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6 Maple Leafs takeaways: Unlikely bet on Woll pays off

The Toronto Maple Leafs used to be guilty of letting their bad games snowball into a bad week.

Lately? One loss is but a pothole in an otherwise smooth ride through the regular season.

Responding decisively to Saturday’s blank sheet at the hand of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs flipped the script on a COVID-hit New York Islanders squad that has yet to find its stride a quarter of the way into the season.

Outshooting the Isles 40-20 and outscoring them 3-0, Toronto gifted fresh-faced Joseph Woll with his first NHL shutout in just his second NHL game and stretched its road win streak to four, outscoring the enemy 14-6 during that run.

Here are six takeaways from the Leafs’ 11th victory in their past 13 games.

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The Brick Woll is undefeated — believe it

Prospect Joseph Woll was leaned on heavily in last week’s NHL debut, a big win in Buffalo, was perfect Sunday in his second-ever start.

Tucking that first game under his belt, the 23-year-old figures, gave him a mental boost heading into UBS.

“I just felt different this week. I feel more part of the team. I’m a little more comfortable here, and I’m just excited to go play some hockey again,” Woll said Saturday night.

“The biggest thing for me is probably adjusting to the speed. Guys can make the plays a little bit faster, and they’re pretty smart players up here. It’s just making sure I’m getting in the right spots quickly and giving myself a little more time to react and let the game come to me.

“The biggest thing for me is to understand it’s just another hockey game and go play like I can.”

Just another hockey game, eh?

Just another win for a guy who started the season as Toronto’s fourth-string goaltender.

“Whenever a goalie gets a shutout, it’s definitely not fair to just say it was all him or even mostly him,” said Woll, whose workload was limited to just 20 shots. “It really starts with how the team plays, and it was unbelievable.”

Tavares still the man they love to hate

The one guy who has served as captain of both franchises has nothing but great things to say about his old team’s new barn.

After years jockeying between a rink too small on the Island and one too big in Brooklyn, the Isles have their Goldilocks, their just right.

This weekend, they cut the ribbon on their very own $1.5-billion UBS Arena at Belmont Park, in Elmont, N.Y.

“It’s tremendous for the franchise and fanbase, something that’s been kind of hanging over them for a long time, probably decades,” Tavares said. “Not only is it a new building, it’s their building. And it [comes with] a contending team, a really good team that people look at as a constant favourite now. It’s a testament to what they’ve done.”

Hours before another return to the city that drafted him first overall in 2009, Tavares reflected on his most cherished memories from Nassau Coliseum (first game, first goal) and Barclays Center (double-OT playoff winner versus Florida). And, yes, he remembered what it was like to make the long commute into the heart of Brooklyn to play in a stadium built for basketball.

“Yeah, it was different. I [hopped the train] a little bit, carpooled a few times,” Tavares said. “It wasn’t ideal. But being negative or worrying about a situation like that, I don’t think was the right way to approach it — especially when you have to play 41 times in a building.”

By all accounts, UBS is magnificent and — with a low roof and steep seating — loud. A deserving hockey cathedral for the patient faithful.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Islanders fans still booed Tavares every time he touched the puck.

The Leafs’ PK is A-OK

The positive turnaround of Toronto’s power play has overshadowed the superb work new assistant coach Dean Chenoweth has done with its 4-on-5 strategy.

After years of steady decline in the area, the Leafs’ PK has become one of the most aggressive and effective in the league.

What Toronto’s third-ranked kill (88.7 per cent) had not accomplished until Sunday was score shorthanded.

Mitch Marner did just that, opening the scoring in the first period in a 4-on-3 situation.

Marner was sprung for his second career shortie with a beautiful three-zone, cross-ice pass from Jake Muzzin, and he let his magic feet do the rest:

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“When your penalty kill is feeling it, they are confident, and they tend to hold onto the puck a little bit longer, and sometimes they can catch teams like that,” Keefe said.

“It was a huge goal for us, and more importantly it was a huge kill at an important time of the game.”

Bunting is incredible on the draws (not that kind)

Michael Bunting drew two more minor penalties Sunday, increasing his total to 13 on the year.

That ties the winger with Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli for the most in the whole league.

“It’s absolutely a skill. It’s a competitive thing,” Keefe says. “First of all, you got to get yourself into spots that are contentious, then you’ve got to keep your feet moving, and you’ve got to escape out of traffic with pucks. It’s a skill, and one that’s not easily transferable to others.

“It’s something that obviously is important, something that he brings to our team.”

Marner and Alexander Kerfoot share a distant second among Leafs in penalties drawn (six apiece).

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Left-wing shuffle continues

As much as Keefe wanted to give Nick Ritchie another decent run on the top line, the lack of even-strength production from Marner and Matthews has necessitated a second demotion.

So, while the coach appears to have (more or less) settled on four centreman–right wing pairings — Matthews-Marner, Tavares-Nylander, Kämpf-Kase, Spezza-Simmonds — the left-wing carousel continued Sunday.

Ritchie was tried on the third line, Bunting leapt to the top unit, and Pierre Engvall slipped to Line 4.

Ritchie played a key role in Toronto’s second goal, by driving hard on the forecheck, getting a puck to David Kämpf, who fed Ondrej Kase for his fifth.

And Bunting had a heckuva game, working a give-and-go with Marner for the Leafs’ third goal.

“Ritch and Kase have got history playing together in Anaheim, and it’s been productive,” Keefe said. “So it’s something we’ve been thinking of doing for quite some time and thought today was the right night.”

Shawn McKenzie ate a blue and orange chicken sandwich

His astute culinary review? “Not bad.”

JFK 2 LAX

The Maple Leafs’ roadie heads three time zones to the left, as they are bound for California for dates against Los Angeles (Wednesday), San Jose (Friday) and Anaheim (Sunday) this week.

“A lot of great memories there. A lot of great friends,” says former King Jack Campbell, slated to start against the team that traded him away.

“It’s a business trip, so want to get out there and get some wins.”

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