It was a double blue of a weekend for Toronto as the Raptors and the Maple Leafs had back to back games. Since 1995 that normally would be a huge recipe for disaster as we pretty much knew what the results would wind up being. But as we have realized over the last few months, these kids are different. So it wasn’t with much surprise therefore that Toronto took 3 out of those 4 games, but it did come with a sense of awareness or more so, a confirmation that although the leaders of both teams are leading the way, those young’uns are more than holding their own.
We can start with the Maple Leafs who earlier in the week had their worst loss of the season, losing 7-0 to the Kings. How would these new look, young rookies respond after the thumping they got. It didn’t help that they were in tough with the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite giving up an early lead, they managed to come back and dominate the third period scoring 4 goals to win 6-3. The resolve they showed in coming back after LA as well as coming back from within the game itself was more important than the actual result. Why? Examples like this continue to show how they have a lot of fight in them. Auston Matthews may be a little snake bitten as he hasn’t scored in a long time so Coach Babcock has started changing line mates to see if he can get going again. Matthews will break out of if soon as continues to do the right things and be in the right places. Speaking of breaking out, it was nice to see Morgan Reilly notch his first of the season and let’s not forget that sharpshooter (I jest) Martin Marincin knocked in his first as well.
Saturday night was the reverse unfortunately. They played as well as if not better than the current Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the first two periods. After allowing the Leafs to open the scoring, the Penguins scored 4 goals in the last 2 periods to win 4-1. The turning point in this game for me was the Maple Leafs penalty kill in the second period. With all the hockey I have watched in my lifetime, I have never seen anything like this. Not one, not two, but three… count’em THREE two-on-one opportunities for the short-handed Leafs and Matt Murphy makes not one, not two but three great saves to keep it tied 1-1 at that point. If that didn’t kill the momentum the Maple Leafs had built up to that point then Chris Kunitz’ goal with 18 seconds left in the second period surely did. The game was closer than the score suggested as the young Leafs tried to battle back but were outmatched by a superior team. The game did provide a view that the Leafs are a few steps away from being a solid top tier team. Before you think I am off my rocker, understand that each step however is a very difficult process and one that will take some time before they reach the maturity and level of play as the battle tested Penguins. It is good to see though that they are on the right path.
The Raptors on the other hand are already battle tested and they just simply, continue to win. After that bit of a stinker against Sacramento, the Raptors have won at Oklahoma, at Charlotte and then at home over the new-look NY Knicks. DeMar DeRozan had more 30+ nights, Kyle Lowry again contributed in all aspects of the games but there were a few things that were new as well. We are getting accustomed to great bench play from Norman Powell who will take on any challenge including guarding Carmelo Anthony who is about 30 pounds and a few inches taller and then he guarded Kristaps Porzingis who is about 3000 inches taller. Ok, ok, slight exaggeration there, maybe it’s only 11 inches, but still, that’s a huge difference. That little move at the end by Coach Casey was enough to confuse the Knicks and allowed Toronto to pull away in the last couple of minutes. Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira has played fantastically this weekend and I look forward to seeing him on the court more and more as he may have passed Jakob Poeltl on the depth chart. Speaking of looking forward to, those Toronto Huskies uniforms I thought looked real cool. I can’t wait to see them again.
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