At one point last week, the Maple Leafs had just one goal to show off their defensive bodies throughout the season.
Morgan Rielly changed that story in Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Arena.
Rielly bagged the first two goals of the game, one on the power play, and the Leafs picked up their fifth win in a row – 10th in their last 11 games – against a team that had won four straight.
A lot of things are going right for the Leafs – including special teams, puck support in the defensive zone and neutral zone play – that followed a five-game losing streak in October with a terrible November.
One thing that didn’t improve was production from the back end, but Rielly did his best to turn that around in one night with goals in each of the first two periods. It was his fourth career two-goal match, and second against the Rangers.
After the game, Rielly talked more about the fact that the Leafs held the lead in the third despite a stretch halfway through the period when the Rangers received a goal from Dryden Hunt and put six unanswered shots into goal.
“It’s a mindset,” Rielly said after the Leafs improved to 8-0 when leading after two periods. “You get in your mind that you’re going to play a certain way, and you don’t give up. It’s the mindset we’re starting to establish, and it’s been helpful. “
Special moments: Rielly’s second goal was also the Leaves’ 10th on the power play in the past 10 games. They also killed 12 consecutive penalties. “Our special teams were a big reason behind the list we have now,” said Sheldon Keefe, Leafs coach.
Campbell climbs: Strengthened by the Leaves ’strong defensive effort recently, goalie Jack Campbell is now among the NHL leaders in several categories. He was 16 minutes from his fourth shutout in eight games when Hunt beat him for his first goal of the season. Jacob Markstrom of Calgary leads the NHL in lockouts, posting No. 5 (in 13 starts) against the Buffalo Sabers on Thursday.
Campbell has stopped 117 of the 119 shots he has faced in the last four games. He also picked up his NHL leading 10th win.
“He’s our rock out there,” Rielly said.
Kämpf and cool: David Kämpf quietly became the Leaves’ main defensive forward and a major contributor to the five-game streak. His strengths include reading where the play is going and supporting his defenders as they work out the hockey puck from the Leaves ’zone.
Thanks to its effectiveness without the hockey puck in the neutral zone, the Leafs have also become much better at plugging that area and, as a result, decreasing the number of shots fired by the opposition – both outside the rush and in front of their own. network.
Kampf is also one of the better NHL forwards on fronts, especially in the defensive zone. The Leafs won 37 of 46 bouts Thursday night, and remain third in the NHL in team front percentage.
Simmonds returns: Wayne Simmonds was another player doing a quiet but effective job Thursday evening. Benched for a spell in the third period of Tuesday’s win over the Nashville Predators, he returned with a solid change in the first period that led to the first Rielly goal.
Simmonds set up the play successfully on the endboards, where he gained an inside position, then took the hockey puck and gathered help. It was a four-line goal, a reward for solid work done by Simmonds, Michael Bunting and Jason Spezza.
The Leafs are now 7-1 when winning first, and 8-0 when leading after two periods.
Good to go: Ondrej Kaše played after missing practice the day before. Kaše blocked a shot Tuesday against Nashville and was clearly in pain as he left the ice.
The crowd: Attendance was announced at 19,029, the second largest crowd for Leafs home game this season.
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