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Knee Jerk Reaction: McMann, Holmberg excel in star-studded affair

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
27 days ago
Billed as a marquee matchup between two genuine Stanley Cup contenders, Saturday’s rendition of Hockey Night in Canada between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers featured the best and brightest the NHL has to offer. The four most recent Hart Trophy winners in Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl took center stage, Zach Hyman’s pursuit of 50 goals was a point of emphasis and derision, while William Nylander entered on a four-game goal streak.
And yet, it was Bobby McMann and Pontus Holmberg who stole the show in a 6-3 victory that belied the tempo of the opening forty minutes. Toronto didn’t shy away from its opponent and McMann continued to make a strong case for prolonged top-six minutes — especially in Mitch Marner and Tyler Bertuzzi’s absences — finishing with a three-point night. McMann opened the scoring after Timothy Liljegren pinched aggressively, poked the puck to John Tavares, who then found his new linemate wide-open. McMann-Tavares-William Nylander won’t last forever but it’s a group Sheldon Keefe can use if he needs to make in-game adjustments during the playoffs.
Liljegren was outstanding during the first two periods and has now recorded 14 points in his past 16 games. There are nights where he confounds fans with poor positioning, but he excelled as a playmaker, driving traffic from the point and used his speed to neutralize Edmonton’s star-studded core. And for the first night since the deadline, Liljegren and Joel Edmundson communicated well in space, an encouraging result for a Maple Leafs team looking to find stability among a defense corps in flux.
Pontus Holmberg also notched a brace and was the beneficiary of the burgeoning friendship between Auston Matthews and Max Domi (who later fought Mattias Janmark in the third period) tapping in his first of two goals when he connected on a tic-tac-toe sequence with his linemates. Domi has quietly emerged as one of the best 5-on-5 playmakers in the NHL and it’s an encouraging sign that he’s excelled on the wing recently.
Holmberg scored his second of the evening off the rush in tandem with McMann (of course!) and Morgan Rielly, and the rout was on. This was Holmberg’s best game in weeks, an encouraging sign for him to keep his place in the lineup when three regulars return.
Ilya Samsonov excelled during the first two periods but suffered an undisclosed injury during the third period, as Martin Jones was called upon to close out the final four minutes of the contest. We’ll see how this dictates the team’s rotation going forward as Samsonov and Joseph Woll were expected to split starts for the duration of the regular season. Jones may be forced into a larger role and Samsonov’s injury dampens the celebratory tone of the evening.
But of course, a thrilling Saturday encounter was punctuated by Matthews’ empty netter. Who else but Papi? McMann, Holmberg and Liljegren were the real stars, a great sign for a Maple Leafs team thought to be too top-heavy.

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