KOSHAN’S LEAFS TAKEAWAYS: Matt Murray shines on busy night, Calle Jarnkrok clicks with Auston Matthews
Never a dull moment, it seems, in the Battle of Ontario.
And forget that the Ottawa Senators, barring a late-season charge and a collapse by a handful of teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings, won’t make the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs and Senators gave their respective fan bases another juicy chapter on Saturday night in Ottawa, with the Leafs emerging the victors in a 5-4 decision in a shootout.
The shootout felt like it could go on forever, and it almost did. Not until the ninth round was it decided, when Alex Kerfoot, who has not scored in 24 games, slipped the puck along the ice between the legs of goalie Mads Sogaard. Immediately before, Matt Murray, the Leafs’ hero on the night, denied Jakob Chychrun.
It was Murray’s first game in Ottawa since the Leafs acquired him from the Sens in a trade last summer, and the veteran netminder turned in one of his best performances of the season.
The Leafs, tired as they might have been after beating Carolina at home on Friday night, improved to 7-3-1 in the second game of back-to-back sets. Being good and having depth helps lead to that kind of record.
Yes, the 52 shots on goal by the Sens were the most the Leafs have allowed in a game this season, by quite a bit. The previous high against Toronto was 44, done twice. In the end, it amounted to one point for an Ottawa team that is going to be good, but isn’t there yet.
The Leafs won’t be using a ton of video from this one if they’re stressing positives. A two-goal lead disappeared in the third period when Ottawa captain Brady Tkachuk scored twice, including the tying goal with 11 seconds remaining and the Sens enjoying a two-man advantage with Sogaard pulled and TJ Brodie in the box from a last-minute tripping penalty.
What will matter most, as the players enjoy a day off on Sunday, is the two points gained.
Some takeaways from the Leafs’ 42nd win of 2022-23:
If you’d told Murray before the game that he would allow four goals in his sixth consecutive appearance, his shoulders might have slumped in despair.
That’s what transpired, yet Murray had every reason to stand tall afterward.
We’re not sure why there remains the question as to whether it will be Ilya Samsonov or Murray as the Game 1 starter in the playoffs. One of the goalies — that would be Samsonov — has been sharp and steady for much of the season. The other — Murray — has spent more than his fair share of time injured and now has to be most concerned with getting his game consistently to a good place.
Samsonov has earned the right to be the goalie to start in the post-season. It’s that simple. The key now is for Samsonov to get himself properly prepared for the Lightning.
It’s important, however, that Murray get into a rhythm, and he went further down that path on Saturday. The Leafs want to know he can be reliable if he is needed in the post-season.
With 48 saves through 65 minutes and six in the shootout, Murray did his full part to help the Leafs earn two points. His biggest came on Tim Stutzle in overtime, when Murray made a pad save after the Sens foward broke in alone.
The 48 saves were the second-most Murray has made in one NHL game. Playing for Pittsburgh on Feb. 11, 2019 in Philadelphia, he made 50 saves in a Penguins win.
JARNKROK BRINGS IT
If coach Sheldon Keefe decides to use Ryan O’Reilly, once the veteran centre returns from a broken finger, as the man in the middle on the third line, that leaves a spot open in the top six.
It’s there for Calle Jarnkrok to claim, if he hasn’t already.
Jarnkrok showed more of his offensive flair on Saturday, scoring two goals, bringing him to a career-high 17.
There’s some obvious chemistry with Auston Matthews, something that has eluded Kerfoot when he has had the chances to skate with the Leafs’ No. 1 centre.
In the second period, Jarnkrok found open ice and was fed by Matthews before beating Sogaard with a one-timer.
In the third, Jarnkrok went high glove after driving to the net and taking a pass from Matthews.
Both were goal-scorer’s goals, if you will.
If Keefe winds up using Michael Bunting alongside Matthews and Mitch Marner, that’s all good and as it should be. Jarnkrok, we’re seeing, has the chops to take top-six minutes and would also be a fine complement alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.
That is, as we said, if O’Reilly is the third-line centre. If O’Reilly is on the second line and Tavares is moved to the wing, then Jarnkrok slides to the third line. That option is attractive as well and brings an offensive punch to the bottom six.
Fingers crossed, of course, if you’re the Leafs and hope there are no further injuries to the forwards.
LINE ’EM UP
Keefe went with a more common split of 12 forwards and six defencemen after using 11 and seven for several games.
The coach gave veteran Mark Giordano, who had played in all of the Leafs’ 68 previous games, a well-deserved night off and also rested fellow defenceman Erik Gustafsson. Inserted was Justin Holl, who sat the night before against the Hurricanes.
Forward Noel Acciari didn’t make the trip after the Hurricanes’ Jesse Puljujarvi collided with him in the first period 24 hours earlier, but Keefe indicated that Acciari didn’t suffer a concussion.
Wayne Simmonds played for the first time since Feb. 1 and though he had a team-low six minutes 44 seconds of ice time, tied for the Leafs lead with three hits.
Bobby McMann, recalled from the Toronto Marlies, got another look and had one shot on goal in seven minutes.
Samsonov stayed back in Toronto to rest some bumps and be with his wife, who is due to give birth.
Goalie Joseph Woll, also summoned from the minors, backed up Murray.
THEY SAID IT
“Marathon of a game. Super-exciting game to be a part of, a lot of emotion out there. A lot of energy in the building. Nice to get that extra point. It was a fun one to be a part of. You try to hold the fort as long as you can (in the shootout). By the end of it, I kept my head down. When Kerf put that in, I wasn’t watching. It ended up working out.” — Murray on the night as a whole
“He was a brick wall, he was so solid. Came up with big saves for us, which was massive. Just kept playing. He doesn’t get rattled in there, just on to the next shot, on to the next play. He kept us in the game.” — Matthews on Murray’s performance
“Back to back, a desperate team on the other side on the road. To get four points out of four (Friday and Saturday) is good for our team.” — Keefe on two wins in two nights
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