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Knee Jerk Reaction: Matthews and Nylander outscore Leafs’ problems again

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Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
2 months ago
The Maple Leafs narrowly defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime on Thursday night, and the game served as a microcosm of the Leafs’ season to this point. This one had it all: the slow start, plenty of self-inflicted wounds, and the Leafs’ big guns pulling two points out of the fire.
The Leafs had absolutely nothing going in the first period, and they fell behind on a shorthanded goal that was the result of poor decision-making from just about every Leaf on the ice. It had the makings of a long night as the Flyers outskated and outworked the Leafs at almost every turn in the opening frame, but as he has so many times in the past, Auston Matthews flipped the game on its ear in short order.
Like the rest of his team, Matthews struggled to generate any sort of sustained possession and managed the puck poorly in the first period, but he has proven time and time again that it only takes one opportunity for him to change the game, or in this case, three opportunities. Matthews brought the Leafs even just over halfway through the second period, taking a long feed from Mitch Marner before beating Samuel Ersson with a low wrister from the left circle. He gave the Leafs their first lead of the game just over three minutes later, hammering home a one-timer on the powerplay, and then completed the natural hat trick with another snipe from the slot before the middle frame came to an end.
In less than eight minutes of action, the game had gone from looking like one that could get away from the Leafs to Matthews and company being in the driver’s seat. It doesn’t happen as frequently in hockey as it does in some other sports like basketball or football, but sometimes elite talent still takes over, and it looked like Matthews was willing his team to victory almost singlehandedly.
Ilya Samsonov came up with some timely saves, and the Leafs continued to control the play for the first half of the third period, but they once again could not get out of their own way, allowing the Flyers to crawl their way back. The Leafs managed to kill off an offensive zone penalty by Noah Gregor, but the Flyers still had the Leafs on their heels when Matthew Knies made a soft play along the wall in the defensive zone that led to Garnet Hathaway making it 3-2.
Still in control of their own fate, Tyler Bertuzzi took yet another ill-advised penalty in the offensive zone, and the Leafs’ penalty kill unit finally cracked after killing 19 of their previous 20 chances. Travis Konecny pounced on a loose puck off a scramble in front of the Leafs’ net and made no mistake, tying the game with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Sheldon Keefe has been preaching accountability all season long, and he shortened his bench in the dying minutes to try and preserve at least a point, elevating Nick Robertson and Max Domi at the expense of Knies and Bertuzzi. Knies is still a rookie, and mistakes should be expected now and then, but Bertuzzi has cost the team too many times with unnecessary penalties, and he hasn’t been making up for it on the scoresheet.
With the game once again slipping away, the Leafs managed to settle things down and get to overtime, where the stars took over again. Matthews and Marner started things off, winning the opening draw and controlling possession before making an early change by their standards. Stepping onto the ice with fresh legs, William Nylander dashed up the ice and took a clean feed from Timothy Liljegren before firing the puck behind Ersson to salvage victory for the Maple Leafs.
Keefe will be pleased with the two points and the resilience his club showed at multiple points in the game, but his frustration with the same mistakes over and over is beginning to show. Between heated exchanges on the bench and in-game demotions, questions about who he can trust persist with the trade deadline creeping closer.
The Leafs will take the win, but they have to find a more sustainable way to earn points than relying on their elite players to outscore their problems.

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