KOSHAN: Woll 'outstanding' in return to Maple Leafs net

Get the latest from Terry Koshan straight to your inbox

Article content

Joseph Woll is back.

Advertisement 2

Article content

And in top-notch form, no less.

Article content

In his first game with the Maple Leafs since the goaltender suffered a high ankle sprain on Dec. 7, Woll made 30 saves on Thursday night in a 4-2 victory against the Arizona Coyotes at Scotiabank Arena. 

“He was outstanding,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He was the difference in the game. We didn’t play great. 

“Joe was excellent. Great to get him back, great for him to get through a game like that where the shot volume is not high. But when Arizona does shoot it, it is usually a pretty good scoring opportunity. 

“He looked really strong and athletic. All the things we know him to be, he was that.”

Woll was crucial during a flurry of Coyotes shots, with goalie Connor Ingram on the bench in favour of an extra skater, before William Nylander scored into the empty Arizona net.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

“It was awesome,” Woll said in reference to getting the win. “It has been a few months and I’ve really been missing playing. 

“I felt good. I’ve had some practices to get up to speed (as well as a successful start with the Toronto Marlies), so I felt like I fit right back in.”

Woll played in the same manner he did before he got hurt: Calm, confident and positionally sound. It couldn’t have gone much better for him.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

MORE MITCH MAGIC

Your memory was not playing tricks on you. 

Mitch Marner has made that kind of play before.

The star winger was at it again, having the presence of mind to make a backhand drop pass, while on a breakaway, to Matthew Knies for Toronto’s first goal at 13:04 of the first period. 

“Just try to read the play — read the speed that I have, the D-men or the backchecker, try to read where Kniesy is,” Marner said. “Take all those into effect, and it helps that (Knies) is a lefty. 

Advertisement 4

Article content

“When I go to the backhand, it’s quite easy to drop it right to his forehand and hopefully give him a chance to score, and it has worked.”

Two years ago, Marner made a similar play to set up David Kampf for a shorthanded goal in Seattle against the Kraken. Future Leafs teammate Mark Giordano was on the ice for Seattle.

And we just happened to be in the building in London some eight years ago, when Marner set up Knights teammate Christian Dvorak for the same type of goal against the Erie Otters in an Ontario Hockey League game. Future Leafs teammate Travis Dermott was on the ice for Erie. 

On Thursday, Marner’s break came about after he intercepted a pass by Logan Cooley, Knies’ linemate at the University of Minnesota.

“There’s a lot to process there in a short amount of time, in terms of spacing, the timing, the decision on whether you can get a great shot,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Mitch has scored some terrific breakaways this year, he has had some great moves to finish. And Kniesy, the awareness to not just go to sleep, but to be alert and finish it, that was good.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

And there was Marner taking shifts on the Leafs blue line after Giordano departed in the first period with what Keefe called a head injury.

“I’m just going where I’m getting asked,” Marner said. “It’s a bit of a learning curve back there for me, but it’s pretty easy with Tommy (Brodie). He has great gap, great stick. Just trying to find plays and try not to make mistakes.”

Marner hasn’t been getting the headlines during Auston Matthews’ march to 70 goals or more, but that doesn’t diminish what he has been doing for the Leafs on a nightly basis. Where the Leafs would be without Marner is not a pretty thought.

GAME ON

Smart on the part of the Leafs to go with three goalies now that Woll is back. There’s no reason — absolutely none — to risk losing Martin Jones on waivers. Even if Woll and Ilya Samsonov remain healthy, and perform well, for the remainder of the season, having Jones on hand makes the most sense. And if one of Woll or Samsonov gets hurt (heaven forbid both do), Jones has proven he can be relied upon … Ryan Reaves made short work of Liam O’Brien, who has an NHL-high 121 penalty minutes, in a fight late in the second period. O’Brien took exception after Reaves cleanly slammed Juuso Valimaki into the end boards. We know O’Brien’s role is pretty clearly defined, but why anyone would voluntarily engage in a scrap with Reaves has no reasonable explanation. Reaves got a roar out of the crowd when he pointed to his biceps as he made his way to the penalty box. “I thought that was a big turning point,” Matthews said. “I think (Reaves) has been playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen from him since he has been here. It has been a while since he dropped the gloves, so I know he has been itching to get into one. That was a big moment.” … Time was a goal by Alex Kerfoot, with an assist from Marner, would have been cheered in Toronto. Not so in the second period, when Kerfoot, now with the Coyotes, beat Morgan Rielly to a Marner pass and scooted away on a breakaway, beating Woll while Arizona was shorthanded. That got the visitors on the board at 14:39 of the middle period … Kerfoot got a mild round of applause when he was acknowledged on the centre-ice scoreboard, marking first game in Toronto after signing last summer with the Coyotes. “I have nothing but good things to say about the organization,” Kerfoot, who spent four seasons with the Leafs, said after the morning skate. “If (a tribute) happens, I’m very thankful. I would be thankful regardless.” As quiet as the response to Kerfoot was, it was not as tepid as the greeting Pierre Engvall got in his return with the New York Islanders on Feb. 5. That night, about three fans clapped when Engvall got a brief tribute.

[email protected]

X: @koshtorontosun

Article content