Mitch Marner had assists on the goal. It was a quick fake and shoot by Bunting as he crossed the crease. Bunting not only knows his place on this line, but he adds a scoring threat to complement Matthews and Marner. It’s turned into a great line for the team.
Bunting’s game seems simple. Keep up to the big stars, go to the net with your stick on the ice, and use quick hands to score in close. Last night’s goal wasn’t one of Bunting’s typical strikes from the middle of the chaos of bodies in front of the net because he was coming in alone. Still, it was Bunting’s quick hands and deft stick that scored the goal.
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