Five Takeaways from the Leafs’ Win Streak, With Detroit Up Next

Five Takeaways from the Leafs’ Win Streak, With Detroit Up Next
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The October version of the Toronto Maple Leafs is looking nothing like the November version, and that’s making this season more and more interesting.

During Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, at the PPG Paints Arena, it was mentioned by someone that you can’t underestimate how a team can bond together when they are gutted by the level of injuries the Leafs’ team has suffered as of late. They’ve lost just one game in regulation over the past 13.

The Leafs how to keep this streak alive as the team embarks on a run at this season's Stanley Cup.

Leafs On a Roll

The Leafs’ current win streak is at three. They’ve also done a nice job of snapping other team’s win streaks: The New Jersey Devils had been at 13 games last week when the Leafs came to down, and the Pens had been at five.

Looking at the team on paper, that doesn’t make any sense, the Leafs being where they are. The death of Leafs’ great Borje Salming, who was suffering from ALS, on U.S. Thanksgiving, was an emotional tsunami that washed over the organization and the city. Salming was that loved and respected. That has brought everyone together as well.

Defencemen Morgan Rielly (knee) and Jake Muzzin (neck) are on long-term injury reserve, and TJ Brodie is still working himself back from an oblique injury. Jordie Benn, who was playing well as a replacement on defence, suffered an “upper body injury” and is now on injury reserve.

Through it all, the Leafs somehow have come together, with good goaltending and team defence leading the charge. 

They are the hottest of the six Canadian NHL teams now, and who would have predicted that coming into November? In October they were 4-4-2. In November, after the win over the Pens? 9-1-3, third in the Eastern Conference, at 13-5-5, five points behind first place Boston.

“Guys are just staying with it,” coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters after the Pittsburgh game. “I think there is a lot of belief in the room. We have been trying to foster that for quite some time. I think we have that happening. It gives you a chance to win every night.”

The Leafs finish this current road swing tonight against the Detroit Red Wings.

Here are takeaways from the Leafs’ current win streak, going into the Wings game:

Goaltending Continues to Surprise 

Can someone explain the Leafs goaltenders to us? Erik Kallgren stepped in to play goal Saturday night. No one was looking at Kallgren as a steady, consistent NHL netminder at the start of this season. But he was in there because No. 1 goalie Matt Murray (4-1, 2.51 GAA and a .921 save percentage in six games since coming back from an adductor injury) needed a break, and the backup the team signed this past summer, Ilya Samsonov, is out with a knee injury.

Kallgren was more than fine against a Pittsburgh squad that was sixth in the league in goals for per game, at 3.57, stopping 25 shots, some of them outstanding saves.  He’s been 3-1-2 in November.

Justin Holl Steps Up

October’s whipping boy in Toronto on defence has now emerged as one of their steadiest defenders. There’s no place like Toronto when it comes to picking NHL defencemen to pieces. See Dion Phaneuf and Larry Murphy. Remember Jake Gardiner? Murphy was run right out of town back in the day.

Everyone talked about added responsibility hoisted onto the shoulders of Swedes Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren after the injuries on defence, and those two have responded. Sandin played 23 minutes against the Pens, a career high.

But Holl, paired with Mark Giordano, has stepped right up when the team needed him, with 21:13 of ice time against the Pens (+1), and 23:46 the previous game against Minnesota (+/- of zero). 

Marner and The Streak

One of the more astute moves by coach Keefe this month was busting up Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner as linemates.

Since that line had gone a little stale, Marner was slotted next to John  Tavares, who’s having a great season, and William Nylander was moved up to play next to Matthews.

Nylander and Marner were sparked by the move. And we always sensed that part of the reason Tavares signed in Toronto as a free agent in the first place in 2018 was the opportunity to play with Marner, so you gotta know he’s happy. Tavares is 16th in league scoring with 12 goals, 13 assists and 25 points.

Marner is two games away from setting the club’s single-season point-streak record (18).

Defence Key to Success

Other than a small trade with Arizona that brought Conor Timmins to Toronto, the Leafs have gone patch work to fill in the holes on the back end.

Mac Hollowell was brought up from the AHL Marlies and made his NHL debut last week against New Jersey.

Team defence has been story. Every time a Leaf player makes a mistake on the ice, there’s always someone next down the line to back him up. Kallgren certainly benefitted by a commitment to defence.

The Leafs are fifth in the NHL in goals against per game, at 2.57, are averaging 28.35 shots against per game (only New Jersey, Carolina and Seattle are averaging fewer) and have a 78.38 penalty kill percentage, 17th in the league. 

Betting Odds

Can Murray, the likely starter tonight against the Wings, continue to play this solidly? The Wings are no pushovers – sixth in the Eastern Conference (11-5-4, on a four-game winning streak).

If Murray continues this way and can somehow stay healthy, the odds of general manager Kyle Dubas getting a contract extension will go up, since he rolled the dice on signing the injury-prone Murray and Samsonov (on a one-year contract) going into the season. That must have been tough to stomach watching the positive play of former Leaf goalie Fred Andersen with the Carolina Hurricanes (5-3, 2.72, .891 save percentage this season so far, 35-14, 2.17 GAA and .922 save percentage last season). 

DraftKings has the moneyline at Leafs -165, Wings +140, and the goal line at Leafs -1.5, Wings +1.5. Eighty-one per cent of the handle so far is on the Over 6.