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Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs come out of afternoon matinee with fourth straight win

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Photo credit:Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
This morning, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe had no idea what his roster would look like ahead of his team’s 12:00 local time puckdrop against the St. Louis Blues. It was only six days ago the Leafs banded together and played arguably their tightest game of the season despite being down the services of Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner, and with the entire team still seemingly battling some sort of bug in the dressing room, they mustered yet another strong defensive performance and swept their season series against the Blues, 4-2. 
Lately, it’s been two guys in a catfight for the spotlight between Auston Matthews and Bobby McMann. The former is reaching unheard-of levels of goal scoring not just for himself or his team, but for the league, and the latter is on his own torrid stretch of finding the back of the net. Each player contributed one apiece, with Matthews coming off his second hat trick in as many games and McMann scoring his sixth goal in four games following his first NHL hat trick last week against the Blues. It was an empty netter, yes, but the hustle on it deserves some more credit than what you’d typically get for that.
With William Lagesson still hurting, the Leafs were forced to use their 11th defenceman of the season with the call-up and subsequent debut of Marshall Rifai. The 25-year-old undrafted signing has played in 34 games with the Toronto Marlies this year, scoring two goals and adding 11 points. Stable defensive play and physicality have long been the moneymaker for the Harvard product, and he provided just that in his debut. I didn’t hear his name once on the broadcast, which is usually the best thing you can ask for if you’re a rookie defenceman playing in your first NHL game.
The Leafs are 8-2-0 in their last ten games, and dare I say they look like a team on the brink of going on a bit of a run ever since that game against the Ottawa Senators a week and change ago. They’re not taking anything from their opponents, they’re getting contributions from all around the lineup despite the work Matthews continues to put in, and most importantly, they’ve been limiting garbage goals against and getting valiant efforts from the crease to keep them in games. 
They’ve got a pretty tough stretch ahead, visiting the Arizona Coyotes (who have always and will always give them fits when they play), Vegas Golden Knights, and Colorado Avalanche on the road. That said, their effort over the past four games is a good indicator that this team can dominate any team on any given night if they’re all bought in. We’ll see if they’re up to the task.

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