Maple Leafs vs. Coyotes observations: A victory in Woll’s return, despite a wobbly third period

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It was too close, but the Toronto Maple Leafs finally found a way to win at home against the Arizona Coyotes.

The Leafs got off to a strong start on Thursday, as a highlight-reel assist from Mitch Marner set up Matthew Knies for a tap-in goal 13 minutes in. Tyler Bertuzzi then doubled Toronto’s lead one minute into the second by deflecting William Lagesson’s point shot past Connor Ingram. Toronto’s lead grew to 3-0 goals when Auston Matthews scored just past the halfway point, but who else but Alex Kerfoot responded with a short-handed goal less than two minutes later.

A stress-free third period wasn’t meant to be, as Logan Cooley pulled the Coyotes within one with ten minutes to play. Thankfully for Leafs fans, Joseph Woll looked like his old self in his first game back from injury, and William Nylander sealed a 4-2 win with an empty-net goal.

Three stars

1. Mitch Marner

Marner’s streak of seven consecutive multi-point games came to an end on Tuesday against Vegas, but he bounced-backed nicely in the first period on Thursday. He executed his patented move to set up Knies for a tap-in.

Marner came very close to scoring in the final minutes of the first, but his shot from the slot rang off the crossbar. His second period was just as entertaining, as he started taking regular shifts on defence after Mark Giordano went down with an injury.

2. Matthew Knies

Knies seemed to have a little bit of extra jump in his step against his hometown team. He opened the scoring for the Leafs after Marner put the puck on a platter for him, and he also picked up an impressive secondary assist on Matthews’ second period goal.

3. Joseph Woll

Woll played in his first NHL game in nearly three months, and while Toronto has played well as of late, his team certainly missed him. He missed 35 games in total, and Toronto’s .888 save percentage ranked 29th in the league during that stretch. He stopped 36 of 37 for the Marlies against Laval on Friday, and carried that confidence into the first period on Thursday, as he stopped all nine shots that he faced.

Unfortunately for Woll, there’s just no stopping a former Leafs player from scoring a revenge goal. Kerfoot beat him on a short-handed breakaway toward the end of the second period, but it was a nice goal that wasn’t his fault.

The Coyotes scored again halfway through the third, but once again, it wasn’t a bad goal against for Woll. The puck took a difficult deflection off the post, and this set up a tap-in for Cooley. Woll was steady the rest of the way, making a number of key stops in the final minutes to preserve the win. The Leafs were heavily outshot in the final frame, and they definitely relied on Woll more than Sheldon Keefe would have liked.

A suddenly effective fourth line

February was a strong month for the Leafs, especially for their top three forwards. While Toronto’s fourth line obviously hasn’t dominated on the scoresheet in quite the same way, it’s worth noting that their results have significantly improved as of late.

Prior to the start of February, the Leafs owned just 38.7 percent of the five-on-five expected goals when David Kämpf was on the ice. This jumped up to 71.1 percent in February entering Thursday’s game, which led the team. Kämpf hadn’t been on the ice for a five-on-five goal against in eight consecutive games, and while his line was on for one against Arizona, they were quite effective overall.

Pontus Holmberg made an excellent cross-ice pass to set up Mark Giordano for a high-danger chance halfway through the first period. The fourth line spent plenty of time cycling the puck around in the offensive zone, and it felt like Keefe could throw them out there at any time to build some positive momentum. Ryan Reaves hadn’t fought since the second game of the season, and this fight showed why there aren’t many willing opponents.

It’s time to acquire a right-handed defenceman

The Coyotes didn’t have the star power to capitalize, but it’s not exactly ideal to have Mitch Marner playing defence. Toronto started the game with six lefties on the back end, and Mark Giordano left with an injury. With Timothy Liljegren and Conor Timmins also out, we could see the return of Marshall Rifai or Max Lajoie on Saturday night against the Rangers. However, Toronto’s stars continue to show that this is a team worth betting on to make a move before the trade deadline.

Matthews already has 53 goals, and Marner was one of the league’s best players in February. William Nylander is having the best season of his career, and Bertuzzi is starting to look like the forward who was excellent for Boston in last year’s playoffs. The Leafs went on a huge winning streak in February even without their starting goalie, and depth players such as Bobby McMann, Pontus Holmberg and Simon Benoit have all exceeded expectations.

The fourth line suddenly looks competent, and Woll reminded us all what he’s capable of. Thursday provided another reminder that the Leafs have some real game-breakers, and this Leafs team needs to, and deserves to, add a quality option on the right side.

Game score

Final grade: B-

The Coyotes had lost 13 consecutive games entering Thursday, and it would have been a bit of a disaster if the Leafs ended that streak, especially with Clayton Keller out of the lineup. However, given all of the games against top teams as of late, there was always a risk that the Leafs would fall victim to a trap game. It looked like the final grade would be an “A” after Toronto took a three-goal lead, but the team was terrible in the third.

The Leafs were outshot, and it’s tough to accept that in a matchup against a team that has now lost 14 in a row. Toronto’s top line showed how dangerous it can be, and the fourth line provided good energy, but I expected the team to look a little bit more dominant overall.

What’s next for the Leafs?

Staying at home to play the New York Rangers on Saturday at 7 p.m. on Hockey Night in Canada.

(Photo of Joseph Woll: John E. Sokolowski / USA Today)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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