The Toronto Maple Leafs made it 11 wins in their last 13 games with a 1-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Your key takeaways:
Leafs getting better and better in the faceoff circle
The Leafs absolutely dominated the faceoff circle in this game: They won 83% of their defensive-zone faceoffs, including all four while shorthanded, and finished at 67% overall (40 wins, 20 losses). Since getting cleaned out on the dot against Nashville, the Leafs have won 53% of their faceoffs, and now sit at 51.8% on the season – good for sixth in the NHL.
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This is pretty important considering the Leafs lead the entire league in total faceoffs taken by a large margin with 3,932 draws through 62 games. In second is Pittsburgh with 3,804. The commonality here is the two teams’ proclivity for stretching the ice and flipping pucks out to relieve pressure and create foot races in the neutral zone. The natural byproduct is the uptick in icings.
On the surface, with the above information about quantity of faceoffs in mind, you could justify acquiring an elite faceoff guy whose strong side is the right for defensive zone draws. But looking at Luke Glendening’s overall skill set as it stacks up next to Dominic Moore’s as well as the term on Glendening’s contract, it’s hard to justify upping the ante beyond the reported fifth-round pick offer. The Leafs are getting by just fine in the circle – they’ve won 52.8% of their d-zone draws, which is seventh in the NHL.
There’s some room to improve there, and Glendening would give Babcock a right-handed option outside of Tyler Bozak (and to a lesser extent William Nylander) – one he feels he can trust in the defensive zone. The Leafs could also use some extra C depth in general. But they have to be careful here.
Komarov reliable late in games
It’s easy to take a shot at Leo Komarov with the number of empty-net or half-empty-net chances he’s missed in the last three games (four), but I thought I’d highlight something Komarov does really well for the team on a consistent basis.
With tonight’s win, the Leafs moved to 25-1-2 when leading after two periods. Frederik Andersen is the number one reason for that, but Komarov plays a role, too, for a few reasons: He’s a savvy vet, he’s heavy in his battles, and he’s got a good light touch when it comes to dumping pucks out and avoiding icings.
There were two examples late in this win over Florida:
It’s easy to forget about any offensive deficiencies when Komarov is properly slotted, as he is currently. He starts on the fourth line, rotates into key defensive-zone situations, protects leads late in games, and is a high-end penalty killer on one of the league’s best PKs.
On a four-line team that doesn’t ride its top lines as hard as many other teams in the league do, Komarov is a valuable piece to have further down the lineup as a veteran who can be trusted on the ice defensively against just about anybody. He will be an important role guy for this team down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Nylander’s forechecking ability
As William Nylander has developed over the past few years, he has successfully added into his repertoire the ability to forecheck with speed using well-timed stick lifts, angles and lower-body strength to win pucks back and turn them into instant offence (passes into the slot, or working it up to the point). There is no loud bang on the glass, but he’s effective as anybody on the team at retrieving pucks when he’s on his game. There was a great example in the third period of this game:
Throughout the night, Nylander was forcing Florida’s defense into mistakes whenever he was first man in. When all three players on the Leafs’ top line play like this, it feels like the other team can barely touch the puck on a given shift.
If you DO believe the numbers, here's a look at the 30 most productive lines or pairs relative to the norm for that line or pair this year on playoff contending teams. pic.twitter.com/NWN4jhfXXJ
— dellowhockey (@dellowhockey) February 19, 2018
van Riemsdyk scores another key goal five days ahead of deadline
Make that four game-winners in the Leafs’ last six wins for James van Riemsdyk after he found some space in the slot and fooled Roberto Luongo with a quick release following a feed from Tyler Bozak late in the first period.
During the Leafs’ 11-2-0 run, JVR has averaged 14:01 TOI/game, including just 11:47/game at even strength. Among the Leafs’ 12 regular forwards, his even strength ice time per game ranks 10th since Jan. 23 (the start of the hot streak), ahead of only Dominic Moore and Kasperi Kapanen. That’s right – JVR has technically been used like a fourth liner on this team as far as his regular 5v5 shift during the hot streak.
The recent downtick in ice time has a lot to do with the Leafs leading in many of these games, as JVR doesn’t play much when they’re protecting a lead. In his limited ice time, JVR has six goals in his last 10 games and is second on the team in shots on goal with 40 during the 13-game hot streak (first is Mitch Marner with 47, speaking to how confident he’s looking right now. Since the switch to Kadri’s wing/the start of the Leafs’ current run, he’s shooting 3.6 times per game).
On pace for 33 goals, there’s no doubt Babcock has found the sweet spot with JVR, managing his minutes while starting him in the offensive zone over 60% of the time. Among forwards with more than 500 minutes played at 5v5 this season, JVR is 17th in the NHL in offensive zone start percentage.
If you can get a “first-round pick and more” for a rental player 10th among your forwards in even strength ice time, it’s obviously very tempting. But I don’t expect the Kevin Shattenkirk package is out there for JVR for many of the above reasons. He doesn’t play a huge role, he plays soft minutes, and most importantly he’s a left-winger – not a right-handed defenceman (on top of the premium placed on RHD in general, remember also that it was a common belief at the time, prior to his stint in Washington, that Shattenkirk was a legit top-pair stud, instead of more of a second-pair guy + power play quarterback when properly slotted).
It’s also a deadline market that appears to have no shortage of quality scoring wingers potentially available, including Rick Nash, Evander Kane, Mike Hoffman, Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek (with some rumblings that Jeff Skinner and Max Pacioretty are in play, too).
Ultimately, if the Leafs were going to subtract from their biggest area of strength entering the playoffs — scoring depth — it’d have to be an offer that blows their socks off. The team is also quite a bit deeper on the right wing than it is on the left – JVR, Marleau and Komarov and Martin are their only left-handed wingers, compared to Nylander, Marner, Brown, Kapanen, Hyman and Leivo as righties. While Leivo and Hyman play their off-wing under Babcock, it starts to look pretty thin if you subtract JVR from that LW group.
Add it all up and nothing appears to be pointing in the direction of the Leafs moving JVR before the deadline.
More Andersen excellence
We’re running out of superlatives to describe Frederik Andersen’s season. Andersen made a ton of tough saves stops look easy in this game by confidently challenging shooters and swallowing up pucks with perfect positional saves.
The game was a goaltending battle – it could’ve been 5-0 Leafs if not for Roberto Luongo, and it could’ve been 5-3 or 5-4 if not for Frederik Andersen. In the first half of the contest, it felt like the game could break open at any time, but both goalies were so good that it never happened. And Andersen was just that little bit better than his rock-solid counterpart at the other end.
This was Andersen’s sixth 40+ save win and his second 40+ save shutout of the season (and fifth shutout overall, a career-high). He is yet to be pulled from a game for performance/scoreboard reasons, he’s leading the league in shots against and minutes played, he’s tied for fourth in save percentage (.932, min. 30 GP) on the year and first in save percentage since Nov. 1 (.930), and he’s tied for third in wins.
It makes for a good debate, how far you’d have to go back to find 50-60 games of Leafs goaltending this good.