Maple Leafs extend winning run despite forgettable display in New Jersey

The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 5-4. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 5-4. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Good team performs inadequately, beats the bad team anyway.

It was a smash and grab, of sorts, for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who will hop back on the jet they arrived in only hours earlier after taking two points from their matchup with the New Jersey Devils, winning 5-4 in overtime.

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Sloppy throughout and evidently out of its routine after travelling on game day, Toronto surrendered two leads in the contest before fighting back to tie in the third. That set the stage for William Nylander to drive to the net and have Damon Severson whack an own goal over the shoulder of Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood for the game winner.

The Maple Leafs won their sixth in a row (and 12th in 16 games under Sheldon Keefe) and Michael Hutchinson earned his second victory of the season, but he’s now allowed at least four goals in seven of his eight starts on the season.

Frederik Andersen will be back in goal Saturday night when the Leafs host the New York Rangers.

Until then, three points:

Right work?

For a section of the Leafs fanbase, one of the more sensitive pain points is the brand of ‘compete’ that William Nylander brings.

Yes, he’ll avoid contact when the opportunity is there and that’s not likely to change. Even when he’s not the one in a potentially vulnerable position, his drive and determination to fight for the puck, intercept a body, clog a shooting lane, or to even just offer an honest effort isn’t always there.

It’s not just fans that notice it; Sheldon Keefe recently sat the talented winger, which is something that really never happened when Mike Babcock was in charge.

When Nylander is on, though, and using the skill that makes him such a valuable member of the organization, he can make a difference from a defensive standpoint. With an unwillingness to give up on a play — or perhaps accept his own mistake — Nylander demonstrated just that moments before scoring his eventual credited game winner.

While it’s less desirable for the sole reason that it’s a defensive play, Nylander’s strong stick lift and precise reversal of play on the back check would have been just as much of a skill play as anything else in the sequence — even if he finished it on his own.

Hit or miss

You could blame it on the day and the less-than-ideal scenario of having to head from the airplane tarmac to the arena to play an NHL game after three days of holiday feed-bagging. But you’d be willfully neglecting the last time out.

Conceding 10 goals in the last two games but managing to win both, speaks to just how dangerous this Maple Leafs team is from an offensive standpoint. Of course, it also says something about where they are defensively.

Here’s the thing about the system Keefe has done a tremendous job implementing: if the Leafs don’t manage even a baseline level of mental and physical sharpness, or suffer from lag at the individual level, there is a real vulnerability to the way they play.

Simple lapses in positional rotations or the failure to execute skill plays in hazardous areas on the ice can lead to major problems in a system in which each member of the five-man unit shares equally in the responsibility of achieving controlled pressure.

That’s why too often we’ve still seen those stretches of puck possession and a reasonable threat countered with something far more dangerous.

Prayers for the Souperman

An incredibly scary moment saw Ilya Mikheyev leave a trail of blood as he sprinted off the ice when severely cut on the wrist by the skate of Bratt.

Toronto’s first-year forward will remain in New Jersey overnight after being sent to the hospital for further evaluation and assessment.

Mikheyev has exceeded all expectations with his contributions to the Leafs so far, but in this moment it’s not about what the Leafs may be losing for the short- or long-term.

Hopefully he makes a speedy recovery.

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