Marner gets tricky for Maple Leafs, Woll big again in shootout win

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If wearing a full face shield impacted Mitch Marner’s vision on Thursday night, no one noticed it.

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The Leafs winger scored three goals and added another in the shootout, powering Toronto to a 4-3 victory against the Seattle Kraken at Scotiabank Arena.

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Joseph Woll, who made his best save in overtime when he stretched across his crease to deny Jordan Eberle, stopped Kailer Yamamoto and Jared McCann in the shootout.

Auston Matthews also beat Seattle goalie Philipp Grubauer in the skills competition to decide the game.

We can say plenty about the Leafs in 2023-24, chief among them that nothing comes easy for the club.

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Some takeaways:

MARNER MAGIC

For all of the good things he has done a Leaf, Marner never had scored a hat trick in front of the home fans.
His only other hat trick in the NHL came in Detroit against the Red Wings on Feb. 26, 2022, in what you will recall was a wacky night that saw the Leafs depart Motown with a 10-7 victory. 

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Marner, who had just three assists in his previous eight games, couldn’t have needed a scoring outburst more. It came after he acknowledged this week that he was not trusting his instincts on the ice.

“It feels really good,” Marner said. “Like I’ve been saying, I haven’t been happy with my own game play. I thought I haven’t been my best. 

“I’ve helped his team win enough games or play my best to have an impact on games. Felt good tonight, just moving my feet, getting pucks in the right places and making plays off it and at the same not forcing stuff, being smart.

“I was lucky enough to be on the receiving side of some great plays and lucky enough to put them in.”

His goals came in different ways.

An easy goal into an empty net came during a Leafs power play early in the first period, Toronto’s first with a man-advantage in four games. A one-timed laser off a feed from Matthews in the second period just as a Seattle minor expired.

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And then the prettiest of them all, a breakaway that he ended when he fired the puck over Grubauer’s glove nearly 16 minutes after his second goal. That was the result of finding a bit of open ice in the neutral zone, where he was spotted by defenceman Jake McCabe with a terrific pass.

“Breakaway goal for him, that’s vintage Mitch Marner,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “For him to have a breakout game like that, I suspect he’ll be a lot more relaxed and just go out and play.”

As the hats rained down on the ice, we could almost hear Marner sigh with relief. 

After wearing a cage on against Florida on Tuesday when he took a Matthew Tkachuk shot off his face during the game, Marner went with a clearer view with the bubble/face shield. It worked.

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Marner got stitches on Tuesday before returning to that game.

“When (the Tkachuk shot) hit me, it kind of just went numb, my whole right side of my chin,” Marner said. “Started trying to clench my teeth and luckily enough I still could. Little bit of a scare there, to be honest. Doc did 12 (stitches), he did a great job and I was lucky enough to be able to play.”

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DEFENSIVE ZONE FUN

Carrying a 3-1 lead in the third period, the Leafs couldn’t keep a grip on the two-goal bulge as Seattle scored twice to tie the game.

McCann, who scored earlier in the game, quietly skated into the Leafs’ end undetected and got the tying goal at 13:24. 

No Leafs player picked up McCann, who was set up by Alex Wennberg and had enough time to set and beat Woll with a shot over the netminder’s left shoulder.  Fourth-liners David Kampf and Bobby McMann were on the ice for the Leafs, along with Calle Jarnkrok and defencemen TJ Brodie and Simon Benoit.

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The Kraken’s second goal came at 6:15 of the third when Eeli Tolvanen cut in, used Morgan Rielly as a bit of a screen and went high glove on Woll.

The Leafs’ inability to hold the lead in the final 20 minutes underlined the kind of hockey they’ve been playing lately.

A team with full, collective confidence in itself would have put away the Kraken, which was not in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, in the third period. At the least, it would have held Seattle at bay.

True, the Leafs are not being run out of the building, but they’re not doing the same to opponents either. Now past the quarter mark of the season, perhaps this is what the Leafs are.

Keefe would be inclined to disagree.

“We’ve been in this situation a lot and getting asked about it every single day, and for good reason getting asked about it, because we haven’t found a way to get on the right side of these things,” Keefe said. “But this is a really hard league to get points in. I think there’s 23 teams below us in the standings right now. And we haven’t played our best hockey. 

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“So we’re in a pretty good place while we continue to work through the things that we have to improve upon. There’s a lot of good things happening that are putting us in those positions. We know we have to continue to improve in the areas that will get us on the other side of it so we don’t have to go to overtime or shootout. But those points aren’t nothing. Those are important.”

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BRICK IN THE WOLL

Keefe said following the morning skate that it was a “somewhat easy” decision to give Woll a third consecutive start.

It shouldn’t be too hard to name Woll, who made 37 saves, the starter when the Boston Bruins visit on Saturday night.

In fact, we don’t think there’s much wrong with giving Woll the majority of starts. Ilya Samsonov has struggled and if he gets a look just every so often, so be it. It’s on him and goalie coach Curtis Sanford to get his game in order.

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Keefe has expressed his confidence in Woll and the goalie has given it back.

“That’s huge,” Keefe said. “My feelings on it don’t really matter, but it’s his teammates. They feel it back there. When we make a mistake, he’s there. He’s competing. 

“He’s growing, it seems like every single start. That’s an important piece for our team.

“Ilya Samsonov is not to be forgotten. He’s going to factor in, he’s going to be important for us, but to see Joseph growing like this, through this process, and through this week, as we’re now starting to get into more of a NHL-type rhythm, it’s great. Clearly, he’s the backbone of us getting these points here of late in particular.”

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