Ok, it was fun. I wasn’t exactly sure how much excitement could come out of an outdoor game (and the weekend surrounding it) but let us say….It was a giant success!!
From the great save by Mike Palmateer on a penalty shot, to the intense stick swinging incident between Gary Roberts and Kris Draper, the Alumni game was outstanding. Why?
For us fans of yesteryear, it gave us a glimpse at the players we all grew up cheering for. A chance to recall the passion and love we had for players that actually represented our beloved franchise with a sense of pride.
For those aforementioned players, it gave them a chance for a last twirl in the limelight that is the Leafs nation. The spotlight was place on them for an afternoon and it appeared to be enjoyed by every single one of them.
Finally, the new players in Leafs blue and white. The Auston Matthews and Mitch Marners of the world (and the other rookies on this team) who got to seek out autographs in the dressing room during the celebrations. To see how passionate former players were about that logo on the chest. Imagine being a fan of the Leafs growing up, like Connor Brown, and then getting a chance to sit near Clark or Gilmour. It would blow your mind, and then some.
The young Leafs squad played a very tight game thru two periods against the Red Wings. ‘Defensive battle’ as Matthews called it. It was tied at 1-1 when Matt Martin decided to seek out Steve Ott after a few questionable runs by Ott. Martin fed Ott in the yap trap before the two were separated but the antics continued into the penalty box. Some will say fighting has no effect on the game. However, a pretty quiet crowd was immediately engaged and so were the stars of this team.
Mitch Marner started the onslaught as he scored a beauty by walking out of the corner for his 9th of the season. Connor Brown, continued his hot play by scoring from Hyman and Carrick.
Marner gettin’ silly pic.twitter.com/NFh5OUTVxr
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 1, 2017
Auston Matthews score his 19th goal of the season from Brown and Hyman to give the Leafs a 4-1 lead *cue ominous music*.
Swagger….we got this.
Please take a moment to appreciate this sassy fist-bump by Matthews pic.twitter.com/HvwGcRvMOA
— Asher (@AshySkates) January 2, 2017
Do we see a pattern here? Nope. not the blown lead as the Red Wings came back to tie it at 4 before the end of regulation. The simple fact that the Leafs are generating offense from the kids. The kids are the ones who are stepping up on the big stage to make things right in Toronto.
As overtime started, this guy and many others, could feel the stage being set for a big moment. And as if by design, at 3:40 of OT, Leafs star Auston Matthews scored to give the Blue and White an epic win at the Centennial Classic.
Fans might have been disappointed at the blown lead, but not for one second a the outcome of this game.
So where do we stand now?
After winning 5 straight games, the Leafs now have 41 pts in 36 games. They are 10th in the Eastern Conference and climbing. This young club has positioned themselves for a run at a Playoffs spot and the simple fact is, kids do not know any better. They all believe they SHOULD be in the Playoffs.
Auston Matthews is now the leading scorer for all Rookies in the NHL. With 20 goals and 32 points he is the first rookie to score 20 this season and all signs point to him figuring out the the NHL rapidly. He is also now 20th in the entire league in points.
Mitch Marner and William Nylander continue to be third and fourth in Rookie scoring in the NHL with 27 and 25 points respectively. Matthews is not doing it all by himself, the secondary scoring and support system that is in place is doing an incredible job.
Goaltending. Not much else to say about what Frederik Andersen. This guy has been an excellent addition to a young team that would not be in the position they are in without his timely saves and sense of confidence between the pipes. Currently sporting a .924 Save % and a 2.52 GAA, the Great Dane has been better than advertised after a slow start since being injured in a pre-season ‘fun’ tournament warm up game.
This team is winning by committee. While Matthews is doing incredible work, every member of the Blue and White is pitching in for victories. It would be great to see an addition to the blue line in the near future, but I dont have any sense that it will be anything of the blockbuster sort. I feel that it will be a piece that can be added as an improvement, but one that does not upset the vibe of the dressing room. As Morgan Rielly said this weekend, “this is closest dressing room that I have been a part of…”
I am excited for the second half of this season.
Go Leafs Go !!
Even the Brass can Celebrate !!
Gotta love how pumped @brendanshanahan, @kyledubas, and the rest of the Leafs box were for Matthews' OT winner pic.twitter.com/q2z7Ea1rS5
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 2, 2017