SIMMONS: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Maple Leafs

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From night to night in this seemingly endless National Hockey League season, it’s unclear exactly who and what the Toronto Maple Lears are.

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Some nights have been infuriating and some nights have been exhilarating. Some exciting nights and some confusing ones. And some nights it’s all of those things.

And all of that was on display Saturday night in Montreal and Sunday night in Toronto — it was all happening in the NHL’s deep Eastern Conference, where the Leafs, responding to a city and country in celebration of football on Sunday, matched that emotion by beating the best team in the East on the night after losing to the worst team in the conference.

Do you want to make sense of this?

The Leafs seem to defy logic most of the time and that’s part of what makes them so fascinating. Night to night, week to week, they go from great to good to terrible to great to good to terrible.

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They can lose to Montreal, barely beat Jersey and be routinely handled by the Buffalo Sabres, but beat the Florida Panthers on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena. The Panthers have been nothing but the best team in the East all season. The win comes shortly after defeating the second-best Carolina Hurricanes in the East about a week ago. And they face the scorching Bruins on Tuesday, and one would expect, because of all that confusion from the Maple Leafs, another solid performance in Boston.

But don’t expect predictable here.

This is a Maple Leaf roster that remains a mystery to Coach Sheldon Keefe. He quietly wondered about his captain John Tavares’ play, like everyone who’s watched him lately, and not so happy with William Nylander’s play – and on Sunday against the Panthers, Tavares had a rare multiple goal. tonight, both goals on the power play, with both goals assisted by the Leafs’ best player – this week – Mitch Marner, who set up three scores in that 5-2 win over the Panthers.

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Tavares hasn’t done much at even strength in recent months and his lack of performance and his line’s inability to do anything meant Keefe steered Nylander off his line in hopes of something well happen. It happened to Tavares, who can still score when given the opportunities down below. He may not be able to do what the Leafs believed they could do to help them when they signed him as a free agent, but tightly, with talent like Marner finding him when needed. , he still has hands to make the difference.

That’s the challenge for the Leafs: getting goals beyond their front line, finding scores that don’t just start with Auston Matthews and Marner.

The Leafs took a 1-0 lead on Oscar night on a play started by Matthews and ended up with Morgan Rielly tipping a puck past Spencer Knight.

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Tavares scored the second and third goals, on the power play, on Marner setups. A rare evening with two goals for him.

Leaf’s fourth goal was one of those jaw-dropping moments for Marner. He went wide, sent a saucer pass to Ilya Mikheyev, who has discovered a new level in his game lately. He wants the puck, wants it with his speed, can do damage when found wide open, like Marner found.

Mikheyev rushed in, deked Knight, looking like the goalscorer he hopes to be. And it was Leafs night on the scoreboard. Matthews scored his 48th of the season, into the empty net, taking it and not celebrating smartly with a second left. The crowd was able to celebrate. They deserved it in a rare Sunday night game in Toronto.

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The best part of winning was actually getting that win – the one that mattered. It was a game to gauge exactly where the Leafs could be. Or what is possible. You see a night like this and wonder what this team is capable of. And you see a game like Saturday and you wonder why the Leafs are playing at their opponent’s level.

This team seems to be always on the questions. Who is in the goal? Who can play goal? Who can stop the puck? It was last week.

Who is in defense? Who is healthy enough to play defense? If they are healthy enough to play, who is playing with whom? It was the week before.

Who is in front? Is there too much reliance on the first line and not enough production from the second line? Can Tavares produce on par and can Nylander compete consistently enough in all facets of the game to be the great player he should be? It is now.

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  1. Maple Leafs goaltender Erik Kallgren makes a save against Canadiens left winger Paul Byron during a second period NHL game in Montreal, Saturday, March 26, 2022.

    The Maple Leafs maintain the advantage in the game, but lose to the Canadians on a few late goals

  2. John Tavares of the Maple Leafs is congratulated after scoring in the second period against the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday March 27, 2022.

    Tavares and Marner lead Maple Leafs to impressive win over Panthers

  3. Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi celebrates his goal against the Anaheim Ducks.

    SIMMONS SAYS: Predators’ Roman Josi makes real effort for Norris and Hart trophies

The second line still needs to be corrected. The fourth line needs an upgrade and an occasional objective. The third line, most of the time, does its job.

It may have been Marner and Matthews doing the heavy lifting on Sunday night against the Panthers, but Tavares’ two power-play goals were a breakthrough and Mikheyev’s continued offensive presence is intriguing.

It’s the Leafs. Full of questions. Lots of answers. Every night a new story to write.

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