On a night when Patrick Marleau celebrated his 1,600th NHL game, Mitch Marner did what he does best — make goals.
The 21-year-old winger had three assists in Toronto’s 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins on Monday. Two were primary assists, upping his NHL-best total to 24 (he has 27 assists in all). It was the 10th multi-assist game of the season for Marner, who also has six goals.
“He has great vision out there,” said the 39-year-old Marleau. “The way he skates and handles the puck, he can manoeuvre around guys and draw guys to him. He did that quite a bit tonight.”
“He’s found a nice groove here,” he added. “He’s only going to keep getting better I think. And that’s pretty scary.”
Asked about Marner, Leafs coach Mike Babcock said all great players manage to play at their own pace.
“What’s amazing is most of us have no time and space whatsoever. Or we’re just banging it here, banging it there and chasing it. And then the really good guys seem to have all the time in the world … They’re gliding all over the rink and it seems effortless.”
Travis Dermott, who scored the first goal of the game off a Marner assist, marvelled at his teammate.
“With the puck, without the puck, he’s definitely a slippery guy,” said Dermott. “And if you get open, he’s going to find you and get the puck to you right on the tape and pretty flat. He’s a guy you want to be out there with.”
Each team scored twice in a frenetic second period that saw Boston outshoot Toronto 18-9. With the Leafs leading 3-2 going into the third, Boston’s Danton Heinen hit the goalpost but the Bruins could not breach the Leafs defence.
Zach Hyman added an empty-net goal with 1:35 remaining to seal Toronto’s fifth straight home win. Frederik Andersen made 38 saves in collecting his 13th win of the season.
Igor Ozhiganov and Josh Leivo also scored for Toronto (17-8-0). Ozhiganov celebrated his first career NHL goal and Dermott his second.
David Pastrnak, who had a hat trick in a 5-1 win over Toronto on Nov. 10, scored twice for Boston (13-7-4).
The Bruins lost Kevan Miller late in the first period after the defenceman took a puck to the throat area off a John Tavares shot. The close-range shot seemed to hit Miller’s stick and ride up to the neck area.
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Miller went to hospital and was to remain overnight for observation with some swelling in the throat area.
“Right now he’s out of any danger, from what we’ve heard,” Cassidy said.
“Looks like X-rays are negative, [he] got it in the throat,” he added. “They’re going to keep him overnight for observation, make sure his breathing stays normal. Hopefully, he’s able to fly back [Tuesday], that’s the plan.”
Both teams were playing their fourth game in six nights.
The win moves third-place Toronto four points ahead of fourth-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins, who won 3-2 in Montreal on Saturday night, arrived having won two straight and three of their last four. Toronto was coming off a 6-0 win over visiting Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Marleau is the 11th NHLer to reach the 1,600 regular-season game milestone. Marleau has missed just 31 games over 21 seasons since making his NHL debut on Oct. 1, 1997.
“Great, great human being,” Babcock said prior to the game.
“Hard worker, great pro, great person,” he added. “So important for this team, it’s not even funny and I’m not even talking about what he does on the ice. He’s fantastic.”
Marleau got a standing ovation from the Scotiabank Arena crowd after a video tribute in the first period.
“That was amazing. It was unexpected, but it was greatly appreciated,” he said.
It was the 672nd meeting between the two Original Six teams in a rivalry that dates back to 1924.
Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, whose line was active all night, hit the goalpost with a backhand after being put in alone by a Dermott stretch pass. Boston’s Colby Cave hit the Toronto crossbar soon after with a shot through traffic.
Dermott finally beat Jaroslav Halak with a shot through traffic at 17:44 for his first of the season after the Bruins’ top line couldn’t clear the puck.
Boston, gaining momentum, outshot Toronto 10-0 to open the second period before Toronto put up a shot midway through the period. Pastrnak, off a feed from Brad Marchand, tied it up on the power play at 3:39
The Bruins hit another goalpost on the power play later in the second period. Seconds later, with the penalty over, a freewheeling Marner found Ozhiganov cruising in from the point and his shot banked in off a Boston body at 13:06.
Pastrnak tied it up at 14:22, taking a nifty Torey Krug pass to the side of the net before slotting it past Andersen to up his season total to 19.
Leivo put Toronto ahead 3-2 on the power play at 18:38, banging home a Tyler Ennis rebound after a Marner rush.
The Leafs sacrificed for the cause, with Ron Hainsey leading with five blocked shots.
Both teams were missing key parts.
Toronto was without Auston Matthews (shoulder) while restricted free agent William Nylander remains unsigned. The Bruins injured list included star centre Patrice Bergeron (rib) and defencemen Zdeno Chara (left knee) and Charlie McAvoy (concussion).
Andersen is now 11-1-0 in the regular season record against Boston. He is 3-3 against the Bruins in the post-season.
Toronto hosts the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday.