Leafs complete road sweep, Marner’s point streak reaches 17 games
DETROIT—Mitch Marner likes to score and likes to win.
Right now, the star winger and the Maple Leafs are doing both.
Marner extended his point streak to 17 games with a goal in the Maple Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Red Wings on Monday night, completing a four-game road sweep that included stops at New Jersey, Minnesota and in Pittsburgh.
Marner is just one game away from the Leafs’ record set by Darryl Sittler in 1977-78 and tied in 1989-90 by Ed Olczyk, with the chance to tie the game Wednesday at home against the San Jose Sharks.
« It’s a tough league, man, » Marner said. “I don’t expect this every night. I just try to go out there and buzz and be myself and try to make games, and it works. Gotta stick to that. The guys were great finishers for me and also gave me the pucks that I was lucky enough to score with.
« The wins are more important and that’s what we did, and that’s why it feels good. »
More bad news for the rest of the Atlantic Division: it’s more than Marner who’s been doing the scoring lately. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Rasmus Sandin – with his first of the season – also scored for the Leafs, who scored at least four goals for the seventh time in 24 games. Five of those outbursts have come in the last eight contests.
Matthews, in particular, seems to have woken up, scoring like last year with that tough snap in each of the past two games. Scoring at even strength was his forte last year and that too seems to be heating up. He had three points Saturday in Pittsburgh, including a 5-for-5 goal, and a goal and an assist on Monday.
« It always helps to score and it’s always fun to win, » Matthews said. “We just want to keep rolling… It’s been a great road trip for us. It was a bit long, but it’s good to have lots of dots on this one. Now we’re going home and want to make sure we keep pushing.
Michael Bunting has four points in his last three games, while Nylander has been pretty consistent, including goals in three straight games.
When the big horses go, it’s a tough team to catch.
« They’re an elite team playing really well right now, » Wings coach Derek Lalonde said. “What’s been most impressive watching Toronto is their ability to play the right way. And they do it (without) that defensive core that they lost.
The Leafs are 4-0-0 without Morgan Rielly (knee injury) and 7-0-2 without TJ Brodie (oblique). They’re also 10-1-4 in their last 15 games after sweeping the road in four games to move within three points of first-place Boston. The Bruins have three games in hand.
« Every time you lose a guy, it stings and it sucks, and then you get to work, » coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Whether you’re a coach or a player, you just have to keep going. And whether you’re a guy coming into the lineup or you’re a guy who plays more, everybody just has to play better, play smarter, play more connected as a group, defend better and then compete, find ways to win.
« So we did that and gave ourselves chances to win every game. »
On top of that, goaltender Matt Murray is 5-0-1 since returning from injury, having put on another solid performance in net – stopping 42 of 44 shots as the Wings pressed when shooting from the back. He faced less than 30 shots just once in that span.
« I thought we defended way too much because of our inability to get out, » Keefe said. « But I thought especially in periods two and three, we really didn’t give up the big chance. (Detroit had) a lot of shots from the perimeter, a lot of long shots. I think the guys did a good job of letting Murray see the puck and the way he’s playing, he’s stopping it.
The accolades for Marner have come steadily over his 17-game streak.
« When you get into a rhythm, when you’re an elite player like that, you just feel like every shift is going to make a difference, » Keefe said. “He feels it with the puck, without the puck, with his defense. Some of his best plays come out of his reads and excellent turnovers to create high-end opportunities for us.
The wings are flying
If there’s a surprise team in the Atlantic, it’s the Red Wings, who have followed suit at the top of the division. While things remain tight, the Wings could be the ones to break the stranglehold on playoff positions held by Boston, Toronto, Florida and Tampa last year.
« That’s exactly our goal, » said defender Moritz Seider. “We have high expectations for the organization and this should be a reality for us. If you just look at our standings, I don’t think we have to hide anywhere. We have made great strides forward. I am very confident in the locker room.
Seider, who scored the opening goal of the game, was last season’s Rookie of the Year and is one of the reasons the optimism has returned to Motor City. With that goal, he became the fourth defenseman in Wings history to score 60 points at age 21 or younger. The others were Steve Chiasson, Reed Larson and Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Leafs didn’t score first, but they took the lead. After Seider pounced on a gift from Matthews for the opening goal, the Leafs center returned the favor, scoring less than four minutes later. He took a feed from Michael Bunting and got that one-timer. It was his second goal in two games. Rookie Mac Hollowell put the game on the ice at Bunting, earning his first career NHL point. Nylander then scored on the power play for a 2-1 lead. It was his third career shot against Wings goaltender Ville Husso, all goals. Although the Wings carried the game and led 12-5 in shots, it was the Leafs who had a 2-1 lead.
Change of guardian
The Leafs chased Husso by scoring twice in the second to open a 4-1 lead. Marner scored his streak extender on a hard wrist shot from 39 feet. But Sandin’s shot from the point, with run interference from Bunting, prompted the Wings to bring in Alex Nedeljkovic.
Lalonde, who was an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, had more praise for the Leafs and what he’s seen this season. He was asked if he had seen a difference from last year.
“No, and I think that’s a compliment to them. They are successful because they play the game the right way. The most recent victory they made is because in a game they allowed two goals, one goal. It’s about what they keep out of the net, not what they put in. So that’s what we saw in the playoffs last year. They were a very determined team to do the right thing.
When Matthews scored from Bunting and Hollowell, it ended Marner’s streak of taking the team’s first goal in six games. It was the 11th time a Leaf had done this, including John Tavares last season. The league record is 10, by Steve Yzerman.
- In addition to his 17-game point streak, Marner has an active eight on the road.
- Nylander’s goal was his seventh on the road this season. Only three players have more: Vancouver’s Bo Horvat (10), Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov and Dallas’ Joe Pavelski (eight each).
- Matthews’ first-half goal was the 270th of his career. Only one American-born skater in NHL history has scored more at age 25 or younger: Pat LaFontaine (280).
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