Photo credit:Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Knee Jerk Reaction: Nylander shines in Sweden
By Nick Richard3 months ago
For 40 minutes, the Leafs looked like a team who travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to play their first game in six days. There were opportunities for opportunities, but the Leafs failed to connect on simple passes to sustain possession and struggled to generate anything around the Red Wings’ net. It wasn’t a particularly crisp showing for either team through two periods, but the Leafs managed just 14 shots on goal and found themselves down 2-0 heading into the final frame.
Enter William Nylander.
The Swedish star has been soaking up the limelight in his homeland this past week, and deservedly so, fully embracing the role of an ambassador for the game and a leader on this Leafs team. It was only fitting that he be the one to will (pardon the pun) the Leafs back into this game and, ultimately, a comeback victory.
Throughout a sloppy first two periods, the Leafs’ second line consisting of Nylander, John Tavares, and Tyler Bertuzzi was the only unit that seemed to have their legs going at all, but things were still disjointed as they struggled to manufacture any semblance of offensive pressure. That all changed in the third period, with Nylander being the catalyst as he has so many times this season.
With his season-opening 15-game point streak hanging in the balance, Nylander put his elusiveness and vision on full display to bring the Leafs within one less than four minutes into the third period. The initial play to shake his check at the top of the zone and then attack downhill before finding Bertuzzi in the blue paint illustrated the confidence that Nylander has been playing with. It’s always a risky decision to attempt a skilled play like that around the blue line, but Nylander has made a habit of making difficult plays look easy, and that was the case once again on Bertuzzi’s marker.
The goal seemed to energize the entire team, and they went on to carry the run of play before Nylander squared the game up at two apiece with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation. Shortly after Matthew Knies drew a tripping penalty against Moritz Seider, the Leafs’ power play got to work, and Mitch Marner made a great play to come away with a contested puck in the corner before finding Nylander alone in the slot with a pretty backhand feed. Nylander, of course, made no mistake.
The Leafs weren’t done there, however, and less than two minutes later, the trio of Nylander, Tavares and Bertuzzi once again put the Blue and White ahead for good. The winning goal was a nice exclamation point on Bertuzzi’s best game as a Leaf thus far, corralling a contested puck behind the goal line and bringing it out front to find Tavares all alone on the back door.
It was a sloppy start for the Leafs, and the entire team deserves credit for sticking with it, but make no mistake; this game was another case of Nylander cementing himself as one of the most dynamic players in the NHL and a legitimate superstar in the league. It was also another case of Nylander rising to the occasion, as we have seen him do in recent playoff runs, putting on a show in his home country.
Nylander has been beaming with pride and joy practically every time we’ve seen his face during this Swedish trip, and Friday’s performance which saw him earn a point on each of the Leafs’ three goals, is one he’ll be able to look back on and smile about many years from now.
Statistics from MapleLeafs.com
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