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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs Postgame: Matthews, Nylander cash out in huge win

After a massive win against Columbus, the Leafs were at home for the second game of a back-to-back against the New Jersey Devils. Exciting is not often a word associated with New Jersey, however, this affair definitely had its moments.

This was a big game, especially with Boston and Tampa squaring off as well. Toronto carried the play and came away with a much-deserved win, while Tampa beat Boston, which is both good and bad, depending on which way you look at it.

Regardless, Toronto is now three points up on Boston for third in the Atlantic, with a game in hand to boot. Here’s what happened in Toronto’s 4-2 victory over New Jersey.

THE RUNDOWN

It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. This couldn’t have been more accurate when describing Toronto’s first period, as things got off to a rocky start.

Curtis McElhinney got the nod for the Buds, and while he’s been great since joining the team, allowing this to happen on the very first shot against wasn’t ideal.

Luckily, McElhinney seemed to settle down after allowing the goal, making a number key saves that allowed Toronto to get back in the game.

Just a few minutes later, who else but Josh Leivo tied it up.

This was an important goal for a few different reasons.

First of all, this was Leivo’s ninth point in his last 10 games, despite the fact that he sparingly draws into the lineup. All the guy does is produce, and he absolutely deserves a full-time role on this team. Second, after enduring a seven-game pointless streak, Matthews’ first of two assists in the period gave him five points over his last four games, which is extremely encouraging.

Lastly, this was a big assist for Nylander. Not only did he break a team rookie record with his 10th straight game with a point, but he earned an extra $212,500 for notching his 35th assist. Not bad, huh?

Nylander and Matthews weren’t done there, though. This Willy snipe gave Toronto a 2-1 lead.

Do you want to feel even worse about your current financial situation? On this goal, Matthews maxed out his ‘Schedule A’ bonuses, hitting 60 points, guaranteeing he’ll finish the season scoring at a clip of at least 0.73 points-per-game. He’ll make an extra $850,000 this season, and also tied Patrik Laine in the rookie scoring race.

Toronto carried a 2-1 lead into the second, where early on, it was another rookie, Mitch Marner, making things happen.

Again, this was a significant goal for two reasons.

  1. With the assist, Mitch Marner tied the Leafs’s team rookie record for assists in a season with his 40th helper. This is a record that has stood since Gus Bodnar also collected 40 in 1943-44.
  2. With the assist, Tyler Bozak finally, yes, finally reaches the 50-point mark for the first time in his career. Kanon will be so proud!

From that point on, it was relatively smooth sailing. New Jersey added a goal halfway through the third, which made things interesting. Maybe the early-season Leafs would have let this game slip away. These Leafs didn’t.

THE STATS

Toronto essentially dominated this game from start to finish.

Toronto finished this game with 60% possession at 5v5, which has to be one of their highest marks of the season. You’ll see the flurry of New Jersey shots near the end of the game, which the Leafs were able to survive. Again, they bent but didn’t break, which is a fantastic trait for a team that’s growing right before our eyes.

As you can see, everyone was pretty much a positive, aside from an off night from the fourth line. Kadri continues to be an absolute beast.

BLUE WARRIOR

Tonight’s Blue Warrior could go to a number of players, but I think Curtis McElhinney really deserves it.

Listen, the guy has been, by and large, a bad NHL goaltender throughout his career. Since arriving in Toronto, though, he’s been anything but. His .921 SV% entering tonight’s contest is more than adequate for a backup, and there’s no doubt Babcock loves having a veteran goalie who knows his role backing up the clear number one.

McElhinney was fantastic against the Devils. He made 30 saves and picked up his fourth win as a Leaf. McElhinney’s SV% after this game is up around .924. Not bad for a waiver-wire pickup.

UP NEXT

The Leafs will take on the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday, which is a game that a seemingly playoff-bound team should win. Buffalo will be without Rasmus Ristolainen, which will work in, or against, Toronto’s favour, depending on who you ask.

The Bruins will also be playing Saturday night in a huge matchup against the Islanders. That’s one Leafs fans will want to keep an eye on. Tampa Bay will be in action on Friday, as they visit the Joe to face the Red Wings.

  • Drapes55

    After watching the past two games and seeing how well Fehr and Leivo played when given a chance I started to wonder if there was maybe a small line up change that could be made. Connor Brown is a good player, don’t get me wrong but I was thinking, how does everyone feel if Babcock were to replace Brown with Leivo and Sosh with Fehr? I know Brown and Sosh kill penalties and work their asses off every shift but Brown has had tons of chances the past few games but just doesn’t have the hands to finish, whereas Leivo brings both size and finish to an already good Kadri line. As for Sosh, he just doesn’t seem to fit the fourth line type for me. Fehr to me is a better fit on the fourth line and he can take Brown and Sosh’s spot on the PK. Just a thought I had and wanted some feedback from other fans. Also great back to back for the Leafs. Much needed and deserved 4 points for the boys in blue. Let’s ride this all the way to the post season boys!!!

    • Gary Empey

      The team is playing great. Why make two changes at this point? Eric Fehr also has a hand injury. No one seems to know how serious it is. Leivo is great on the powerplay. He is not suited to play the fourth line. Perhaps as you suggest there could be an argument for having him replace Brown. Personally I think Babcock values Brown overall contribution more than Leivo’s. Brown does have 17 goals so far this year……

      • DukesRocks

        I would actually put Leivo with Mathews and Nylander and move Hyman to the 4th line. In my opinion an argument can be made for Leivo being better than both Hyman and Brown.

          • Gary Empey

            Having an effective forechecker on every line can produce a 30 goal scorer(Matthews). Komarov (Kadri) We don’t yet have one on the JVR-Bozak-Marner line, though Marner is attempting to fill that role. Effective forechecking leads to stopping set breakout plays, forcing the opposition to do it on the fly. This leads to many defensive errors that the other two guys on the line will take advantage of.
            It is a role you don’t get many accolades from the fans for, but a role Babcock sees as one of the best ways to win games consistently. It is likely true you would get more goals out of Leivo than Hyman. I suspect the production of Matthews and Nylander would suffer. Not to mention their ability to stop the other teams scoring as well. Just my opinion from trying to figure out why Babcock is considered one of the best coaches in the world.

        • Capt.jay

          I think it has to with Hyman being somewhat effective with Matthews whereas he wouldn’t be anywhere else in the line up. Leivo on the other hand is effective whereever he plays so the Leafs are better with Hyman where he is for the sake of depth.

          On another topic. I owe someone on here an apology. I believed the Leafs would great in a year but didn’t think they would be this good so soon. I stand happily wrong on this one. Cheers

          • Stan Smith

            Leivo has scored at an exceptional pace for the number of games he has played this season, but it’s not always about scoring. There has to be a reason why the players mentioned, as well as Soshnikov all play ahead of Leivo.

          • Gary Empey

            Apology accepted……LOL….Actually Capt. Jay I think you were in the majority here. Folks (not management) were concerned about our goaltending situation. Lou Lamoriello “We have no doubts on Frederik Andersen”. Most felt as Babcock recently stated ” I wasn’t sure Marner would make the team this year”. There were many doubters regarding Nikita Zaitsev’s ability to play a top four role in the NHL. While we all hoped Matthews would be our #1 center for the future, even Babcock felt it would be best to start him in a sheltered 3rd line spot and let him slowly adjust to the NHL. I don’t think anyone realized how Hyman and Brown would blossom into tenacious defensive forwards. Nobody was predicting Kadri would score over 30 goals this year.

      • Drapes55

        I only suggested making the changes because they appeared to make the team overall a better and harder teamto play against on the ice. It’s unfortunate that Fehr maybe out for the rest of the season because I think he played a very good game in Columbus and gave the team a boost with his physical play and had work. Fehr, to me, fits the fourth line better compared to Soshnikov or Leivo in my opinion. Most nights I find that Soshnikov looks like the odd man out there on the fourth line, not saying hes a bad player, because he’s not, but he slots in as a third line winger in my opinion because he has such a great shot and has some offensive ability.

      • Stan Smith

        “Brown has had tons of chances the past few games but just doesn’t have the hands to finish”. I personally think Brown is fine where he is precisely because he is getting putting himself in a position to get those chances. As for his hands, he has scored at every level he has played, and could easily finish the season with 20 goals, which is no slouch in the scoring department.

      • Gary Empey

        If he is done for the season then it could effect the expansion draft. Injured players can not be exposed. I am not sure if they have to be in Horton’s and Lupul’s category.

  • FlareKnight

    The thing with McElhinney is…he got the job done. It didn’t look pretty. But that doesn’t matter when you win. It was shaky at times for him, but he battled through it. Good on him.

    Great performance by the young guys once again. Awesome goal by Nylander, good effort and points by Matthews, Leivo was great, and love that absolutely intentional shot off the pads by Marner to JVR.

    What a performance after the ugly California trip and that game against Florida. They are playing like a team with focus and determination.

    Go Leafs Go!

  • DukesRocks

    No let down… during the final period I felt confident (for a change) the Leafs were taking this game home. Even though they were down 2 players on the PK and up one for most of the 3rd. Babs has done a good job cleaning up the mistakes after the west coast trips. The addition of Boyle allows the Leafs to play bigger and braver. The last 5 games the Leafs have gone head to head with some of the NHL’s best. I hope Babs just sticks with Leivo the rest of the way.

    On a separate note, the Toronto media are some of the most annoying to listen to or read. During the 2nd period intermission, you have Kipper and the bonehead Doug Maclean commenting on Nylander accidently running the goalie. Maclean making comments like “how do you let Nylander get away with that with no retaliation”. Maclean basically calling the Devils a bunch of pussies. The Devils are down 3-1 and Maclean is here giving the enemy ammunition to fight. News flash Maclean, the visiting teams do have access to your feed. Is it any wonder Kadri needs to get cracked over the head these days to draw a penalty, thanks to the fuked up, idiotic media and their BS opinions. The microscope the media puts the Leafs under is a detriment to the team.

  • lukewarmwater

    Uh Evan what did you think of Connor Brown’s fine goal that made the final score 4 TO 2. Connor I think would be disappointed that you suggested the final score was 3 to 2. Just saying.
    Another solid leaf win with Curtis coming up big after a first shot bad goal. What can you say about the high flying Nylander and that wicked shot of his. Matthews two more assists, playing solid 200 feet hockey. The leafs performing like a playoff team, taking no prisoners and throwing out bone crushing checks. It was hilarious watching the gigantic Boyle toying with his opponent in the third period brawl.
    Leafs moving away from the Bruins who are back to their normal level and closing in on Ottawa and Montreal which has been under 500 for close to 40 games now as Price has another bad game.
    Watching the Habs puts one to sleep as they play that dull European soccer scoring type of game getting one or two goals , while the leafs play exciting, entertaining fire wagon hockey with their outstanding young rookies. Way to go leafs keep it going. Go leafs Go.

  • Glen

    And the beat goes on, no time to relax, just keep it going. Just wondering how many teams have hit the jackpot in the draft three yrs in a row like the Leafs have with Nylander, Marner and Matthews? GLG

    • The Russian Rocket

      Some close ones for consecutive drafts:
      PITT: Crosby (1), Malkin (2), Fleury (1)
      EDM – McDavid (1), Draisaitl (3), Nurse (7)
      CHI: Toews (3), Kane (1), Ben Smith (169)

      PITT might actually take the cake but it’s hard to compare a goalie. I think the real win was Ben Smith at 169th for Chicago after the Kane draft.