The Tampa Bay Lightning came into town to play the Toronto Maple Leafs sporting a five-game winning streak. They left with their tails between their legs and their coach John Cooper admonishing them for not showing up.
The final score was 4-1; and, while the Maple Leafs scored two empty-net goals at the end, the final score didn’t lie.
Oddly, it was a tight game that the Maple Leafs dominated but didn’t overwhelm on the scoreboard. Except for a short time during the third period, the Maple Leafs kept the Lightning from mounting much of any offense.
In fact, after the Lightning’s goal in the third period, the game might have taken a twist toward Tampa Bay. But, if anything, the Maple Leafs pushed back harder than they were pushed.
The Maple Leafs dominated the game defensively and piled shots on Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. In the end, the Lighting goalie had made 36 saves on 38 shots. For the Maple Leafs, the game might have been as complete a win as they’ve had during the season.
Interesting that two of the best games the season have been against the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, both Atlantic Division foes.
Takeaway One: Solid Defense on Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs only gave up eight shots during the first two periods. For Tampa Bay, their 19 shots on Matt Murray were the fewest shots their team has had all season. The Maple Leafs played a smart, intelligent game. Few scoring chances were generated throughout the game.
The Maple Leafs outplayed the Lightning all game long. When the Lightning saw they’d have to get more physical, that didn’t intimidate the Maple Leafs. The team kept its composure and played whichever way the Lightning wanted as if it didn’t matter what the Lightning did.
Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Malgin Trade, Liljegren & Timmins
Takeaway Two: The Bottom-Six Units Looked Great
The bottom six didn’t add much scoring, but the group played well all night. Zach Aston-Reese played with energy. Alex Kerfoot and David Kampf played as solid a game as they’ve had on the season. Pierre Engvall also played well. It might be the best he’s played in his career with the Maple Leafs.
The third line is gaining a bit of an identity. They’re playing well and also adding a bit of scoring. Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that he threw Pontus Holmberg into the whenever the fourth line’s time came up. Even when the going was tough, that line played well.
Related: William Nylander Could Be Too Costly for Maple Leafs to Re-Sign
Takeaway Three: The Injuries to the Maple Leafs’ Defense Keep Piling Up
The Maple Leafs Rasmus Sandin was injured and it wasn’t clear how. We’re also not yet sure what the extent of the injury might be. After the game, coach Keefe said he was being held out as a precaution. That sounds as if it might be minor.
Conor Timmins, who was supposed to be a fill-in, has turned out to be more than that. He’s playing serious minutes and in serious situations. Timmins is playing well and has been a bright spot for the team.
But the injury situation is once again piling up for the Maple Leafs. Fortunately, Jordie Benn seems ready to return if the team needs him. That the team has held their game together with so many injuries on the blue line is one of the positive points of the season that has shaped the team’s continuing success.
Takeaway Four: Michael Bunting Had an Amazing Game
Michael Bunting was his old pesky self tonight. He scored a goal and got into the mix all night long. Bunting’s goal was the 100th point of his NHL career. After being moved down into a bottom-six role for a while, he’s now back on the team’s first line and is playing well. He adds a bit of bite to the line and is also on a scoring run.
On the season, Bunting has scored eight goals and added 15 assists (for 23 points) in 33 games. He’s starting to play well in a contract season.
Related: MAPLE LEAFS MOVE MALGIN FOR HUNT: WHAT DO WE KNOW RIGHT NOW?
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December 21, 2022 at 6:19 am
The Leafs did dominate in the territorial part of the game, but I thought on several occasions they were snake bit when it came to actual goals. On the tilting of the ice the Leafs being on average 11lbs lighter and 2″ shorter than the Lightning, they were hounding the Lightning all night and the Lightning could not intimidate them. Maybe the best all around effort by this team all season.
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