The Leafs 3 stars of the week: Auston Matthews continues to dominate the league, Michael Bunting rising in Calder conversation
Photo credit:Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports
By Joseph Zita8 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been quite the rollercoaster of emotions as of late and it’s been going on like this for quite a while, and just two weeks ago was proof of that as they went 1-2-0 in three games while displaying some questionable hockey. With some struggles on the team like their second line not producing the same as they used to, them having suspect defensive coverages, and even their goalies being two of the worst in the entire league since December, Toronto has had themselves some wild, wild games and last week against Columbus, Seattle and Arizona were a part of them too.
They opened up their week Monday night in Columbus for the second time this season and unlike the last time they played in Columbus, Toronto wanted to leave there with the two points this time. Well, they certainly came out of the gates flying and were determined to do so as they played a very good opening period against the Blue Jackets as they outshot them 13-5 but more importantly outscored them 3-0 and took a three-goal lead into the intermission. However, if you know the Maple Leafs, you know that lead is too good to be true, and over the next 22 minutes of game time, Columbus would tie it at three early in the third period. But no need to be concerned, the Maple Leafs stayed with it and ultimately came away with the 5-4 win and ended their two-game losing streak.
After taking two points in Columbus, the Toronto Maple Leafs were en route back home to Toronto to host the Seattle Kraken the next night for the first time in franchise history. And as you guessed, Toronto basically replicated the night before and came out flying as they had themselves yet another 3-1 lead early in the second period. But with their questionable defence at times and their poor goaltending, Seattle clawed their way back in the game and ended up taking the lead 4-3 relatively early in the third period in a game where Toronto honoured Wayne Simmonds and his 1000 NHL games so that wouldn’t have been good if they dropped this game. However, there’s no need to worry, Auston Matthews is here to carry the team and helped lead Toronto to a comeback win as they take the two points and pick up the 6-4 win.
In what felt like a rollercoaster of a week with the Maple Leafs and them scoring goals like it’s nothing and them also allowing goals like it’s nothing, they welcomed the Arizona Coyotes into town Thursday night and I already knew where this one was going. They were up against a Coyotes team who scored 18 goals in their last two games prior to this meeting and when you have that going up against Toronto’s goaltending, you knew you were in for a wild game and that’s exactly what you got. Arizona found themselves up 4-1 because everything they would throw at Petr Mrazek ended up in the back of the net, so Toronto had to mount yet another comeback if they wanted at least a point in this game. Well, that’s what they did and they forced the game into overtime where yet another terrible noncall on a penalty occurred and resulted in an Arizona goal which determined the outcome of the game. Toronto would fall 5-4 in overtime and would now see their record at 37-16-5 through 58 games this season.
Record during week 22: 2-0-1 | Season record: 37-16-5 (79 points)
3rd Star: Michael Bunting – 3 GP – 1 G – 3 A – 4 PTS
If you’re not a Toronto Maple Leafs fan you might not think Michael Bunting should be in the running for the Calder Trophy this season given his age and maybe even due to the obvious fact that he is a Maple Leaf and you may not like the Maple Leafs. However, you can’t deny that the type of season he is having is something special and something to be happy about after losing Zach Hyman in free agency this past off-season to the Edmonton Oilers. I know Bunting is 26 years old, but he does qualify as a rookie and putting my bias aside as much as possible, I think at this very point in the season, he most definitely deserves to be in the conversation to win it.
With that out of the way now, let’s talk about the week Michael Bunting just had for the Maple Leafs. It’s no secret that he along with his line that consists of both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have been on absolute fire for what seems like the past month and a half, and he sure continued that again last week in their three games on the schedule. With games against the Blue Jackets, Kraken, and Coyotes last week, Bunting along with the entire team needed to take advantage of that and grab as many points in the standings as possible.
Well, they did do that, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Yes, they grabbed five out of the six possible points but those games consisted of blowing leads, coming back from being behind and obviously poor goaltending. And through all that, Bunting registered four points – one goal and three assists – to improve his season totals to 47 points – 20 goals and 27 assists – in 58 games, and with that, he currently ranks first among rookies in both goals and points.
2nd Star: Mitch Marner – 3 GP – 2 G – 2 A – 4 PTS
It would make sense to name Mitch Marner as one of the three stars of the week yet again, right? It shouldn’t come as a surprise because Toronto’s first line that consists of Bunting, Matthews, and Marner has been by far Toronto’s best line and one of if not, the best line in hockey this season and Marner along with his linemates were back at it again last week in their three games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Seattle Kraken, and Arizona Coyotes.
Marner, just like Matthews, had a very slow start to the season and fans were not happy about it because the team as a whole came out pretty slow too with a record of 2-4-1. However, they quickly turned things around and strung together a handful of lengthy winning streaks and Marner himself found his groove again and has been on a whole other level since returning from his injury/COVID protocol on January 15th. Since that day, Marner has racked up 41 points – 17 goals and 24 assists – in just 23 games. Simply sensational.
Last week was nothing new either for the Markham native as he potted home two more goals and four points to improve his season totals to 62 points – 23 goals and 39 assists – in 49 games and he is currently on pace for 104 points in an 82 game schedule. However, since he’s missed nine games this season, Marner’s current pace is 92 points and out of those 92 points, 34 of them are goals, which is incredible to think if he actually hits that goal mark. On top of his offence that has been out of this world for the past three months, Marner’s presence on the penalty kill is just as important and is a key reason why Toronto’s penalty kill is top five in the entire league.
1st Star: Auston Matthews – 3 GP – 5 G – 1 A – 6 PTS
It honestly feels like this man can’t be stopped and even if you try, you will not be able to. Auston Matthews has been having himself a Hart Trophy type season, and I’m pretty sure we’re all aware of that by now. Without Matthews, I truly don’t know where Toronto would be in the standings right now, especially with how their goaltending has been for the past three months or so. Matthews is having such a career year and an MVP type season that he has the potential to win a handful of hardware at season’s end, but obviously, nothing is important or matters until they get the job done in the playoffs or at least win a single round.
After missing the first three games of the regular season and coming out of the gates pretty slow in his first six games registering just two points, Matthews has quickly made a lot of people forget the type of start he had and it just makes his case for the type of season he is having even better. He is on arguably one of, if not, the best lines in hockey as I said multiple times already and has been on an absolute tear over the past two months or so. He has 37 goals in his last 38 games and through 55 games thus far, his totals are even more insane.
Last week in three contests, Matthews continued his tear and scored five goals along with tallying an assist for six points en route to a 2-0-1 record as he has without a doubt helped carry this Maple Leafs team when things get rough as of late for them and has climbed his way up the rankings in multiple stat categories as well. With his five goals and six points last week, Auston Matthews has now improved his point totals to 76 points – 44 goals and 32 assists – while playing stellar, stellar defence as well.
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