Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 win over the Calgary Flames Monday at Air Canada Centre:
Nylander with a huge night.
Leafs centre William Nylander had a one-goal, two-point performance Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, but outdid himself Monday with the first of what is likely to be many virtuoso performances at the ACC.
Nylander started the night by finding linemate P-A Parenteau with a behind-the-net, backhanded pass the veteran winger promptly buried behind Flames netminder Jonas Hiller at the 11:27 mark of the first period to give the Buds a 1-0 advantage. The assist was the second of Nylander’s NHL career (and fifth point) in his 12th game with the Leafs, and was followed later by his second helper of the night on Zach Hyman’s go-ahead goal at 14:26 of the second.
Then, just 29 seconds into the third frame, Nylander wired a slap shot from the point past Hiller for his fourth goal of the season and the first three-point game of his career. You can say the sky is the limit for him, but that’s starting to feel like an understatement for the 19-year-old.
“I think our line played really well,” Nylander said. "You had Hyman going on the forecheck, playing pucks and being great in front of the net there on both goals, and P-A making some great plays. And the team played well too, from the ‘D’ and back and the goalie. So it was a good one.”
Head coach Mike Babcock said he was impressed with Nylander’s line, and his attention to detail on the less-flashy elements of his game.
“I thought their line was good, and I thought he was good defensively, backchecked hard, turned some pucks over, was good in ‘D’ zone faceoffs,” Babcock said. “Those things are what matters to me more than the other stuff. The other stuff, we know that he has that. And him and Hyman and P-A were a good line tonight. Very effective.”
Parenteau, Hyman benefit from Nylander’s big game.
Hyman has played a good deal of the season with Nylander when both were at the American League level with the Marlies, so he knows what to expect from the young Swede – but Parenteau is finding out first-hand what the benefits are of playing alongside such a tremendous talent.
“I think he’s 50-50 – he’s really good at both,” Parenteau said of Nylander’s scoring and playmaking skills. “That winner was a hell of a half-slapper there. That’s an elite player kind of shot, and his playmaking abilities are great. He’s got great edges, he’s moving well on the ice, and he’s a nice target for me, too. So I like that.”
For Parenteau, Nylander’s progress fits in with his experience at the NHL level.
“I think it takes 10-15 games, and that’s exactly where he’s at right now,” Parenteau said. “It was a nice display by him tonight, and I think the fans are going to be happy with that.”
Kadri gets under Calgary’s skin.
Leafs centre Nazem Kadri prides himself on playing a hard-nosed game, and he caused quite the stir late in the second when he cleanly hit Flames star Johnny Gaudreau at Toronto’s end boards. Gaudreau got up, took a two-fisted swing of his stick at Kadri’s ankles, and triggered a physical skirmish between the teams that ended with the Leafs receiving their third man advantage of the night.
“I want to be hard to play against, and I thought we did a good job tonight,” Kadri said, before commenting on Gaudreau’s slash. “The slash kind of surprised me more than anything. I was expecting someone to punch me in the face, but that happened afterward.”
Like most of his teammates this season, Kadri has battled through some rough stretches, but when he’s engaged, he makes the Buds hell to play against. That can’t be a bad thing for the franchise moving forward.
“That’s just his personality,” Rielly said of Kadri’s willingness to get involved physically. “That’s just who he is. He really enjoys that role, and I think that he knows that it’s a huge part of this team, and it goes a long way when he’s out there and he’s involved, getting hits and giving hits.
“And I think that gives him energy as well. It makes him want to do it more often, and when he’s doing that kind of stuff, the team feeds off it, we get power plays out of it, we get scoring opportunities out of it, and then we can tilt the ice. And the next thing you know, they’re all going after him, and we’re playing our game.”
Former Leafs providing offence for Flames.
Calgary twice came back from one-goal Toronto advantages Monday, and both of the visiting team’s goals came from former Leafs players: centre Matt Stajan netted the Flames’ first goal – a shorthanded marker – at 10:25 of the second period, and forward Joe Colborne scored 7:07 later to knot the score at two goals apiece after 40 minutes of play. But in the end, Calgary looked disjointed and easily frustrated, and the Buds were able to capitalize and record their third win in their past four games.
Leafs continue picking up speed.
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: the Leafs never were a slow team at any point in this season, but with the addition of Nylander, Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov and other youngsters, Toronto’s speed is at a new level.
“These young guys can really skate,” said Rielly, no slouch himself in that department. “You saw Hyman skating tonight, you saw Willie skating. Me and P-A were talking between periods, and he said that it feels like he’s always open because he can get to that open ice quickly, he can skate, he can get speed going on the power play, and once he gets close to the net, he can rip it. It’s good.”