The Toronto Maple Leafs came away with a point in Minnesota despite falling behind 3-0 Saturday. The 4-3 shootout loss still brought some measure of a moral victory because Toronto erased a three-goal deficit.
“It’s a big point for us,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “I love that our guys didn’t go away, down 3-0, wanted to make a game of it.”
“A guy like Spezz wouldn’t let us go away,” said Keefe, about Jason Spezza, who had two goals and an assist to lead Toronto back into the fight.
It was probably not the Maple Leafs’ most complete effort but good teams often get points even when they aren’t playing their best. That was the case for the Leafs Saturday.
“They came out with a little more purpose than us,” said Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews. “Kind of got rolling around in our zone a little bit more than we would like.”
“We took over the game in the back half of the second period and it was enough to earn us a point,” Keefe continued.
While Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov was a challenge to defend, at times, another Wild player was a source of frustration for the Maple Leafs.
“He pretty much did what he wanted,” Keefe said in reference to Wild winger Marcus Foligno, who came off the bench to fight Wayne Simmonds and, late in the game, ran over Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell. “Usually, that gets called, when a guy goes to the net and doesn’t do much to get out of the way. That’s goalie clearly in the blue paint, but these things happen. It’s a tight game, right at the end, and the refs were just letting the players sort it out.”
Marcus Foligno runs Jack Campbell
How is that not a penalty!? pic.twitter.com/X4acHSqWkx
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 5, 2021
To the takeaways…
1. Spezza can still make a difference
In the past couple of seasons, Spezza has been an elite 5-on-5 scorer in terms of points per minute but, this season, he is making his mark with the man advantage. Among players to play at least 30 5-on-4 minutes, Spezza ranks seventh with 9.46 points/60. Two of his three points against the Wild were on the power play.
“He’s pretty incredible,” said Auston Matthews about Spezza. “He’s got a lot of game left and you can see it when he’s out there. He’s going to be a future Hall of Famer.”
“He really stepped up for us tonight and made some big-time plays and, obviously, a couple of big-time goals by him,” continued Matthews.
Spezza left the game in overtime after taking a slash on his right hand. He had ice on it for the post-game press conference, but it should not be an issue. “It kind of got me in the nerve and it was scary for about 10 seconds, but it will be fine.”
2. That’s a huge comeback
Down 3-0, the game looked like a total bust for the Maple Leafs. They have not happened often – certainly not recently – so it was not such a big deal. But the Maple Leafs rolled up three straight goals on the road against the Central Division-leading Wild. That was a real show of how explosive this team can be. Of course, most of that explosiveness has been coming on he power play and it did again at Minnesota but getting a point in a game in which they had a three-goal deficit is a relatively positive development.
“I think it’s a good sign that we were able to come back,” said Morgan Rielly. “Obviously, you don’t want to put yourself in a hole, but I thought we did a good job battling back. The power play was a big part of that. We’ll take the point but, moving forward, we want to have better starts.”
3. William Nylander had a strong game despite not scoring any points
While Nylander is not typically a player who creates a bunch of value without it resulting in points, he did have a strong game in Minnesota, generating nine shot attempts and seven shots on goal, even though he did not record any points. Nylander was stopped by Cam Talbot on the last shootout attempt to clinch the win, but earlier he thwarted this great Nylander scoring chance, too:
CAPS LOCK FOR CAM TALBOT! 😮 pic.twitter.com/Gdv751kFK0
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 5, 2021
4. Morgan Rielly is rocking
Remember early in the season when the Maple Leafs were not getting any offensive contributions from the blueline? With three assists against the Wild, their No. 1 defenceman has 10 points (3 G, 7 A) in the past 10 games. Five of those points have come on the power play.
5. Toronto’s third goal
Speaking of the power play, here is a look at what happened on Toronto’s game-tying third goal.
Jason Spezza wins the draw back to Morgan Rielly.
John Tavares has gone to the front of the net. William Nylander into the bumper spot as Rielly passes the puck to Spezza. Oh, and Auston Matthews slips down from the blueline. He is now out of sight for Wild rookie winger Brandon Duhaime.
Duhaime turns towards Jason Spezza and while he might think he knows where Matthews is positioned, a window opens for Spezza between Duhaime and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov, who is otherwise occupied with John Tavares.
Spezza threads the needle to Matthews, who redirects it into the wide open net. As easy as any goal Matthews has scored this season.
MIN 2.89 TOR 2.64
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