Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders Wednesday at Air Canada Centre:
Hyman’s hard work helps him put together first scoring streak.
Rookie winger Zach Hyman, who netted his first NHL goal Monday against the Buffalo Sabres, scored his second of the season Wednesday – a marker at 11:27 of the first period that tied the game at one goal apiece three minutes after Islanders star John Tavares opened the scoring.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after Monday’s game he wasn’t sure how many goals the 23-year-old Toronto native would wind up scoring at the NHL level, but he was impressed with Hyman’s relentless work ethic, speed and willingness to get physical. But on a Buds team that’s struggled to produce offence most of the season, Babcock will happily accept any type of scoring Hyman can provide.
Nylander atones for Buds’ defensive errors with late-game heroics.
After finishing the first frame tied 1-1, the Leafs took the lead midway through the second on blueliner Morgan Rielly’s seventh goal of the year and Toronto’s second power play goal in as many games. Unfortunately, Islanders defenceman Nicky Leddy picked the corner on Toronto goalie Garret Sparks approximately two minutes later, and when forward Ryan Strome put the visitors ahead with 5:19 to play, things didn’t look good for the Buds.
However, with the Leafs on their fourth power play of the game, rookie centre William Nylander batted home a rebound off of Nazem Kadri’s shot with 1:13 remaining in regulation to score his second career NHL goal (and his second in three games) and send the contest to extra time. It was the type of quick-reaction play that requires superior hockey instincts, and the 19-year-old Nylander has those in spades.
Rielly proving to be quite the workhorse on ‘D’.
Rielly finished the night with a game-best 28:07 – the second time in the past four games he’s logged at least 27 minutes – and was especially dangerous for the Buds all night long. He was celebrating his 22nd birthday, and said afterward it was the first time in his hockey career he’d scored on that special occasion.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s already played 220 regular-season NHL games, but there’s a reason why Toronto selected him fifth overall in the 2012 entry draft – he’s got a maturity beyond his years and has the type of even keel necessary to help steer his team and teammates through these rebuilding years. The more you watch him play, the more you get the sense the best is yet to come.
Soshnikov nets the shootout winner to finish off Toronto’s strong rookie play.
Winger Nikita Soshnikov ended the game in the shootout by beating Isles netminder Thomas Greiss – and that meant all three Leafs rookies (including Hyman and Nylander) played key roles in the comeback win.
They’ve all still got a lot to learn at this level, but their acclimation to the NHL level has been rapid and impressive, and Leafs fans who can see the speed, skill and determination with which they play have to be thrilled to imagine the possibilities down the line as they gain experience and confidence. A night like this one certainly helped in the latter regard.
Another season debut for another Marlie.
Veteran blueliner T.J. Brennan – an absolute standout for the AHL Marlies this year, and that team’s leading scorer with 22 goals and 55 points in 59 games – made his NHL debut this season, playing 11:05, mostly on a pairing with Frank Corrado.
With Matt Hunwick sidelined for the rest of the year and youngster Viktor Loov also out of the lineup dealing with an injury, Brennan could stick around a while longer. The 26-year-old has 47 games of NHL experience (including six with the Buds last season) and might well form part of Toronto’s final defensive pairing for the remainder of the season.