Maple Leafs’ Keefe Changes His Mind; Nylander Saves His Team

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What a difference four days make. In last Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens, William Nylander was benched for the last half of the third period because his head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t happy about the effort he extended on his defense. 

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In truth, his offense needed a boost as well because he’s scored only five goals and nine assists (for 14 points) in the 19 games he’s played this season. In addition, in Nylander’s last nine games before Wednesday night, he’d scored only a single goal and a single assist (both against Ottawa last Thursday).

Nylander Didn’t Match His Team’s Good Play

At the time Keefe noted that he “thought both tonight and last game he’s (Nylander) had a lot of really good stretches where he’s got good legs and he looks really dangerous like he’s ready to break out.” 

William Nylander, Maple Leafs (via sportingnews)

The big but coming was that, as Keefe said noted, when the team started to play the way he wanted them to during the third period, “I didn’t think Willy matched that.” 

Did coach Keefe trust Nylander to play hard on Saturday? Did he think he could help the team win? Not so much. 

Keefe Changes His Mind on Wednesday Night

The Maple Leafs beat the Calgary Flames in tonight’s game by a score of 2-1 in overtime. However, it was the most fortunate of victories. The team looked snakebit and the Flames seemed to be able to thwart the Maple Leafs’ attempts to get sustained offensive chances.

Who knows what a coach is thinking? Was Keefe playing a hunch when he stuck Nylander out there in overtime with Auston Matthews? Was he trying to show Nylander that he had faith in him despite Saturday’s discipline? Was it a reward for his hard work around the net when he scored the game-tying goal to save the team in regulation and push the game to overtime? 

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs

For whatever reason, when overtime came coach Keefe put Nylander in a spot to help the team win; and, he did just that.

It Was a Game Where the Maple Leafs Seemed Snakebit

It was a funny game. The Maple Leafs outplayed the feisty Flames throughout the game, but things either seemed not to be in sync for the team. For the second game in a row against hard-working Flames’ goalie David Rittich, the puck just wasn’t going in. 

Then, during the third period, the Flames scored. Fans – at least I did – felt that this might be a game where the first score would be the only score. Fortunately, for the Blue and White nation, with just over a minute left in regulation in a wild scramble in front of Rittich’s crease, Nylander pushed the puck through the five-hole and tied the score 1-1.

David Rittich Calgary Flames
David Rittich, Calgary Flames (via sportsnet)

Nylander added the game-winner with overtime just over a minute gone. The 24-year-old Swede finished the game with six shots on the net and having played 16:19 of time on the ice.

After only scoring one goal in his last 10 games and being benched on Saturday, Nylander saved his team from their second shutout loss in a row. 

In total, Nylander’s now scored seven goals and nine assists (for 16 points) in 21 games. However, the overtime goal was one the team really benefited from. 

Nylander Pushes Hard to Break Free

In the video below, you can see Nylander take a freeing pass from Matthews, get around the Flames’ defense, and lift a shot over Rittich’s left shoulder for the overtime winning goal.

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Is Nylander Out of His Scoring Funk?

Nylander’s a streaky player. He might just run off on a point-a-game pace for the next 15 games, or he might go back into a scoring drought. For Maple Leafs fans, he’s one of those players you either love or hate. Let’s hope that he can garner some love by generating a nice scoring streak.