Toronto Maple Leafs: Three Takeaways From Centennial Classic Win
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings took their “Original Six rivalry” to BMO Field for an entertaining Centennial Classic.
Sun glare delayed the start of the game, but aside from that, the game went on without weather becoming a factor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings.
The first two periods were slow, with the lone goal coming from Anthony Mantha. In the third period, the floodgates opened with seven goals total. Leo Komarov began the scoring filled third as he stuffed in the puck past Jared Coreau. In a tie game, Matt Martin and Steve Ott dropped the gloves to give their respective side the momentum.
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Safe to say that the Martin fight ignited Toronto’s offense. Following the scrap, the buds reeled off three straight goals courtesy of Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, and Auston Matthews.
Toronto had a comfortable 4-1 lead, but Detroit did not go quietly. Jonathan Ericcson started the comeback by firing a slapshot past Frederik Andersen. Dylan Larkin made the ending interesting by cutting the led to one with 1:46 left in the game.
After seeing a three-goal led cut to one, anxiety kicked in for Toronto fans. Then the dagger came from Mantha who scored at the horn in an albeit controversial fashion. Although the argument of goalie interference appeared valid, the referees decided, after further review, that Mantha’s goal would stand.
Jan 1, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Mitch Marner (16) shoots as Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith (2) defends during the Centennial Classic ice hockey game at BMO Field. The Maple Leafs beat the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Kids Continue To Steal The Show
Aside from the Komarov goal, Toronto’s youth provided the offense in the latter portion of the game.
Marner broke the 1-1 tie and brought the crowd to their feet. After picking up the loose puck, he slipped past Mantha and went top-shelf to beat Coreau. Then a few moments later, Brown took a pass from Zach Hyman and buried it to give Toronto a quick 3-1 lead.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 1, 2017
Detroit managed to keep Matthews in check, but that changed in the middle of the third period. On a three on one, Brown set-up Matthews, who went upstairs to get his first goal of the game. That would not be all from Matthews. After Toronto blew a three-goal lead he jumped on the puck and backhanded it for the game-winner.
The youth on the team continues to flourish, learning from their mistakes and at the forefront of the offense. Take the start of the season when Toronto could not recover after blowing a lead. They could not keep dig their way out of these holes, but they kept their composure against Detroit. Resulting in Matthews bailing out the team and continuing their longest winning streak of the season.
Jan 1, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Detroit Red Wings during the Centennial Classic ice hockey game at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Matthews On The Cusp of Elite Status
Back in November, Mike Babcock threw out the statement of Matthews becoming a dominant center by Christmas. Well, that holiday has come and gone, so has the 19-year-old entered that dominant center status?
In short answer form, yes and his performance at the Centennial Classic provides an example of his growth. Throughout the season, he has displayed flashes of having an elite two-way game. After putting his goal drought behind him, these last few weeks have given the indication that he has arrived.
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 2, 2017
Against Detroit, he showed his elite scoring ability, giving him 20 goals in 36 games. Last season PA Parenteau led Toronto with 20 goals for an entire season, Matthews has eclipsed that. Furthermore, he leaps over Patrik Laine for the rookie scoring lead with 32 points.
Also, with his two goals, he now sits in second place with Jeff Carter for the league lead in goals. If he continues at this pace, the projection will be over 40 goals, which will put him in elite company. In the history of the NHL, only five players (Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros, and Sylvain Turgeon) have scored 40 or more goals as a teenager.
If Matthews has not become an elite center, then he is close to it.
Jan 1, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) is congratulated by teammates after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime against the Detroit Red Wings during the Centennial Classic ice hockey game at BMO Field. The Maple Leafs beat the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Playoffs? Don’t Talk About Playoffs?!
Ah, the P word has become a thought. Riding a five-game winning streak had led to Toronto finding themselves in the thick of a playoff race. Yes, it might be early but still, should make for an interesting second half of the season.
With 41 points, they are three points behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division. With nearly half the season in the books, the thought of the playoffs does not seem far fetched.
Now, will they make the playoffs?
Well being in a bad division helps because Ottawa and Boston are not world beaters. Also, Florida and Tampa Bay are facing their own respective troubles. Whether it be dysfunction or injuries Toronto can stave off both teams.
In short, yes they can make the playoffs.
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