Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Knee Jerk Reaction: Knies and Domi spark the Leafs to blowout win over the Penguins
By Nick Richard2 months ago
Saturday’s contest between the Maple Leafs and Penguins marked the homecoming of former Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, but his old squad made sure it was an unceremonious return. Though they were without Auston Matthews and TJ Brodie, who were too sick to play, the Leafs came out hot and never looked back, hammering the Pens by a score of 7-0.
After missing the last two games with a flu bug that has ravaged the team, Matt Knies returned with a vengeance and set the tone for the Leafs in short order. On his first shift of the game, Knies took a crisp neutral zone feed from Max Domi and powered his way to the net before tucking a backhand shot into the top part of the net to open the scoring less than two minutes into the opening frame. Knies, and Domi, for that matter, were just getting started.
Knies earned a reputation for being a physical player on his way to the NHL, and that part of his game has started to shine through at the pro level in recent weeks. He has been one of the team’s leaders in the hit category, looking increasingly confident using his size and strength to separate opposing players from the puck and impose his will. That confidence was evident when he rushed to defend Domi, who was taken down along the boards, dropping the gloves with John Ludvig for the first fight of his NHL career. The scrap was just the beginning of a chippy affair that saw its fair share of post-whistle scrums, and the Leafs held their ground throughout the contest.
Domi and Knies teamed up again early in the second period, with Knies corralling a difficult pass before sending Domi in alone for his second goal of the season to put the Leafs up 4-0. With the assist, the rookie forward secured the first “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” of his career, and the goal was Domi’s third point of the night.
Any time a team wins by seven goals, it is a full team effort, and the Leafs got contributions from all over the lineup. Tyler Bertuzzi had three assists, Mitch Marner and William Nylander each had a goal and an assist, Bobby McMann notched the first goal of his NHL career, and Martin Jones stopped 38 shots to earn the shutout, but Knies and Domi were the catalysts from the outset.
Domi slotted in nicely for Matthews on Saturday, but he has been something of an imperfect fit in the Leafs’ lineup, shifting to centre after starting the season on the wing. He doesn’t offer the defensive utility teams crave at the third line centre position, but he has helped generate significantly more than he has given up so far this season. Though he’s seen limited ice time and had trouble finding the back of the net himself, he came into Saturday’s contest with the fifth-most assists on the team. With three more points against the Penguins, Domi is now on pace for 50 points this season – pretty good for a third line centre. Yes, the defensive warts are there, and it influences how Sheldon Keefe will be able to utilize him on a game-to-game basis, but he has proven to be an important part of the Leafs’ offensive attack through the first two months of the season.
When the rest of the lineup is clicking and succeeding in their matchups, Domi’s line shouldn’t have to be relied upon to shoulder a heavy defensive load. The Matthews line will inherently face tough matchups and Keefe trusts them against anyone, David Kämpf and his linemates are routinely saddled with defensive zone starts, and John Tavares can be relied upon to take key faceoffs as well.
It might not have been their plan to start the season, and it took a while for Keefe to give it a look, but the Leafs appear to have stumbled upon something with a Domi-led scoring third line. The big guns have been getting it done more often than not this season, but Saturday’s blowout win offered a glimpse at just how dangerous the Leafs can be when they’re getting contributions from all over the lineup.
Statistics from NHL.com
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