The Leafs in the giving spirit of Christmas to the visiting Detroit Red Wings snapped out of the yuletide spirit in time to turn a dull effort into a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory.
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but once again the talented Maple Leafs did just enough to secure the “W” although cutting it close with John Tavares’s equalizer coming with the clock showing less than 8-seconds remaining in regulation time. Kasperi Kapanen one of the few Maple leafs with some “jump” most of the evening snuck a backhander past Wings goalie Jonathan Bernier at the 1:53 mark of overtime.
The determined Wings pressing the last couple weeks took it too the Leafs most of the game despite Kapanen giving the Leafs an early lead before a good portion of the Scotiabank Arena patrons had settled into their seats. A lacklustre work ethic, shaky goaltending and inconsistent play by the home side almost proved to be enough for the Wings to leave with their second win at the Vault this month. The Red Wings forced the Leafs to turn the puck over 15 times converting two Jake Gardiner giveaways into goals. Jonathan Bernier’s penchant for letting in soft goals proved to be his and his teammates undoing, sealing the fate of the visiting team from the Motor City.
Garret Sparks got the win to improve to 5-1-1 however he was off balance all night; out of position; didn’t track the play well; fought the puck and looked very uncomfortable in the net. While this could be expected from a goalie that plays every few weeks, the Leafs cannot rely on Sparks to step up if anything ever were to happen to starter Frederik Andersen. Maybe one day the ex-Marlie star will be an NHL goaltender but its abruptly clear he’s currently not ready for prime time.
John Tavares continues to impress with not only his scoring prowess a given when the Maple Leafs made him the most significant free agent signing in franchise history but it’s the tenacity he displays without the puck. He’s getting more comfortable in his new surroundings every game and like most great players the game “slows down” for him.
Auston Matthews who’s struggled the last few games and appears to be forcing the play more than usual would be enough to slow most teams down.
As they have most of the year, Tavares along with Mitch Marner pick up the pace when the team needs a jolt and last night, they did it again; the rest of the team fed off the energy to save a victory. That’s the depth the Maple Leafs have to offer and a nightmare for teams in the league.
The Leafs who’ve now won four in a row are finding ways to win and good teams have to do that for periods over an 82-game schedule.