What an exciting weekend it was for Toronto sports fans. The Raptors pulled off the biggest comeback in franchise history on Sunday against the Mavericks, as they hustled for 30-point retaliation to get the win in front of their home crowd. Later, Sunday night, the Blue Jays announced that they signed ace pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu, to a four-year, $80 million contract. To top it off, the Maple Leafs won all three of their games to climb into second place in the Atlantic division.
All is good in Leafs nation right now, as the team is now winners of five-straight and seven of their last eight games. On Saturday night, backup goalie Michael Hutchinson finally earned his first victory this season, as he allowed one goal on 30 shots, in a 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings. It is a promising result for the Maple Leafs, and hopefully, Hutchinson will have more confidence going forward.
Hutchinson admitted his struggles were as much mental, as they were physical, after the game. Kristen Shilton, a Toronto Maple Leafs beat reporter, was given this answer after Hutchinson’s win versus Detroit.
The Maple Leafs will need steady performances from Hutchinson if they want to remain competitive. Andersen has gone an incredible 18-8-3 this season, and will need a breather from time to time. It was Hutchinson’s first win since January 10th of last season, so fans of Leafs nation will hope he can feed off of the momentum.
Perhaps the most exhilarating game of the year took place in the “Next Generation Game” on Monday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Leafs hosted the Hurricanes in what can only be described as a rollercoaster affair. After the Leafs scored three goals in the first five minutes of the game, the Hurricanes battled back to score five in a row, and carried a 5-3 lead into the third period.
Auston Matthews scored his 24th goal of the year to open the period, but Carolina was quick to answer a couple minutes later. Then, well, the Leafs went on an absolute tear. They scored three goals in 59 seconds to pull ahead 7-6. Mitch Marner was simply sensational in this hockey game, scoring two goals and picking up three assists. He was playing on a line with Auston Matthews, who made a highlight reel pass to set Marner up for his first goal of the night.
Pierre Engvall ended up scoring an empty netter to ice the game, winning 8-6 in a thriller. While this game was far from perfect for the Leafs, and they were bailed out by some spectacular offence, Toronto is now 11-4 under coach Sheldon Keefe. It has been a complete turn around for the team over the last 30 days, and they have to feel good about themselves going into the short four-day Christmas break.
What we learned from this past week, is that Sheldon Keefe is not afraid to mix up his lines. Despite the past success from Toronto’s top scoring line of Marner-Tavares-Hyman, Keefe broke things up and put Tavares on a line with Spezza and Mikheyev to begin Monday’s game against Carolina. It paid immediate dividends, as Spezza potted his fifth goal of the season in the first minute of the game. Though the line combinations did not stay the same throughout the game, it is evident Keefe enjoys playing Matthews with Marner.
Matthews and Marner were simply electric together on Monday afternoon, creating several grade A scoring chances because of their supreme talent. Marner currently has 15 points in his last eight games and looks fully healed from that high ankle sprain he suffered over a month ago. He is an incredible playmaker to put on a line with one of the most lethal goal scorers in the NHL, Auston Matthews.
Matthews has the chance to be one of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates. He is truly in some elite company in such a short period of time, and the sky is the limit for him. His lightning-quick, deceptive shot makes him a threat whenever the puck touches his stick. If Keefe continues to pair him and Marner together, they truly have the ability to form something very special for the rest of the season.