April 23rd, 2024

McMann, Holmberg help Leafs down Oilers 6-3; McDavid registers three more assists

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on March 23, 2024.

Toronto Maple Leafs teammates John Tavares (91), Bobby McMann (74) and William Nylander (88) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during second period NHL hockey in Toronto, Saturday, March 23, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nick Iwanyshyn

TORONTO – Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were front and centre on the marquee heading into Saturday.

Two superstars redefining their sport poised for a mouth-watering matchup.

A couple of Toronto’s depth players took centre stage instead.

Bobby McMann scored twice as part of a three-point night and Pontus Holmberg had two goals of his own as the Maple Leafs built a big lead before some nervy moments late on the way to topping Connor McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers 6-3.

“Team effort,” said McMann, who has gone from healthy scratch to indispensable lineup piece in just over a month. “A lot of guys contributed to that. There’s a reason we get opportunities, odd-man rushes, plays around the net.

“Guys around us are working hard.”

William Nylander had a goal and set up another for Toronto (40-20-9) before Matthews added his NHL-leading 58th into an empty net to go along with an assist.

John Tavares and Timothy Liljegren chipped in two assists each. Ilya Samsonov made 31 saves before departing with an injury late in regulation. Martin Jones stopped five shots in mop-up duty.

“Our guys just competed hard,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who added Samsonov should be fine. “We played with lots of attitude.”

Former Leafs forward Zach Hyman, Corey Perry and Leon Draisaitl replied for Edmonton (42-22-4), which entered 9-1-2 over its last 12. McDavid had three assists to give him 89 on the season. Stuart Skinner allowed five goals on 23 shots in two periods. Calvin Pickard made five saves in relief.

“Weird game,” Draisaitl said. “They probably capitalized on every single one of their chances, and we gave up a little too much the first 40 (minutes).”

The talk coming into Saturday’s showcase was dominated by McDavid and Matthews’ pursuit of jaw-dropping milestones, along with Hyman sitting two goals short of 50.

McDavid is looking to become just the fourth different NHLer – and the first since Wayne Gretzky in 1990-91 – to hit 100 assists, while Matthews could become the first since 1992-93 to put up 70 goals.

The Leafs’ supporting cast, however, largely flipped the script down a handful of sick and injured regulars.

“They loaded up their first line,” said Toronto’s Jake McCabe, who along with fellow defenceman Joel Edmundson was a nasty, physical presence all night. “We want our depth to to carry us through and show that we have better depth.

“Ended up being the difference.”

After the Leafs killed off an early penalty, McMann opened the scoring with his 12th goal of 2023-24 at 4:17 of the first period before Nylander added his 39th on a slick power-play deflection at 18:14.

Samsonov made a windmill glove save worthy of a hockey card off a blast by Edmonton defenceman Brett Kulak early in the second.

Holmberg scored his fifth at 8:02 for a 3-0 advantage after Matthews won a race and Max Domi unselfishly found the forward for a wide-open net.

The Swede added his second of the night 3:02 later on a 3-on-1 after the Leafs killed another penalty.

“Both guys were terrific,” Keefe said of McMann and Holmberg. “We had great efforts from everybody.”

Samsonov robbed Hyman, who never had more than 21 goals in his five seasons with Toronto before departing in free agency, of his 49th goal later in the period.

McMann then wired his 13th upstairs at 15:46 for a 5-0 lead through 40 minutes.

“That’s was pretty sweet,” said the native of Wainwright, Alta. “Playing against Edmonton, watching them growing up and the quality team that is, it was a special one.”

McMann hadn’t checked his phone before speaking with reporters, but expected some messages from back home.

“I hope they’re happy for me and not too worried about the Oilers losing,” the 27-year-old said with a smile. “But we’ll see.”

Hyman got that 49th goal on a power play 4:59 into the third and Perry added his 10th on another man advantage at 8:32.

Draisaitl scored his 36th with 3:39 left and Pickard on the bench for an extra attacker on the sequence that saw Samsonov get hurt.

The Oilers continued to press, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hitting the post on Jones, but Toronto held on before Matthews iced it with his first empty-net goal of the season on a night where McMann and Holmberg stole the superstar thunder.

“It’s a fun atmosphere to play in and a great game to play in,” Leafs captain John Tavares said.

“It’s great to see “¦ especially on this stage.”

MISSING LEAFS

Toronto was minus injured forwards Mitch Marner (high ankle sprain) and Calle Jarnkrok (hand), while winger Tyler Bertuzzi and defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin both missed out with an illness.

T.J. Brodie was a healthy scratch for the second straight game as the team looks to give the usually dependable blueliner a mental reset.

UP NEXT

Toronto: Visits Carolina on Sunday.

Edmonton: Visits Ottawa on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2024.

Follow @JClipperton_CP on X.

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