The Toronto Maple Leafs snapped a five-game losing skid with a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
The Leafs‘ playoff odds rebounded to a shade below 50% pending the results of Wednesday night’s games.
Your game in ten:
1. Coming off a three-loss road trip and without a win since February 21st, the Leafs badly needed to take care of business against the 28th-placed Red Wings on Tuesday night. A number of the individuals in need of a pick-me-up got themselves on the scoresheet as well: Alexey Marchenko, coming off of some major struggles on the recent road trip, looked like he benefited from a confidence boost after scoring his first as a Leaf against his old team; James van Riemsdyk broke a 14-game goal slump, and Mitch Marner bounced back from a rough night in Anaheim with a two-assist performance.
2. With those two points, Mitch Marner is now within four helpers of a Leafs rookie record for assists in a season. Last night was also his 15th multi-point game of the season in 60 appearances; that includes three three-assist games, which only five players in the league have accomplished this season. Incredible for a veteran, let alone a 19-year-old rookie.
3. After last night’s win, the Leafs are now 17-8-6 against current non-playoff teams, compared to 12-14-8 against teams currently in a playoff position. The inference here: Their talent level wins out against average-to-below-average opponents, while they struggle against teams who have both talent and structure to their game. Moving into next season — at which point the rookies will have a full year of NHL experience under their belts — it will be interesting to see whether the Leafs start to move away from the wide-open hockey we’ve seen this season and revert to more traditional Babcockian systems.
The Leafs will need to make hay in their next four games against non-playoff opponents, starting with the Flyers on Thursday night.
4. All too familiar this season, the Leafs switched off all of a sudden and gave a dormant Detroit team a way into the game down 3-0 late in the second period. They turned a clean defensive zone faceoff win / controlled breakout situation in the final minute of the period into a goal against inside nine seconds. Coming out of the intermission, the Leafs didn’t appear ready to start the third period, and the Matthews line’s leisurely back check left two Red Wings wide open in front against Zetterberg’s line.
5. After the Matthews line was scored on for the second time in back-to-back shifts to end the second and start the third, Babcock switched things up by moving Connor Brown onto Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri’s wing and matched that line against Zetterberg’s group. Reading between the lines — and based on one of his quotes after the game — Babcock ranks those three as his best three forwards without the puck (with a nod to Hyman as well, but he’s a leftie, whereas Brown is a rightie). With the Leafs’ struggles to close out wins, you wonder if that’s a trio he goes back to in the future as a “shutdown line” late in games. Given the Leafs do not have a defence pair they can reliably send out for shut down minutes against the opposition’s top talent at the moment, it would be a big help if Babcock can find a forward line he can consistently rely on in those situations.
When Leafs get shaky trying to hold a 3rd-period lead, Babcock describes it as a "feeding frenzy" for the other team pic.twitter.com/SvHGDGO0Av
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 8, 2017
6. James van Riemsdyk became the team’s third 20-goal scorer of the season with his power play goal last night. The Leafs now have seven players with a reasonable shot at 20 this season (Washington led the league with six last season).
JVR has been up and down this season and was playing some of his worst hockey of the year near the trade deadline. The Leafs need last night’s game to be the start of a turnaround. JVR provided solid back pressure, looked more engaged in the defensive process than he has in recent games, and finished with a 75% share of shots at 5v5.
Babcock: "JvR can be a streaky scorer anyways so great to see him (end drought) & that will really help us"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 8, 2017
7. The Kadri – Matthews – Nylander line combined for its third goal of the season right after a penalty kill, taking advantage of a shift against the Darren Helm line for Kadri’s 3-0 (game-winning) goal. As has been talked about before, it’s smart coaching to exploit mismatches in that situation by stacking a line right after a penalty kill, with all of the other team’s top talent tired on the bench. Even if they don’t score, it’s an effective way to get the skilled guys’ legs underneath them with a quick shift and (typically) lots of puck touches after sitting idle during the PK.
8. Frederik Andersen’s first nine games coming out of the All-Star Break: .878 save percentage. His last five: .938 save percentage. This is Andersen’s first season as a bonafide starter and a little inconsistency was to be expected — especially given the youthful makeup of the team and the porous blue line — but he appears to be rounding into form again at the most crucial time of the season. As Andersen goes, the Leafs go in the final 17 games.
9. With his 27th of the season — a good shot that found the far corner from in tight —Nazem Kadri now has 30 goals within his sights, which is remarkable. He continues to hover just outside the top 10 in NHL goal scoring (13th after Tuesday night). That is partly due to an extremely high shooting percentage on the power play, which is bound to regress over time, but he has been rewarded for “sticking to it” after an absurdly low shooting percentage across all situations in 2015-16. Raise your hand if you projected Kadri scoring 30 and generating Selke nomination buzz this season…
The consistency of Kadri’s production this season has been quite steady. He had a five-game pointless slump in mid-December and a four-game dip in late February/early March, but he hasn’t gone more than two games without a point otherwise. In a 27 game stretch between December 29 and February 22, Kadri never went more than one game without a point.
10. William Nylander, frequent media whipping boy/trade rumour candidate, has quietly been piecing together a very consistent second half of the season as the games are getting tighter:
Nylander assist gives him 15 points in his last 16 games. #tmltalk
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) March 8, 2017
No sign of a rookie wall here. Keep in mind that Nylander experienced a pretty a fierce grind last season and is probably better prepared for it this time around. He started 2015-16 with the Marlies, went to the World Juniors and got his bell rung, returned to the AHL and had his appendix removed, joined the Leafs down the stretch, and rejoined the Marlies for a deep playoff run last Spring.