The Toronto Maple Leafs won their third in a row in Carolina on Saturday night and returned to a playoff position in the process.
Your game in ten:
1. The Leafs have improved to 19-7-6 against non-playoff teams with three wins in a row over teams below them in the standings. While there’s a lot to be said for beating good teams and proving you deserve your seat at the playoff table, the Leafs have been taking care of business against average-to-below-average competition and it has put them in a playoff position with 15 games to go.
2. The Leafs were outshot 9-1 to start this game, with the ninth shot being Victor Rask’s goal. Right after the 1-0 goal, Bill Peters and Mike Babcock matched up their fourth lines; Brian Boyle won the draw, Matt Martin went in hard on the forecheck, and the Hurricanes iced the puck. Babcock was then able to send out the Marner line for an offensive zone start against the Hurricanes’ fourth line and bottom defence pair (Dahlbeck – Murphy). JVR won a battle off of the ensuing faceoff and the Leafs had their first sustained offensive-zone shift with multiple shots on goal before Marner scored off the cycle. A good example of what Babcock was talking about with the new fourth line giving the team key pushback shifts at important times in the game.
3. The single biggest difference in this (sloppy, not particularly well-played) game was Frederik Andersen winning the goaltending matchup over Cam Ward. The Marner and Rielly goals were stoppable shots that went right through Ward, while Andersen was rock solid with another 35+ save performance — his 13th of the season (second-highest in the NHL). Last night also marked a career-high for Andersen in games started with 55, at a time when he’s facing more action than ever with four 35+ shot games in his last six. The biggest reason for optimism about the Leafs‘ ability to pull this off in the final 15 games is that Andersen’s showing no signs of buckling under the increased workload at the most important time of year.
4. The Teuvo Teräväinen power play goal early in the second period was the third consecutive 4v5 goal against that was generated off of an outside shot with traffic in front — not the result of a specific breakdown so much as general zone time while down a man. The Leafs penalty kill struggles continue apace: Since January 31st, the Leafs are killing at just 75.5%, which is tied for 24th in the league.
It’d be convenient to chalk it up to a bad run of luck as far as bounces around the net, but that doesn’t bear out in the numbers. Since the end of January, the Leafs are giving up 61.38 shots per 60 at 5v4 (dead last in the league) to go along with a .857 5v4 save percentage (18th). That’s a steep drop-off from where things were at prior to the turn of February – the Leafs were giving up 45.5 shots per 60 in the first 47 games of the season (10th in the NHL) to go along with the best 4v5 save percentage in the league (.911).
5. I don’t want to be overly simplistic – having yet to conduct a deeper examination, they also seem to be conceding the blue line a lot easier on opposition zone entries – but one part of it is the Leafs getting absolutely cleaned out in the faceoff circle. Since January 31st, they’ve won just 32 of 102 shorthanded draws – an abysmal 31.3% success rate, which is last in the league during that time period.
That’s a spot where the Leafs have gotten a lot worse as the season has progressed. Before February, the Leafs were winning 46% of shorthanded draws, which was 11th in the NHL.
It’s the one way the Leafs perhaps miss Ben Smith (pre-finger injury). The Leafs need Brian Boyle — who had a better game on the dot last night, going 6 for 11 — to step into the void and make them more competitive in that area.
6. The production Bozak has put together in the past five games — all while limping around before and after games and battling infection in his finger – deserves some recognition: 7 points, 13 shots on goal. This was one of JVR’s better games of the season as well; lots of jump, won puck battles and possession time. JVR finished with five shots on goal, one goal, one assist, and he was the only Leaf forward above 50% in shot attempts.
7. It was also Marner’s best game since he returned from injury, in Mike Babcock’s view. After his lowest TOI of the season against Philadelphia, a game that included a costly penalty, Marner responded with a great game over 200 feet – generating off the cycle, scoring a goal, and digging in on a couple of key backchecks defensively. Marner, Bozak and JVR stepping up has come at a good time with this officially being Auston Matthews’ quietest five-game segment of the season with zero points and 11 shots on goal (he shot the puck 20 times in his five-game pointless streak in October). He’s also a 43% CF over those five games (72 on-ice shot attempts for, 95 against).
8. Martin Marincin played just 12 minutes and change in his return to the lineup, yet he managed to finish a plus-two and top of the team in CF% in the process. It was the second game in a row that Polak played 20+ minutes, with a team-leading 22:59 (20 minutes at 5v5) including a handful shifts alongside Jake Gardiner in Marincin’s place. No goals against for Polak, but he finished a 20% CF. Basically your typical Polak and Marincin games, then.
9. It might’ve been a weak goal through Ward’s legs, but take nothing away from the poise and patience by Morgan Rielly to create the opening for his OT winner. No one on the team deserved that break more than Rielly. He has been pried for quotes about his need to be better in media scrums lately, and Babcock has been defending him a fair amount in his recent pressers. It’s well-earned for a player who’s been thrust into a tough role and a de facto leadership position on very young team’s shallow blue line.
10. William Nylander picked up an assist on Morgan Rielly’s OT winner, which brings him to 17 points in his last 18 and 48 points in 66 games on the year. Here’s how his currents points-per-game rate would stack up among the past five Calder Trophy-winning forwards:
|Year||Calder Winner||Points per Game|
Don’t take it for granted.