Monday, November 20, 2017
The Toronto Maple Leafs entered Monday night with a six-game winning streak on the line — and the league’s worst team in town for a visit.
Arizona recently notched their first win in regulation time and was riding a two-game win streak of their own upon arrival in Toronto. Many believed it would be a perfect opportunity for the Buds to make it seven in-a-row.
Auston Matthews made his return to the lineup in a big way this past Saturday, posting two goals in a 6-0 Leafs victory. It would mark his 100th career NHL game on Monday, entering the night with 90 points in 99 regular season games.
Matthews wouldn’t be the only prolific American goal-scorer in the lineup, as 19-year-old Clayton Keller has quickly taken the league by storm and is an early favourite for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Coming in with 11 goals and 9 assists for 20 points in 23 games, it’s pretty easy to make a case for him. That’s only one goal less than Matthews himself.
Following a brief tease of Auston Matthews paired on a line with Mitch Marner towards the end of Saturday’s 6-0 blowout victory over Montreal, Mike Babcock was back to his original set of lines.
Although I can agree with his stance, the evidence of chemistry between Marner and Matthews was undeniable in Montreal. If need be, he can always revert to the blended lines if things don’t go according to plan.
It didn’t go according to plan.
Toronto struggled out of the gate and found themselves being outshot 10-8 in the frame. Rest assured, they were heavily outplayed in the early going and fell victim to a 1-0 deficit after 20 minutes.
Brendan Perlini — who’s father, Fred, was selected 158th overall by the Maple Leafs in 1980, recorded his 5th goal of the season off of a feed from Derek Stepan and Clayton Keller.
Luckily for Toronto, Arizona’s Kevin Connauton fell victim to the penalty box just moments before heading into the locker room. It was small, but still a reason for optimism nonetheless.
In fact, the second period saw the Maple Leafs find an equalizer with that very power play just 0:33 seconds in.
Toronto entered the Coyotes zone with authority after obtaining possession of face-off. Mitch Marner’s initial shot was redirected on net by Nazem Kadri, allowing James van Riemsdyk to convert on the rebound down low and beat Antti Raanta.
This was the part where Toronto should’ve done their whole goal-scoring act, but instead played into the tragedy that is Arizona’s triumph over the Buds.
Arizona out-hustled the Maple Leafs as time went on and would be rewarded with a late strike as a result. Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored on the power-play with a point shot to restore his team’s one-goal lead — Clayton Keller and Max Domi each drew assists.
Leafs Nation held out for a late third-period comeback but to no avail. Instead, Toronto fans were treated to heartbreak as Auston Matthews’ game-tying goal was called back in the final minutes of regulation time.
Despite being called a good goal on the ice, Zach Hyman appeared to impede Raanta’s positioning in the crease — although it appeared he briefly re-set himself prior to the shot. It was not a popularly received decision inside of the Air Canada Centre.
Max Domi and Tobias Reider would each go on to add empty-net tallies en route to a 4-1 final score.
It should not be cause for concern, but losing to the league’s worst team is surely disappointing. Maybe Babcock should revisit those line-combinations… Or perhaps he remains stubborn to the idea.
Who knows. Just remember;
“When you get to coach the team, you get to do what you want; when I’m coaching, I’m going to do what I want,” - Mike Babcock.
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E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca
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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs