Last night was all about Matt Murray… oh and Bobby McMann, but mostly Murray.
The Toronto Maple Leafs goalie made 32 saves last night (some of them incredible) in an epic game which saw the Leafs ailing without Auston Matthews at the front and a last-minute goal from Mitch Marner to clinch the win.
It was going to be tough having Matthews out with an un-disclosed yet not serious illness. That absence did have an impact in so many ways.
That’s especially so when facing off against the Nashville Predators Juuse Saros between the tubes. Luckily Marner and co were ready to
The First 20 minutes of the game were indeed tough for the Leafs. That gap which Matthew’s absence created was duly exploited by the Predators’ defencemen.
Up front the Preds forwards were creating all sorts of problems for Leafs, but it was Murray who was denying. Much like a better armoured and athletic Gandalf, he was blocking shots in quick succession.
The Preds winger Tanner Jeannot would discover this early on as he swung at goal multiple times in one sequence only to be denied on each occasion.
Before the goalie could even get a breathe, another shot was destined for pass him from Jeannot, he was able to block by splaying out in a classic Dominik Hasek style. Funnier still, Murray wasn’t even facing the shot when it came at him.
‘I just kind of got spun around — there was some contact after the first shot— so I was looking over my shoulder and saw the guy made a pass down to the back door, so I knew I just had to kind of get something over there.’
That’s some Jedi skill there.
Jeannot would not be his first puck-block, with Cody Glass and Nino Niederreiter also facing the same fate.
‘Obviously their guy on the other end is playing really well too, it’s an elite goalie so you need to match and save for save…
‘I’m not sure there’s been a game [this year] where I’ve left thinking the goaltender won us the game. And in a lot of ways, you could say that here tonight,’ Leafs manager Sheldon O’Keefe would say of Murray’s exceptional performance.
Leafs take the lead
The Leafs would find their first chink in the armour just before the end of the First. Taveras managed to find net off of a pass from Nylander.
Timothy Liljegren had delivered the setup to Nylander and both Nylander and Taveras traded passes. Nylander lost the puck but Tavares was in position to collect and deliver past Saros.
That goal made it Tavares’ 4th in the last 5 games and his 20th of the season overall. Quite impressive still is that it’s also his 13th season with 20 goals, second only to Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) with 14.
It would be Filip Forsberg who would manage to beat Murray last night and score the Predators’ equaliser within the first two minutes.
Juuso Parssinen had managed to collect the stray puck after Leafs had failed to clear it from danger. He found Forsberg who was waiting next to Murray.
It was an easy shot to make but instead the ‘8 goals in 8 games’ goalscorer, would instead take Murray for a skate and drop the puck in with a backhander.
To secure the win, the Leafs were cutting it fine.
They’d had to compete with an incredible unit of a Predators defence and Saros who managed 33 saves and 4 penalties.
But even the best defence has chinks and that’s when the breakthrough came just two minutes before the buzzer.
Preds defenceman Alexandre Carrier, lost his stick chasing after Tavares and the Leafs got to it. Tavares made a pass behind the net to Nylander who made a dummy shot on Saros but instead delivered the puck to Marner.
Taking a moment to calm himself, Marner pulled his stick back and delivered the puck past Saros.
The buzzer went and Leafs were 2 – 1 against a formidable opponent that evening.
‘There wasn’t a lot of ice, wasn’t a lot of plays to be made…
‘But I thought we just stuck with our game plan of being hard to play through the neutral zone, trying to get back quickly on pucks make plays to get out of our zone and I thought our D did a great job with their gaps, just really being up tight, turning a lot of plays away and our forwards were there for the back pressure we needed,’ Marner told the media after the game.
It would not be wise of us not to mention the debut of Bobby McMann in the NHL last night.
This was the first appearance of the 26-year-old with the Leafs, right after been recognised as the America Hockey League player of the week with his team, the Toronto Marlies.
‘He was really competitive on the puck, had a couple scoring chances himself, created one or two for others and just played a real solid game for a guy in his debut,’ O’Keefe said reflecting on McMann’s efforts.
The Nashville Predators are on the road to face the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night in their second game of the season. They previously beat the Habs 6 – 3 at home. They’ll be looking to get their streak back after losing it to the Leafs last night.
Toronto Maple Leafs are also on the road to face the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. Leafs will be looking to make 2 for 2 with a second win against the Red Wings. They previously beat them 4 – 1 at home.