Among the gamblers, weddings, stags, street performers and Elvis impersonators singing ‘Viva Las Vegas’, the Toronto Maple Leafs put on their own show with an impressive 6-3 win over the Las Vegas Golden Knights at the T-Mobile Arena Thursday.
The Leafs gave their travelling fans (and there were lots) a terrific Valentines Day gift with their most complete game of the season. Lead by a 2-goal performance from Auston Matthews including the 100th of his career, it was the Knight fifth home loss in a row, a franchise first. Morgan Reilly scored his fifth game winner of the season when his point shot found light behind Marc-Andre Fleury giving the visitors a lead they wouldn’t relinquish halfway through the third.
The atmosphere was electrifying with dancers performing between stoppages in play; the loudest sound system in the league and very vocal fans screaming for their respective teams. Even the 50/50 gets in the sin-city pageantry taking a 51/49 split just to remind the friendly folks, the house never loses.
The Leafs improve their road record to 19-7-2, are 15-7 against the Western Conference and 9-2 against the Pacific Division. From the opening faceoff they never stopped moving their feet and were relentless on the fore check consistently stripping pucks and gaining zonetime from a Knights team that, at times, looked anything like a Stanley Cup finalist last year. The speedy forwards had the Knights chasing the game and, if not for the heroics of Fleury in the opening frame, the game would have been out of reach. Instead they resorted to lazy penalties, cross checking twice, a cheap kneeing penalty, slashing, tripping and high sticking. A team like Toronto feasts over teams playing this way and enforcer Ryan Reaves with a couple late hits tried to goad the much smaller Connor Brown into a fight with his nonsense after the whistle.
Frederik Andersen once again gave a solid performance and had to stay sharp particularly in the second when 15 minutes elapsed before he had a quality chance. He did fumble a puck behind the net that lead to a Knights goal, one of his few mistakes on the night, giving the home-side life as they clawed back into the game and took the lead briefly. The Leafs wouldn’t be denied and found another goal that the Knights couldn’t match and they collapsed in the third.
The only blemish on the evening for the visitors was the cheap shot knee on knee Andreas Johnsson took from Brayden McNabb who was spotted afterwards in the penalty box smiling.
Toronto’s special teams were effective with a couple power-play goals and a shorthanded effort by Mitch Marner to put the game on ice with less than 4-minutes to play. Andreas Johnsson and Patrick Marleau had the other markers to round out the scoring. William Nylander looks better by the game and is close to what fans have come to expect. His speed and puck handling had the Vegas defenders on their heels all night opening up ice for his line mates. With him back to his old form this will only spell trouble for opponents going forward as the skilled forwards are more than a handful to begin with.
The win puts the Leafs 3-1 on this 6-game road trip and assures them at least at split at worst with remaining tilts against Arizona Saturday and St Louis Tuesday.
They say that “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” but I think in Toronto’s case they’ll welcome a similar playbook starting tomorrow night in Glendale.