Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs won a game they should have won; and, they won it decisively – as they should have. That might seem a bit disrespectful, but it’s accurate I believe.
The score for the game was 5-2 Maple Leafs over the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are a good young team with some elite players, but they’re not there yet. The Maple Leafs might be. At least, they are playing better and better as the season progresses. The team’s record is 6-1-2 in their last nine and 10-5-4 overall.
Of the five Maple Leafs goals, two were scored on the power play. Two were scored in 5-on-5 play. And, one goal was scored shorthanded. That’s pretty balanced.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ takeaways, I’ll take a look at the victory and suggest what I believe are the key takeaways from the win.
Takeaway One: The Core Four Really Were Last Night
The team’s Core Four were strong and put up the scoring. The first line started out with Auston Matthews playing with William Nylander, but it quickly reverted to Matthews playing with Mitch Marner. Together Matthews and Marnew registered three assists. That said, both Matthews and Marner contributed as defensive players. That might be the twosome’s biggest contribution on the night.
John Tavares and William Nylander were reunited and they took over the offensive production. Nylander scored a couple of goals, and Tavares scored a goal and two assists. On the season now, Marner leads the team with 22 points; Tavares is right behind with 21 points; and, Matthews and Nylander both have 20 points. That’s good production.
Takeaway Two: Matt Murray Has Been Great Three Straight Games
I can predict what Maple Leafs’ fans are going to say now. When Matt Murray was first traded to the team, fans reacted negatively. He was seen as a washup whose best days were far behind him. The team scraped the bottom of the barrel. He wasted salary-cap space. He was too expensive.
Murray was simply outstanding for the third game in a row and generated confidence on the bench with his solid saves. Here’s what will happen now, I promise. Some Maple Leafs fans will remain negative, but they will change the narrative. Now it’s going to be something like “Well, he’s OK now. But how long before he’ll be injured again?”
The fact is that Murray might be injured again. Ilya Samsonov, who didn’t have a history of injuries, is injured, too. Injuries happen, and fans might be correct.
But, it’s tough to ignore the facts of the game. Murray played really well. He moved well from side to side. He tracks the puck well. He looks focused. Right now, he’s a great goalie and he’s giving his team a chance to win each game he plays.
The shots on the net favored the Sabres by 34-24. Murray made the saves he needed to make. In fact, if anything he’s playing far better than the statistics suggest. At least on one goal, he never had a chance because it was deflected and moved too quickly to save – not his fault.
Bottom line is that Murray’s been better than expected.
Takeaway Three: Mitch Marner Is Back to Being Himself
Mitch Marner now has three goals and 14 assists (for 17 points) during his 13-game point-scoring streak. That’s the NHL’s longest this season. After the game, both his head coach and his goalie had strong accolades for his play.
Sheldon Keefe shared that Marner is “making an impact in the game in so many ways, finding a way to contribute to our team whether it’s a big goal or finding ways to contribute offensively to help our team score goals, defending, penalty kill. He’s doing a lot of things that are helping our team win.”
Goalie Matt Murray noted, ”His hockey sense is just off the charts. He’s unbelievable.”
Marner noted that he was just ”trying to buzz out there, trying to be the best I can be. Lucky enough to have some great people to put some pucks in the net and find me in spots where I can do the same.”
By the way, as I noted earlier, Marner had a strong defensive game as well.
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