After losing at home to Pittsburgh Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs needed to get back on track quickly Sunday. They were fortunate to have a prime opportunity facing an Islanders team that was missing five players due to Covid protocol as well as top pair defenceman Ryan Pulock due to injury. Mitch Marner scored a pair of goals in Toronto’s 3-0 win at the Islanders.
This patchwork Islanders lineup had trouble generating much offensively and Maple Leafs rookie goaltender Joseph Woll earned his first career shutout with a 20-save performance.
“It starts with how the team plays,” said Woll. “You see guys going down to block shots when it is 3-0 towards the end of the game, that’s really special. I think that’s a testament to how strong the culture is here.”
The Maple Leafs have not been noted for being quick starters this season but they were ready to rebound after Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh.
“Right from the drop of the puck, we were moving our feet and creating scoring chances right off the start,” said Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner.
“It’s really cool to see how much everyone supports other guys, how much happiness everyone gets from other guys succeeding,” Woll continued. “It was a special team win and it was cool to see the excitement in the room after.”
“He made a few good saves early in the game,” said Keefe. “He looked confident, comfortable in net. That gave our team confidence as well.”
To the takeaways…
1. Mitch Marner’s early goal ignited his game
When the Maple Leafs winger is struggling to produce offensively, his game can look kind of flat. He’s on the perimeter, his shots aren’t getting through, and he is not especially creative.
That makes for a very visual difference in play when he is inspired. His early goal against the Islanders sure seemed to have Mitch Marner dancing with the puck. He created chances and sure seemed to be elevated by his early goal.
Mitch Marner has taken over the team scoring lead with 17 points (6 G, 11 A) in 20 games.
2. Ondrej Kase is a fabulous addition; just pray that he doesn’t get hurt
The hard-driving right winger has the kind of motor that is valuable to a skilled team like the Maple Leafs. Kase’s consistency of effort gets him involved in so much of the action when he is on the ice. Whether it is blocking a shot in the defensive zone or forcing turnovers with tenacious forechecking, Kase leaves his imprint on the game.
The one concern is that his relentless style can contribute to Kase’s risk of injury. He has missed a lot of time with injuries in his career and seeing how Kase plays, it is not altogether surprising. What is the solution? His advantage is that he brings a ton of energy and goes really hard, but the downside is that his style of play does lead Kase to injuries. If Kase goes into play with an eye towards self-preservation, he is not going to be as effective.
3. The Maple Leafs played well in front of their backup goaltender
While the Maple Leafs have tended to play more responsible defensively in recent games, and they were facing an Islanders team that was patched together with chewing gum and paper clips, they ultimately gave their rookie goaltender a great opportunity to earn his first shutout. The Islanders managed 20 shots on goal and their rate of high-danger chances decreased as the game progressed.
“He was excellent,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe about Woll. “Our guys did a really good job in front of him. I’m proud of our team for that.”
4. The Islanders could be in trouble
It was going to be difficult for the Islanders coming into this season, as they played their first 13 games on the road. That the Islanders were 5-6-2 after those 13 games was not disastrous. Not great, but not terrible considering they would have a home-ice advantage the rest of the way.
However, the Islanders have seen their lineup decimated by Covid cases and that left them with little chance in their first two home games at UBS Arena. Now, their next four games are against divisional opponents – two against the Rangers, plus one against Pittsburgh and one against Philadelphia. If the Islanders can’t get healthy soon, the season could get away from them. As it is, they are seven points behind the Flyers and Devils, teams that are tied for fourth in the Metropolitan Division. There is not much room for the Isles to lose any more ground if they are going to harbour playoff hopes for this season.
5. Bunting was back with Matthews and Marner and they dominated the game
The Maple Leafs continue to mix and match left wingers, trying to generate better 5-on-5 results. That meant Michael Bunting getting another chance with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line. It paid off. Bunting set up Marner’s second goal of the game and the trio controlled play to the tune of 84.2 CF% and 83.5 xGF% during 5-on-5 play.
“Playing with him tonight, you see it, he’s a workhorse down low,” said Marner about Bunting. “He is very good at protecting that puck as well. He is good at finding that secret spot on the ice to relieve pressure.”
TOR 3.66 NYI 2.28
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