Toronto Maple Leafs: Big 4 return to form after forgettable California road trip 

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

After a brutal end to the month of October where the Maple Leafs lost all four games of their yearly California road trip, it looked like they could be in some trouble.

The Maple Leafs’ big four — Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander — combined for just six goals in the four games and looked disinterested at most times. 

Two of the four losses came in overtime, the first to the San Jose Sharks, in which Nylander tried to send a pass rink wide to John Tavares, leading to a breakaway for Sharks defenceman Erik Karlsson. The other was the Ducks, where a missed opportunity by Mitch Marner led to an odd man rush and goal just seconds later. 

A two game homestand could not have come at a better time for the boys in blue as they looked to bounce back against the pesky Philadelphia Flyers and first place Boston Bruins. 

The Flyers — under new head coach John Tortorella — have looked like a reinvigorated team this season as they were just over .500 going into the game against Toronto on Nov. 2. The Leafs had a battle ahead of them as the Flyers play a tight system and throw the body every time they get a chance. 

But the Maple Leafs came out flying, looking like a completely new team than the one who had just played a couple nights prior in Anaheim. The Flyers scored late in the first but it was answered with two quick goals to end the period by Toronto superstar Auston Matthews and Captain John Tavares. 

Bottom six forward Zach-Aston Reese — who earned his spot on Toronto through a PTO — scored his first of the season early in the third to give the blue and white a two goal cushion. 

Philadelphia got a chance on the powerplay midway through the third bringing the score back within one. But Tavares stepped up and scored two more securing his first hat-trick of the season and leading his team to a much needed 5-2 victory against the Broad Street Bullies. 

Their next matchup would be the toughest of the season. The Boston Bruins off to the best start in franchise history — 10 wins and one loss — going into Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 5. 

Bruins Captain Patrice Bergeron has yet to lose a step despite being on the back nine of his career at 37 years old. Bergeron has four goals and six assists in 11 games heading into the game against the Leafs and with the return of Brad Marchand to the “perfection line” Bergeron was looking to add to those all star like totals. 

Unfortunately for Bergeron, he would have to wait for their next meeting, as Toronto played their best 60 minutes of the season winning the game 2-1. 

For the second game in a row the Big Four came to play. Auston Matthews scored both Toronto goals with Mitch Marner assisting on both. Sadly, Toronto netminder Ilya Samsonov suffered a knee injury on the one Bruins goal scored by Brad Marchand. Back-up Erik Källgren took over playing the last period of the game making seven saves on seven shots. 

Despite the Leafs big victory against the first place Bruins, they now had a few questions looming around the team. How long is Samsonov out for, who will back up Källgren in their next game and is Matt Murray close to returning?

Well Toronto answered the back up question quickly, signing Toronto Marlies goaltender Keith Petruzzelli to a two-year, two-way NHL contract. Pettruzzelli has just six pro hockey games under his belt with a .922 save percentage and 2.31 goals against average. 

In terms of Murray and Samsonov, they were both on the ice taking part in individual drills on Nov. 7 before practice. Murray is expected to return within the next week while Samsonov does not have a timeline for his return. 

Källgren got the nod on Nov. 6 in Carolina where Toronto won 3-1 and played another fantastic 60 minutes against a top team in the league. But they weren’t done with the top end matchups as they looked to win four in a row hosting the Vegas Golden Knights at home on Nov. 8. 

Unlike the previous two games the Leafs came out flat allowing a goal in the first minute of the game. But a goal just four minutes later from Timothy Liljegren — making his season debut after recovering from a herniated disc — tied the game 1-1. 

The Golden Knights scored one more before the end of the period and took the 2-1 lead to the dressing room after 20 minutes. 

Toronto came out in full force in the second scoring two — Mitch Marner with his first in six games and Liljegren’s second of the night — only allowing five shots in the period. 

Unfortunately, the Leafs could not hold the lead in the third giving up a goal with just over eight minutes left in the third. They would hang on until overtime but Golden Knight Rielly Smith ended it just 23 seconds into the extra frame as Toronto failed to win four straight. 

These four games — three at home and one on the road — after a tough California road trip is what the Leafs needed, nabbing seven of a possible eight points against tough opponents. 

The Leafs next matchup is against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 15 and can be watched on TSN4 or streamed on Sportsnet now Premium

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