Sports Hockey

Maple Leafs

Nylander sets record in Leafs win over lowly Devils

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Toronto - 

Let’s hope Lou Lamoriello thought to leave a bit of extra cash aside for the person responsible for updating the Maple Leafs record book during the off-season.

The Leafs’ sensational crop of rookies in 2016-17 is laying waste to it.

And to perhaps underline the depth of the Leafs’ freshmen, it wasn’t Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner to be the first to topple a team record.

That would be William Nylander, who extended his points streak to 10 games during the Leafs’ 4-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night.

Nylander had a goal and an assist in the first period, allowing him to leave behind Gus Bodnar (1943-44), Bob Nevin (1960-61) and Dan Daoust (1982-83), all of whom had a nine-game point streaks as rookies.

“They are good players … I didn’t even know if Mitch Marner could make the team, to be honest with you, I had no idea,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.

“I knew Matty (Matthews) was a real good player, I knew Willy was a good player, I knew (Zach) Hyman and (Connor) Brown were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was even close to being as good as he is. Connor Carrick, we don’t call him a rookie, but to me he is a rookie and he is a really good player. We have lot of good young players, but we have lots of guys … (Tyler) Bozak has really picked it up, (James) van Riemsdyk is an important player for us, (Nazem) Kadri, Leo (Komarov) are important. (Morgan) Rielly. You go through the whole group, you need everyone to be successful.”

The Leafs improved to 6-9-1 in the second game of back-to-back sets and put more room between themselves and the Boston Bruins, who lost against Tampa Bay. The Leafs have 85 points and are in third place in the Atlantic Division, three up on Boston.

The assist was Nylander’s 35th of the season, kicking in a $212,500 bonus. Nylander has 25 points on the power play, tying the record for freshmen set by Daoust 34 years ago.

There was more as the Leafs improved to 7-1-1 in their past nine games.

Marner assisted on a second-period goal by James van Riemsdyk, giving him 40 on the season. That ties Marner with Bodnar for the team rookie record, set in ’43-’44.

“It’s pretty cool, especially (on) the team you grew up watching,” Marner said of tying Bodnar. “But at the same time there is still a lot of work to do. You can’t focus on yourself and points, you just have to focus on what you can do to help.

“It’s do or die for us here and we have to win every game out and that is what we are thinking. We can’t think any other way.”

Matthews picked up a pair of assists, moving him to 60 points and within six of Peter Ihnacak’s team freshman mark.

The Leafs were without suspended defenceman Roman Polak and forward Eric Fehr, who had surgery on his left hand after suffering an injury in Columbus on Wednesday. Babcock said there is no timetable for Fehr’s return.

Toronto shrugged off an early 1-0 Devils lead after John Moore scored his first of two goals. As the Leafs have been demonstrating as the games grow in intensity, there was no sagging in their collective shoulders.

Josh Leivo, on a power play, and Nylander scored before the end of the first.

Early in the second, van Riemsdyk buried a Marner rebound. Tyler Bozak also had an assist, giving him 50 points, a career high.

Moore scored in the third on a power play and Brown answered with an empty-net goal.

LEAFS NOT IN PLAYOFFS YET: BOYLE

One gets the idea veteran Brian Boyle easily grabs his Maple Leafs teammates’ attention.

“We don’t have a check mark next to our name,” the 32-year-old Boyle said. “We have not clinched anything. We have a long way to go.”

Is Boyle seeing a common theme with the Leafs that has been part of the successful playoff teams he has played on in the past?

“Baseball is pitching and defence,” Boyle said. “Here, it’s goaltending, defence, defending. I think the compete level in here and the skill level, there is plenty of that to go around. Everybody here works. The way we defend, we are getting better and better.”