TORONTO — The inherent differences in the roster construction of the Kraken and Maple Leafs self-actualized during Thursday’s 5-1 Seattle win.
The Kraken entered the contest with the second-most goals at 5-on-5 and its proficiency at even strength was a point of emphasis for both clubs prior to the game. It may be overly simplistic, but Toronto is often thought to rely on the strength of its core four forwards — five, if you account for Michael Bunting’s all-around game — whereas Seattle can roll four lines and get solid scoring throughout the lineup on any given night.
Toronto dominated the run of play during the first period but that’s merely academic now. Seattle came roaring back in the second frame after Toronto’s John Tavares tied the game by deflecting Mitch Marner’s point shot. Eeli Tolvanen, Vince Dunn, Jared McCann, Matty Beniers and Alexander Wennberg all got on the board for Seattle in a comprehensive victory, where it was the better team for the latter two periods.
Here’s what you need to know from the Kraken’s 5-1 victory over the Maple Leafs:
1) Vince Dunn, Kraken
Dunn told reporters pre-game that he was always excited to play in front of family, and the Mississauga, Ontario native was the best player on the ice, notching a goal and two assists. The 26-year-old scored the game-winning goal, 14 seconds after Tavares tied the game at one apiece. He was steady in his own end, facilitated several zone exits, finished with a team-best 73.5 corsi at 5-on-5, was on the ice for two goals with zero against and changed the tenor of the game entirely.
2) Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs
Marner isn’t focused on individual accolades — he balked at the suggestion after Thursday’s morning skate — but the Maple Leafs superstar was named to the All-Star game, and was Toronto’s best player for large stretches of the contest. Marner was individually strong on the penalty kill — the unit completely faltered after he cleanly ended his shift. He operated as the power-play quarterback with Toronto using its five-forward formation, and his seeing-eye shot was deflected for Toronto’s lone goal of the game. Marner won’t want to hear it, but he is one of the few Maple Leafs that can be proud of this effort.
3) William Nylander, Maple Leafs
Nylander has continued to play like a man possessed and Thursday was no different. He led the Maple Leafs with four shots on goal, and he was absolutely buzzing in tandem with Auston Matthews throughout the opening 30 minutes. Nylander’s effectiveness tailed off in the latter half of the game — perhaps symptomatic of the Maple Leafs’ night overall. But it’s hard to blame Nylander when he’s driving play and operates as a walking scoring chance. Tonight wasn’t necessarily his night on the score sheet, but much like Marner, it’s hard to single him out as a reason why the Maple Leafs were routed on home ice.
Off night: Matt Murray and Morgan Rielly
Matt Murray has been a revelation for the Maple Leafs but after facing no volume in the first period, he allowed a quartet of goals in the second frame against the run of play. Sometimes, you can attribute these things to the team defense selling him out, but that wasn’t the case tonight.
Murray let in a particularly soft goal to Dunn — which stood as the game-winner — then allowed another brutal tally to rookie Matty Beniers, looking outright distracted as it trickled through him. You could hear an audible groan from the Scotiabank Arena crowd, as the Kraken took a 4-1 lead into the third period and never looked back, despite largely being outplayed at 5-on-5. And when Alexander Wennberg put the finishing touches on the 5-1 victory, you had to wonder why Murray didn’t get pulled.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe revealed post-game he considered pulling Murray, but that he deserved to finish the game based on his form throughout the season.
the goals against are coming in bunches pic.twitter.com/l7lxIZPzBB
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) January 6, 2023
If you look at Morgan Rielly’s advanced numbers, it would paint the picture of a player who contributed to a positive shot differential, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Rielly’s cross-checking penalty effectively gave the Kraken the momentum they needed, and Seattle capitalized immediately on the power play. Rielly was caught completely flat-footed when Jared McCann raced in on a breakaway to put the Kraken up 3-1. Maybe you want to give a pass to Rielly, working his way back from injury, but he’s one of the main culprits tonight.
Mark Giordano narrowly missed this designation, having been on the ice for three goals at 5-on-5. For what it’s worth, Rielly, Giordano and Murray were accountable for their poor performances post-game.
Play of the game
We wrote about this earlier, but Jaden Schwartz’s long-range bullet pass to Jared McCann was the best play of the game. McCann beat every Maple Leafs player up the ice, where Rielly is the only player in the frame, and then he roofed it past Murray for a gorgeous finish. We’ve been critical of the Maple Leafs starting goaltender's outing, but this snipe would’ve beat every goalie in the league.
Things we like to SEA:
Jared McCann breakaway goals pic.twitter.com/Ais8HvDmrJ
— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) January 6, 2023
Misplay of the game
You could point to the Kraken’s second or fourth goal, but we don’t want to pile on Murray. Morgan Rielly’s cross-checking penalty in the second period against Yanni Gourde allowed the Kraken back into the contest, it was a needless penalty with the Maple Leafs completely controlling play, and though Murray is largely to blame for the loss, this was the turning point.
Rielly to the box for cross checking pic.twitter.com/0DGuzElBxP
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) January 6, 2023
Stat of the night
Following Thursday’s victory against the Maple Leafs, the Kraken lead the NHL with the most five-on-five goals in the NHL with 93, taking over the lead from New Jersey, via Natural Stat Trick. It was a point of emphasis pre-game, and it’s a testament to the Kraken’s depth.
After a tough 5-1 loss, perhaps the Maple Leafs could use a few daps from Carlton the Bear.
Quote of the day:
Sheldon Keefe, on why he didn’t pull Matt Murray: “Matt Murray has played a lot of really good hockey for us. I thought he deserved the opportunity to stay in there and fight.”
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