I have to admit that I was looking forward to last night’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers. I’m certain the rest of Leafs Nation was as well. Not only were two of the best players in the NHL – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl coming to Toronto – but they brought with them a number of former Maple Leafs as well. These former Maple Leafs’ players included former fan favorites Zach Hyman and Jack Campbell (who backed up Stuart Skinner) and not-so-fan-favorite Cody Ceci.
No surprise, the game itself was a high-scoring affair. It also included a feverish comeback by the home team. In the end, the Maple Leafs came back from a 3-1 deficit to win 7-4 in front of a packed Scotiabank Arena. The game was far from perfect, but it was hugely exciting. It had to be worth the price of admission for fans.
The Maple Leafs got two goals from Noel Acciari and John Tavares, and one each from Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews.
Takeaway One: Mitch Marner Carried the Maple Leafs to This Win
Mitch Marner was the player of the game. When his team was trailing 3-1, he came up huge and scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen him score. He intercepted an untimely pass from Ryan McLeod right in front of the Oilers’ net. Then he swirled from back to front, moved from backhand to forehand, and faked Skinner completely out.
It was Marner’s 24th goal of the season, and it absolutely kick-started the Maple Leafs’ comeback. He wasn’t even finished. He stole another puck, this time off Nick Bjugstad, and fed teammate William Nylander perfectly. It was Nylander’s 34th goal of the season and tied the game 3-3.
Marner wasn’t even through then. He kept making dazzling play after dazzling play. He also set up John Tavares for the 5-3 goal, earning his third point of the final seven minutes of the middle period. On the night, Marner scored a goal and added three assists. He simply seems to be running the offensive show for the Maple Leafs. In my mind, he took over this game at the exact time his team needed him to.
Takeaway Two: The Maple Leafs’ Fourth Line Played Great All Night
The Maple Leafs’ fourth line was nothing less than amazing. They deserve any recognition they got for their performance in this game. In the first period alone, although they didn’t play a ton of minutes, they were all over the Oilers in their defensive end. This kind of play has to be exactly what general manager Kyle Dubas envisioned when he tried to build a solid fourth line during the offseason.
This line of Zach Aston-Reese, David Kampf, and Noel Acciari doesn’t play many minutes, but they can take over a game. Acciari scored the first and the last Maple Leafs’ goal of the game. He also led his team with five hits. Kampf and ZAR played solid defense. Their strong start to the game was a key factor in the Leafs’ win.
Acciari has fit in perfectly since being acquired from the St. Louis Blues. He seems to have built instant chemistry with both Kampf and ZAR on the fourth line. Tonight the Maple Leafs benefitted from the depth and contributions of all four lines. But the strong play of their fourth line was one of the keys.
Takeaway Three: Auston Matthews Had a Goal and an Assist in the Win
Although it seemed at the start of the game that Auston Matthews was going to take a back seat to Connor McDavid, in the end, he came through to help carry the game. He was a big part of the comeback and scored a goal and added an assist. With this goal, Matthews reached 30 goals for the season. It’s his seventh season and the seventh consecutive 30-plus goal season he’s had. Every season so far – 30 goals!
If he scores 30 goals or more next season, he’ll match Pat LaFontaine’s record of eight for the most consecutive 30-goal seasons by a United States-born player. He’d also match Darryl Sittler’s record for the most seasons in a row with 30 goals in Maple Leafs’ history.
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