After the Toronto Maple Leafs were beaten by the Columbus Blue Jackets in their game earlier this week, something happened that had not taken place in a long time this season. The Maple Leafs dropped from second place in the Atlantic Division to third place. None other than the Tampa Bay Lightning jumped up to take their place.
Perhaps that motivated the team because it didn’t take long before they put up a score. William Nylander opened the scoring after just nine seconds into the game. Then within a minute, they allowed the Blackhawks to tie the game quickly. However, that was about as close as it came and the Maple Leafs took over to skate to a 5-2 home-ice win.
In this post, I’ll take a look at three takeaways from the game. BTW, the Maple Leafs are back in second place.
Takeaway One: Auston Matthews Makes an Immediate Difference
Auston Matthews, who had been out with a knee injury, returned to play against the Blackhawks last night. Matthews had been playing well prior to his injury suffered on January 25, scoring five goals and adding an assist in the six games. Even after missing three weeks (fortunately, the All-Star break came at a good time), he didn’t miss a beat as he took his regular place on the top line and on the No. 1 power-play unit.
Matthews scored his 26th goal of the season on an assist from Nylander. He performed at a high level even after being out for several games due to his knee strain. It was nice to see him back on the ice.
As I had written on my other hockey site (Old Prof Hockey), sometimes it’s nice to take a minute to appreciate how valuable a player Matthews is to this team. Even better, it’s reassuring to know that his knee looks fine. He played without any issues. Matthews’ return should be a boost for the Maple Leafs as they continue their regular season.
Takeaway Two: William Nylander Almost Sets Record for Franchise’s Fastest Goal
William Nylander had an impressive start to the game, scoring the fourth-fastest game-opening goal in Maple Leafs’ team history. That goal came just nine seconds into the game. The goal was just two seconds short of the franchise record, which is jointly held by Charlie Conacher and none other than teammate Mitch Marner. It was also a second slower than Ted Kennedy.
The goal was Nylander’s 30th of the season. It’s the third time he’s scored 30 in a season. His first time was in 2019-20 when he scored 31 (with 28 assists for 59 points). His second time was last season when he had a career season by scoring 34 goals (with 46 assists for 80 points). This season, he’s doing even better. After only 55 games, he already has 30 goals (with 34 assists for 64 points).
Nylander is nine points over a point-a-game average. With 27 games remaining, he only needs 17 points to have his best season ever. He could even bump up to 100 points if he goes on a bit of a run.
Takeaway Three: Conor Timmins Seems Able to Put Up Points
Connor Timmins was playing for the first time since January 27. He scored the second goal of his career on a one-timer on a nice feed from Matthews. That pushed the final score to 5-2 in the middle of the second period.
Timmins has shown an ability to contribute offensively from the blue line, despite being a relatively young defenseman. In 19 games played in the 2021-22 NHL season, he’s scored two goals and added 11 assists for a total of 13 points.
Although he’s been a healthy scratch for a few games, when he comes in he gives a solid output. He has good offensive instincts and is able to move the puck quickly and effectively. It will be interesting to see how his game continues to develop over time as he gains more experience in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs are counting on that development. They just extended his contract last week for two more seasons.
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