The Toronto Maple Leafs scored early and often en route to a 6-1 blowout over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

After getting out to a 5-2 lead in shot attempts, the Maple Leafs grabbed the opening goal of the game six minutes in via Connor Brown’s tip on a Morgan Rielly point shot. The goal was initially waived off but — with the contact clearly taking place below the crossbar — it was overruled upon review.

After the Leafs went four minutes with attempting a shot on goal, the Panthers responded through Aaron Ekblad halfway through the first. Tyler Bozak fell over and lost his man behind the net and JVR didn’t pick up Ekblad pinching down off the point until too late, leaving Ekblad open for a one-timer from the faceoff circle that beat Andersen.

Five minutes later, Connor Brown restored the lead for the Leafs with his second goal of the period. After collecting the puck at his own blueline, Brown gathered speed through neutral ice and took Ekblad wide on the defenceman’s off side before throwing a pass out front intended for Nazem Kadri that James Reimer got caught cheating on and kicked into his own net.

A minute and a half later, Mitch Marner scored his second goal in as many games after a clever chip pass from JVR sent him in on a breakaway. Marner got on the inside of Michael Matheson, using his edges to save off the defenceman’s last-ditch challenge in a good bit of puck protection, before tucking the puck past Reimer with a smooth backhand-forehand deke.

The Leafs‘ worst spell of the game — when it was still alive as a contest — came at the start of the second period when they struggled through a marathon two-and-a-half-minute shift with the same group of five — Marner’s line and the Rielly-Zaitsev pairing — stuck on the ice. A couple of key saves by Andersen preserved the 3-1 lead.

After starting the period without a shot attempt in the opening four minutes, the Leafs took 11 of the final 16 5v5 shot attempts of the period and scored twice more. Eight minutes into the middle frame, Kadri lost a defensive zone draw but won the race to the loose puck, leaving Keith Yandle stranded and setting up linemates Connor Brown and Leo Komarov in a 2-on-1 situation. Brown feathered a saucer pass into the path of Leo Komarov, who took his goal exceedingly well, chipping across Reimer into the top corner while Colton Sceviour harassed him with a stick lift from behind.

After the biggest save of the game from Frederik Andersen on a breakaway for Sceviour halfway through the period kept the Leafs three-goal lead intact, the game was officially dead as a contest after JVR collected a pizza from Dylan McIlrath and beat Reimer with a soft one through the legs with a minute remaining in the second period.

The Panthers left the second period with just 19 even-strength shot attempts to the Leafs’ 28. They closed the gap, naturally, while trailing 5-1, but the Leafs held the Panthers to a respectable 11 shots in the final 20 despite the four-goal advantage — later a five-goal advantage after Jake Gardiner took a heads-up stretch pass from Brown and padded the Leafs lead coming out of the box with three minutes remaining.

The Leafs managed to keep the shots against to 27 overall despite the lopsided scoreline in what was one of their better defensive performances of the season and certainly their most dedicated in terms of blocking shots (18). While their powerplay sputtered (0 for 4), the Leafs penalty kill was excellent in going four for four; their fronting defencemen did a bang-up job positioning their bodies in shooting lanes and their forwards were aggressive in pressuring the points of attack.

It seems necessary to mention that the Leafs played against two backup goalies the last two games and both played poorly, to say the least, but let’s get into the list of recent accomplishments:

– The Maple Leafs are 6-2-0 in their last eight and have scored 30 goals over those games (3.75/game). This was also the second game in a row that the Leafs scored six goals — all at even strength.

– The Leafs scored the game’s first goal for the sixth time in the last seven games.

– The Leafs are 7-2-0 at the Air Canada Centre – tied for fourth in the league in home wins.

– Just 17 games in, Connor Brown’s four-point night was the fifth time this season a Toronto Maple Leaf has recorded a four-point game.

– These last two games mark the first time this season the Leafs have won two games in a row while allowing two goals or less in each.

– The Leafs have received 60 points worth of production from rookies through 17 games – more than double the next highest in the league.

– With his goal, Mitch Marner took over the lead in points-per-game among rookies. He leads all rookies in even strength points (13 in 17 games) and sits tied for eighth in the entire league in 5v5 points.

Morgan Rielly has seven points in his last eight games, and now sits tied for 11th in points by a defenceman with 11, just three behind Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson for the league lead. He’s playing 57 seconds a game on the powerplay on average.

– Since the Tampa Bay blowout, Frederik Andersen is 7-3-0 with a .931 save percentage.

– It won’t receive many headlines amid another four-point game from a Leaf rookie, but Nazem Kadri’s two points bring him to 13 in 17 games. He’s sixth among Leaf forwards in powerplay time per game. Kadri’s line scored three goals with Florida’s top line on the ice.

– After tonight’s game, the Leafs have five rookies in the top 12 in rookie scoring (Marner – 2nd, Nylander – 4th, Matthews – 5th, Brown T-12th, Zaitsev T-12th).

Player Notes

Leo Komarov  His first goal of the season versus Philadelphia last Friday went straight to his legs and he’s now got three goals in his last four games. As usual, he was playing against the opposition’s top group and his line more than held its own: Barkov was minus-three on the night with snake eyes across the board, including no shots on goal. In addition to a cheeky finish on his goal, he also picked up an assist in his 17:42 TOI (tops among all Leaf forwards).

Nazem Kadri – Much of the same from Kadri, who completely shut down Florida’s best line and quietly collected two assists on the evening. Another game of low-fanfare and highly-effective play as Kadri continues to take on the most important forward role, allowing the Marners, Matthews and Nylanders to benefit from favourable matchups and zone starts

Connor Brown  A big breakthrough night with two goals and two assists. His second goal came off a great rush down the right wing against a high-end defenceman (and man-child) in Aaron Ekblad. What looked like was going to be a standard rush against Ekblad, normally ending up in a rubout along the boards, turned into Brown creating something out of nothing. By selling a cut inside two times in succession — and Ekblad biting just a little bit — Brown controlled the defender’s feet and bought himself enough space to cleanly slip by a hip check. He then sidestepped a sliding, outstretched Jason Demers and got some good fortune on the pass across the net. His assists were just as nice as his goals — one a saucer pass into the path of Komarov for his goal, the other a heads-up play to identify Gardiner coming out of the box and pick him out from a distance.

James van Riemsdyk – Riding in with sky-high confidence level from his hat trick performance in the last game against Nashville, he collected on a generous Dylan McIlrath turnover and got the puck off his stick in a hurry for his fourth goal in two games. His chip pass on the Marner goal was another example of the strong chemistry developing offensively now that the line is accustomed to one another’s tendencies. He needed to be more aware of Ekblad encroaching on the slot on the Panthers’ lone goal, and his line did not perform well in the possession game (~30% CF). Part of that was due to score effects, the one nightmare shift to start the second period, as well as sharing the ice with Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak; in the five minutes the JVR – Bozak – Marner line shared with that pairing, they were receiving the game and unable to exit the zone efficiently. The line was a 57% CF with Connor Carrick and Jake Gardiner as their defence pair.

Mitch Marner  – Magic Mitch adds another highlight-reel play to his highlight pack. After a chip pass from JVR inside the Leaf zone to just beyond the red line, the play was all about Marner’s body positioning and edgework. He shielded the puck and got his body in front of Matheson before dodging and weaving and making James Reimer look foolish. He finished up with just a team-low 27% CF but there were extenuating circumstances in a blowout game (and the one shift to start the second period significantly depressed the line’s numbers).

Auston Matthews – He has now missed wide on an empty net at least three times in addition to four or five posts during his goals slump. Again, there was no shortage of positives in his game, including a really strong game on the faceoff dot (72.73%) and a great night in the possession game (a team-leading 85% CF). It’s never easy seeing snake eyes on your personal scoresheet after a pair of games in which your teammates racked up 12 goals, but the dam will break and the goals will come — likely in bunches. He is controlling the balance of play consistently and generating ample scoring chances (among the league leaders in that regard).

William Nylander – After a blip of three average-to-below-average games, Nylander looked like he had some more hunger to his game after scoring a garbage-time goal versus Nashville. The Hyman-Matthews-Nylander line benefited from playing over half of their minutes with the Gardiner-Carrick pairing; they owned a 78+% share of possession alongside that pairing. Three shots on goal and a much better competitive/defensive effort.

Matt Martin – He saw only 9:37 of ice time but hit everything in sight and managed to do a more than just tread water with a 63% share of possession when on the ice. The fourth line put together some strong offensive zone shifts including an important pushback following the 1-1 Panthers goal that led to a Leafs powerplay. 

Nikita Soshnikov – He saw a team-low 8:31 in ice time and has only managed two shots on goal in his last four games. Even though this was a good game from the fourth line, it seems that Soshnikov in a tough position to succeed, playing his off-wing on a line with no discernible theme or purpose.

Morgan Rielly – He was used heavily in all situations, playing 23 minutes total including three minutes on the powerplay — unusual given his usage this season — and 3:40 on the penalty kill.  He grabbed an assist on the first goal of the game, was a plus-three on the night, and put two shots on goal. He managed a 44% possession share alongside Zaitsev overall, but score effects render these numbers less meaningful.

Nikita Zaitsev – For a franchise that has lacked a proper top pairing for nearly a decade, it appears that Rielly and Zaitsev are forming what could be a more than passable first unit. As they gain familiarity and receive more help positionally from the forwards, it’s made a big difference for the Leafs over their latest strong run of play. It was only 12 months ago that Matt Hunwick was occupying this spot in the lineup.

Jake Gardiner – Back alongside Connor Carrick, the pairing moved the puck crisply out of their zone and did an effective job of holding the line as well as generating smart shots/passes to soft areas of the ice when under pressure. Gardiner rushed the puck smartly, at the right times, and perfectly timed his goal coming out of the box — a well-executed shot with a quick release on a shaky goalie.

Connor Carrick – A strong return to the lineup alongside Gardiner as the pairing made each forward line better. He led the defence in possession when he was on the ice with a nearly an 80% share. The coaching staff wants Carrick to use his feet and stick more rather than engage in physical battles as an undersized defenceman. He used slippery shoulders to absorb contact while maintaining possession — instead of going head-to-head against forechecks — and was fantastic in his return. Plus-three in 14:43 of ice time.

Roman Polak – While he can halt plays with his considerable strength along the wall and typically maintains good gaps, Polak has a lot of difficulty moving the puck under pressure and needs to be paired with a specific type of defence partner or else he quickly becomes a liability. That partner is certainly not Matt Hunwick. Playing with him only exacerbates Polak’s weaknesses as a puck mover.

Matt Hunwick – After another poor night, he should be seeing some press box time in favour of Marincin. His inability to think and react quickly enough is causing problems for the five-man unit whenever he’s on the ice. He might be a good pro, but by nearly every on-ice measure he’s impeding the team’s ability to play efficiently in their own zone — from stopping plays, to stopping and starting quickly, to moving the puck out efficiently. Despite a better game versus Pittsburgh last Saturday, it’s mostly all going wrong for him. His confidence is eroding shift-after-shift, compounding matters.

All Situations Shot Attempts


Shot Location Chart


Game In Six

Mike Babcock Post Game

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosted "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covered the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at