The Maple Leafs moved to 7-2-0 on the season after handing the Los Angeles Kings their first loss in regulation on Monday night.
Your game in ten:
1) I’ll bet Mike Babcock was secretly thrilled about Drew Doughty’s pregame quote about the Leafs not being ready to contend yet defensively. It was perfect bulletin-board material and fit the challenge he’s been issuing to his team amid the early struggles defensively. For the most part, the Leafs battled hard and defended well at even strength in this game. They were pretty handily outplayed in the first period (the Kings controlled 72% of the 5v5 shot attempts), but they limited the Kings to perimeter activity, by and large, and got better as the game wore on. In the third, LA was credited with just six shots at 5v5, two from the home plate area, and no high-danger chances (their goal came shorthanded) by Natural Stat Trick’s count. Something to build off of.
2) Guy Boucher’s take on the Leafs’ ability to score the other day was interesting – he called it a “dirty offense” rather than a “pretty” one. The Leafs are certainly more than capable of lights-out, highlight-reel calibre offensive hockey, but their ability to funnel pucks to the net and score ugly goals is a major reason why they’re a legitimate offensive powerhouse. The first goal was a Matt Martin screen and tip, the Tyler Bozak goal was off of a jam play on the PP, and the Patrick Marleau goal involved a cycle back to the point and a tip in front. This game was similar to the Washington game — nothing was coming easy for them off of the rush, but the Leafs found a way to get it done.
3) This was a nice response from the Nazem Kadri line after its struggles in Ottawa. The Kings generated just two shots on goal in Kadri’s 10+ even-strength minutes head to head against Anze Kopitar. What later stood up as the game-winning goal started with good defensive awareness by Kadri as the Kings’ top line looked to transition off of a possession change at the LA blue line. From there, the Leafs generated a quick cycle and a point shot for a tip goal.
Kadri, as is apparent by now, is at his best when he’s got a big name to line up against and get fired up about.
4) Matt Martin accomplished a heck of a lot in only 6:43 of ice time with a goal, a couple of shots, four attempts on goal (a couple of misses weren’t officially credited), and two scraps. All of Mitch Marner, Martin, and Dominic Moore played their best games of the season to date (in Martin’s case, maybe his best game as a Leaf) and handily won the battle of the fourth lines against Andreoff – Laich – Dowd. Marner on the fourth unit, when he’s rolling, is obviously a ridiculous matchup proposition for the opposition. Moore, despite rotating in and out, has looked the part of a high-end 4C with his skill on the puck and ability to play with pace.
5) Based on the waiving of Eric Fehr, it seems that the rotation was largely about doing right by Fehr and giving him a platform to show his stuff to all 30 teams. Fehr, it appears, will continue to hang around as injury insurance after clearing waivers on Tuesday. Moore has looked very good to start the year, and I’d argue he is an upgrade over Brian Boyle in terms of how he fits the team identity and ups the tempo on that line.
6) Morgan Rielly is now up to eight points in nine games, including seven assists – his best start offensively over his five NHL seasons. Naturally, the increase in power-play opportunity is a big help in terms of the production and the increase in confidence points bring. Four of the eight points have come on the man advantage, where he had just five points all of last year.
Rielly’s doing an effective job of creating lanes with quick footwork and getting pucks through into the right areas for tips and rebounds:
7) As for his partner, Ron Hainsey is up to six points in nine games, all at even strength, which is top-five among NHL defencemen at 5v5. The Leafs have controlled 54% of the shot attempts – with Hainsey starting just 41% of his shifts in the offensive zone — and outscored the opposition 12-7 with him on the ice. He’s logged nearly 50 minutes on the penalty kill just nine games into the season.
So far, so good. He’s been a quick fit for a system that isn’t asking anything too complicated of its defencemen inside their own zone – there have been lots of flip plays into the neutral zone from him – and for someone who isn’t loaded with skill, he’s done a pretty good job of picking the puck off the wall and making plays on his offside.
8) That penalty kill workload – which is too much to ask — should drop some as Babcock eases Roman Polak back in. Polak played just 12 minutes in this game, all at even strength.
9) To think a year ago William Nylander was getting raked over the coals for how much work he had ahead of him on his game away from the puck. 12 months later, a kid some pigeon-holed as a one-way floater has continually developed into a player capable of dominating games defensively — chasing down loose pucks, sneaking up on opponents on the back-check, immediately transitioning onto offence – and someone who can be trusted on the ice against the best in the world (that’s Anze Kopitar below).
The only hump Nylander needed to get over was recognizing the importance of digging in every shift. He showed significant progress in that area as the season wore on last year and he’s doing it on an even more consistent basis this season. On the forecheck, Nylander may not be Gary Roberts in the way he could rattle glass, physically intimidate and get a cycle started, but he’s more of the Dave Keon mould — all about choosing the right angles, steering play, forcing the D play much faster than what is comfortable, and waiting for the right moment to lift a stick and immediately turn it into a scoring chance.
10) Along the same lines as the Zetterberg clip from the Detroit game, here is Auston Matthews vs. Anze Kopitar to close this out: