Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs’ depth carries team in Vegas for sixth straight win

Photo credit:(Photo by Steven Ellis/The Leafs Nation
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
Auston Matthews has been getting a lot of the spotlight lately, which is great, but at some point, the spotlight gets to be a little too much. That’s why, tonight, he decided to tone things down a little by scoring only one goal.
The rest of the team, on the other hand, looked like the ‘96 Chicago Bulls. 
The Toronto Maple Leafs are going streaking, folks. And what better way to put a firm stamp on the notion that you’re serious about winning than by beating the reigning cup champions 7-3 in their own barn?
You would think that on a night like this, the usual suspects were all over the board. Perhaps a hat trick from Matthews, a trio of assists from Mitch Marner, maybe one or two goals from William Nylander. Instead, the goals came from the second line, the third line, the fourth line, and the shutdown defensive pairing. 
Not to be outdone by his fellow teammate competing for ice time in Bobby McMann, Pontus Holmberg had himself his best game of the season. All night, he was driving the play on a line that made the once-unplayable duo of Ryan Reaves and David Kampf look like pro bowlers. He scored an insurance goal in the second period (a filthy goal too, he always seems to get those) and assisted on Matthews’ modest 52nd goal in 55 games on the season. 
Also deserving of a shoutout is Max Domi, who’s given the Leafs’ middle six a spark they’ve desperately needed for a while. It took a bit for him to find his footing, starting off on the wing and eventually working his way into a heavily-sheltered third-line centre role, but lately, he’s been looking a lot like the guy the Leafs thought they were getting when they signed him in July. He added two goals tonight and his willingness to battle for his teammates and stand up for them when things get physical has been on full display over the past couple of games. While it took longer than some people probably hoped, it would appear as though Sheldon Keefe has found his optimal lines. 
Morgan Rielly’s return to the lineup was THE main headline heading into this game, but there’s not really much to say about his return. He didn’t necessarily look great alongside William Lagesson tonight, but it was a necessary price to pay in order to keep the other two defensive pairings together. The Simon Benoit-Jake McCabe unit has been a strong one since they started skating together, and two players who have had their ups and downs all season in Timothy Liljegren and T.J. Brodie have suddenly found their groove alongside each other. Probably best to assume your longest-tenured player can handle a little bit of time with a new partner until the trade deadline comes. 
Needless to say, the Leafs have been playing their most impressive brand of hockey over this stretch of games. Not just in the wins themselves, but the way they’re getting them. They’re scoring goals early and holding their leads, they’re standing up for each other when things get physical, and they’re tightening up their mistakes defensively. How far they can take this thing remains to be seen, but they’re not going to lose many games playing the way they did Thursday night.

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