ANAHEIM Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting makes no bones about his credentials as an NHL trash talker.
“Yeah, I’m not afraid to be pretty vocal out there … I’m talking quite a bit, probably the whole game,” Bunting was saying recently. “It’s pretty obvious when I’m getting under (an opponent’s) skin or pissing them off over there. But I’ve got to stick to my game.”
Still, as much as the rookie from Scarborough has made a name drawing the ire of opponents — and drawing a team-high 13 penalties heading into Sunday’s game against the Ducks — he’s lately been drawing eyeballs to his considerable skill.
On Sunday, Bunting put up his second multi-point performance of a three-game California road swing as the Maple Leafs beat the Ducks 5-1 to finish the trip a perfect 3-0. Playing on the top line alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Bunting had a goal and an assist.
On a night when Matthews scored a goal for the third straight game, while Wayne Simmonds, Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander each scored their second goals of the road trip, it was the latest sign that the Leafs — who came into the game on pace to average fewer than three goals a game for the first time since they finished dead last in the league in 2015-16 — are rediscovering some pop in their offence.
Winners of 14 of their most recent 16 games, the Leafs outscored their three Western Conference opponents on the trip by a combined 15-4.
- Clifford draws in: Acquired in a trade for future considerations by the Leafs earlier this month, Kyle Clifford made his season debut. It’s Clifford’s second go-round in Toronto after he played the stretch run and post-season of 2019-20. And coach Sheldon Keefe, at least, sounded thrilled to have him, as much for his bottom-of-the-lineup toughness as for his off-ice leadership. “He’s not the most loud or vocal guy but he’s very good at talking to players, the guy next to him, the guy in the dressing room. He’s got a calming influence that way. I like that about him,” Keefe said. “He’s a pro’s pro. That’s very evident from the time he’s come back here with our group.”
- Wisdom from Spezza: On the occasion of Jason Spezza’s 1,200th NHL game, the 38-year-old Leaf spoke of the advice he often gives to younger teammates. “I think a big skill if you want to play for a long time is just being honest in assessing how you’re playing. I think if you wait until the coach tells you you’re not playing good, a lot of times it’s too late,” Spezza said. “Because the coach has 23 guys to talk to, and usually by the time he gets to you it’s probably slipped for a couple of games. So I think something I’ve prided myself on is being able to evaluate my own game: when I’m going good, when I’m not, kind of stop the bad momentum and continue the positive momentum. Individually, I think that’s a skill you develop over time.”
- Closeouts continue: The Leafs improved to a league-best 12-0 in games they’ve led after two periods.
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