Leafs complete road sweep, Marner point streak hits 17 games


DETROIT—Mitch Marner loves to score and loves to win.

Right now, the all-star winger and the Maple Leafs are doing both.

Marner extended his points streak to 17 games with a goal in the Maple Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Red Wings on Monday night, completing a four-game road sweep that included stops in New Jersey, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.

Marner is just one game shy of the Leafs record set by Darryl Sittler in 1977-78 and tied in 1989-90 by Ed Olczyk, with the chance to tie the mark Wednesday at home to the San Jose Sharks.

“It’s a hard league, man,” said Marner. “I’m not expecting this every night. I’m just trying to go out there and buzz and be myself and try and make plays, and it’s been working. Got to stick with that. Guys have been great finishing pucks for me, and giving me the pucks that I’ve been lucky enough to score with, as well.

“The wins are more important and that’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s why this feels great.”

More bad news for the rest of the Atlantic Division: it’s been more than Marner doing the scoring lately. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Rasmus Sandin — with his first of the season — also scored for the Leafs, who had at least four goals for the seventh time in 24 games. Five of those outbursts have come in the last eight contests.

Matthews, in particular, seems to have woken up, scoring like last year with that hard snapshot in each of the last two games. Scoring at even strength was his forte last year and that, too, seems to be heating up. He had three points Saturday in Pittsburgh, including a five-on-five goal, and a goal and an assist Monday.

“It always helps to score and it’s always fun to win,” said Matthews. “We just want to keep it rolling … This was a big road trip for us. It felt like a bit of a long one, but it’s good to get a lot of points on this one. Now we go home and want to make sure that we continue to push.”

Michael Bunting has four points in his last three games, while Nylander has been fairly consistent, including goals in three straight games.

When the big horses are going, they’re a hard team to catch.

“They’re an elite team that’s playing very well right now,” said Wings coach Derek Lalonde. “What’s been most impressive with watching Toronto is their ability to play the right way. And they’re doing (it without) that defensive core that they’ve lost.”

Winning anyway

The Leafs are 4-0-0 without Morgan Rielly (knee injury) and 7-0-2 without T.J. Brodie (oblique). They’re also 10-1-4 in their last 15 after completing a four-game road sweep to move within three points of first-place Boston. The Bruins have three games in hand.

“Any time you lose a guy, it stings and it sucks and then you just get to work,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “Whether you’re coach or a player, you’ve just got to press on. And whether you’re a guy coming in the lineup or you’re a guy that’s playing more, everybody just has to play better, play smarter, play more connected as a group, defend better and then compete, find ways to win.

“So we’ve done that, and we’ve given ourselves chances to win each game.”

On top of that, goalie Matt Murray is 5-0-1 since returning from injury, after putting in another solid performance in net — turning aside 42 of 44 shots as the Wings pressed when trailing. He’s faced fewer than 30 shots just once in that span.

“I thought we defended way too much because of our inability to break out,” Keefe said. “But I thought especially in periods two and three, we really didn’t give up the big chance. (Detroit had) a lot of shots from the perimeter, a lot of long shots. I thought the guys did a good job of allowing Murray to see the puck and the way he’s playing, he’s stopping it.”

Marner magic

The accolades for Marner have been arriving regularly during his 17-game run.

“When you get in a rhythm, when you’re an elite player like that, you just feel like every shift you’re going to make a difference,” said Keefe. “He’s feeling it with the puck, without the puck, with his defending. Some of his best plays are coming off of his reads and great turnovers to create high-end chances for us.”

Wings fly

If there’s a surprise team in the Atlantic it’s the Red Wings, who have kept pace at the top of the division. Though things remain tight, the Wings might be the ones to break the stranglehold on playoff positions held by Boston, Toronto, Florida and Tampa last year.

“That’s exactly our goal,” said defenceman Moritz Seider. “We have high expectations for the organization and that should be a reality for us. If you just look at our standings, I think we don’t have to hide anywhere. We’ve been taking a lot of good strides forward. I’m very confident in the locker room.”

Seider, who scored the game’s first goal, was last season’s rookie of the year and is one of the reasons that optimism has returned to the Motor City. With that goal, he became the fourth defenceman in Wings history to register 60 points at age 21 or younger. The others were Steve Chiasson, Reed Larson and Nicklas Lidstrom.

Matthews scores

The Leafs didn’t score first, but they did have the early lead. After Seider jumped on a Matthews giveaway for the opening goal, the Leafs centre returned the favour, scoring less than four minutes later. He took a feed from Michael Bunting and got that one-timer away. It was his second goal in two games. Rookie Mac Hollowell sent the play up ice to Bunting, earning his first career NHL point. Nylander then scored on a power play for a 2-1 lead. It was his third career shot against Wings goalie Ville Husso, all goals. Though the Wings carried the play and led 12-5 in shots, it was the Leafs with a 2-1 lead.

Goalie change

The Leafs chased Husso by scoring twice in the second to open a 4-1 lead. Marner scored his streak extender on a hard wrist shot from 39 feet. But Sandin’s shot from the point, with Bunting running interference, was what caused the Wings to bring in Alex Nedeljkovic.

Coach’s corner

Lalonde, who was an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, had more praise for the Leafs and what he’s seen this season. He was asked if he saw any difference from last year.

“No, and I think it’s a compliment to them. They’re having success because they’re playing the game the right way. The most recent winning they’ve done is because in a game they allowed two goals, one goal. It’s about what they’re keeping out of the net, not what they’re putting in the net. So, that’s what we saw in the playoffs last year. That was a very committed team to doing the right thing.”

Stats pack

When Matthews scored from Bunting and Hollowell, it ended Marner’s run of factoring in on the team’s first goal at six games. It was the 11th time a Leaf had done that, including John Tavares last season. The league record is 10, by Steve Yzerman.

  • In addition to his 17-game point streak, Marner owns an active eight-gamer on the road.
  • Nylander’s goal was his seventh on the road this season. Only three players have more: Vancouver’s Bo Horvat (10), Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov and Dallas’s Joe Pavelski (eight each).

  • Matthews’s first-period goal was the 270th of his career. Only one U.S.-born skater in NHL history scored more at age 25 or younger: Pat LaFontaine (280).

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