The Toronto Maple Leafs came out of the gate humming and took an early 3-0 lead on the Columbus Blue Jackets on their way to a 5-4 victory. Auston Matthews, who’s absolutely on top of his game, scored two goals – one amazingly within seven seconds after another Maple Leafs’ goal – and defenseman Morgan Rielly totaled four assists for the game.
The Maple Leafs’ victory put a quick halt to the team’s two-game losing streak. Other than Matthews’ two goals, the other Toronto goal scorers were William Nylander and John Tavares (both on the power play). Finally; and, it’s been a long time coming, Nick Ritchie scored his first goal to celebrate his 27th game in a Blue and White uniform.
As far as goaltending goes, no surprise. Jack Campbell got another win. He’s now alone on top of the NHL leaderboard in goalie wins with 14. However, his goals-against-average took a hit when he gave up four against a pressing Blue Jackets team that scored two near the end of the game to make it look closer than it was – one with a second left in the game.
In this edition of Maple Leafs’ takeaways, I’ll share three takeaways on the game.
Takeaway One: Jason Spezza Gets Six Game Suspension
Jason Spezza was suspended six games on Tuesday for kneeing the Winnipeg Jets’ Neal Pionk during Sunday’s circus of a game. During his entire NHL career, which will land him one day in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the 38-year-old Spezza has never been suspended. I personally am surprised at the length of the suspension Spezza was assessed given that Pionk was only suspended for two games himself.
I had my rant during yesterday’s post about Auston Matthews’ surprise that Pierre-Luc Dubois was not tossed from the game after Matthews was jumped from behind. Surprisingly, both were assessed minor penalties – for some reason. So I won’t say much more. Spezza will be able to return to the Maple Leafs’ lineup on December 19 for the Seattle Kraken game.
Takeaway Two: The Call-Up Kids Looked Good
In last night’s game, two Maple Leafs’ prospects – Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins – made their NHL debuts. Both played well.
Steeves played just over eight minutes in a bottom-six role. He showed speed and worked really hard all game long all over the ice. Rubins plays what’s been called an “uneventful” game. That means he’s solid on defense but doesn’t have a lot of offensive upside. However, Rubins actually showed more offense than I expected. He put three shots on the net from the point and played more than 13 minutes of TOI.
After the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe reported that he was especially pleased with both of their play. He was especially impressed with the confidence they showed with the puck. He believed Steeves’ play got better as the game progressed.
Takeaway Three: Auston Matthews Is Speeding Toward the Top of NHL Goals
What can Maple Leafs’ fans say about Auston Matthews? He started the season so slowly that I had all but given up hope he’d come close to leading the NHL in goals this season. On top of that, combined with coach Keefe’s desire to play and win 1-0 games (a focus on defense over offense) this season, I simply thought the situation would not allow Matthews a chance to score at the same clip he had previously.
How things change. Matthews collected three points during last night’s game, scoring two goals and adding an assist. He’s now incredibly scored in seven straight games. This was also the fourth time in the seven games he’s registered more than a single point. He’s now scored 17 goals and added 11 assists (for 28 points) in 24 games played.
He’s been playing amazing hockey.
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