The good times keep on rolling for the Toronto Maple Leafs offensively as they posted a touchdown for the second time in as many games en route to a 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars.

The Leafs have now had three players register four-point nights (tonight it was Morgan Rielly and Mitch Marner, Sunday it was Auston Matthews) through the opening four games and have four players inside the top-10 in league scoring at the end of the night.

Your game in ten:

1.  How Zach Hyman left this game pointless is a crime. His work on the opening goal by Mitch Marner was worthy of at least one assist, even though it went uncredited.

  • Won the puck race off the draw
  • Went straight to the front of the net
  • Wasn’t being moved from his spot in front, outmuscles the defenseman and wins the loose puck battle
  • Forces a fumbled clearance from Lindell which Marner jumps on and puts in the back of the net

The puck was on his stick for less than a second total. Talk about a guy who knows his role and executes it with remarkable consistency.

Hyman also beat out the icing and tied up Marc Methot, leading to the 6-4 insurance goal by John Tavares — no assist on the play.

2.  My only issue with Hyman is nothing to do with him playing with top skill (the benefits of what he does so effectively and how it leads to offense are pretty clear by this point), it’s only that I’d ideally like to see him on the right side.

We’ve seen times over the past few years where he’s flashed surprising bits of skill coming in on his proper wing. There was a moment in the game where Gardiner hit him tape to tape through the neutral zone and he might’ve had an edge on the defender to drive in on goal, but he did a spin to receive the pass before trudging in on his backhand. To his credit, he’s gotten better at sending and receiving passes on his offwing with the work he’s put in with the skills coaches over the past couple of years.

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It’s a calculated tradeoff the coaching staff is happy to make nonetheless with how well Hyman complements the Tavares-Marner duo, which — like the Matthews – Nylander pair — is a left-shot center + right-shot winger combo.

3.  On a replay of Auston Matthews‘ first goal on the 2-1 tally — his sixth of the year — watch how quickly he reads the play, identifies where’s the spot to go, beaver tails to get Kapanen’s attention, jumps into that ice, and then does what he does best. He knew where Kapanen should be putting that puck way before Kapanen knew it. Off the chart goal-scoring instincts.

There are players with harder shots, and maybe even players with more accurate shots, but there is no one in the league who can score in as many different ways as Matthews can. Best all-around goal scorer in the league.

We joke about goal and point paces at this time of year as a matter of habit, but seven goals in four games… It really feels like 50 is well within reach, health permitting.

4. Line of the night from the MLHS group chat goes to Declan: “Matthews is doing things my eyes can’t even see.”

The sequence referenced:

 

Bonus clip of Matthews one-arming a puck around a defender to keep the cycle alive and then nearly scoring:

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5.  Thought this was the Leafs’ best game of the season so far — the first and third periods, in particular.

First, the bad: You could see how fragile they can be defensively when Dallas spent time in the Leafs‘ zone and the Leafs got caught at times pushing too hard offensively; it’s something of a five-man juggle with this team, and when one ball drops, the whole thing comes down. They get greedy for offense and overskate plays at times going forward.

But a lot of the game took place in the o-zone in the first and third. Not everyone to a man played great, but they had all hands on deck as far as the jump and work rate over four lines, as opposed to just the Tavares/Marner and Matthews lines carrying the team in the first three games.

The Leafs controlled 60% of the shot attempts in the first period; the Tavares line got pinned in once by the Jamie Benn line at the end of a shift, but otherwise, that line was relentless and broke through first for the opening goal. The Matthews line looked really dangerous in transition and scored late in the first with a great response after Dallas tied it up. The fourth line then really came on strong late in the game.

6.  Those two Leafs power play goals in the second were too easy. That’s a great example of how not to defend what is looking like an indefensible power play unit — sagging right off the halfwalls, giving loads of time for Matthews and Marner to pick their shot/pass selection, and basically giving Tavares the run of the low slot. 

The thought in Tavares’ mind after the tap-in following the Marner shot-fake and pass on the power play had to go something like, “Yep, this is what I signed up for.”

7.   Mike Babcock was using Par Lindholm and Kasperi Kapanen as his two wingers — alongside Goat in the middle — as his after-power plays unit. On the 4-2 goal, Kapanen did the biggest part of the work by beating out an icing, Lindholm got in on the cycle, and Kapanen then found Hainsey at the point. After your power-play units struck out with all of your top offensive talent on the ice (and now off the ice), you’re hoping just to stunt any momentum the other team gains off of the kill with a decent shift against a top line like the Radulov unit. To get a goal like that is found money.

Kapanen is such a handy, versatile player for a coach to have up his sleeve and he’s really grabbed the opportunity the past two games with both hands. Lindholm is fast earning Babcock’s trust as a reliable guy (he was on the ice with the goalie pulled) as well.

8.  The fourth line put in some really good work in the third period with some heavy o-zone shifts on the cycle that burned minutes off the clock. I’m not sure Gauthier has the skill to play regularly on this team, but the size combination of Gauthier and Leivo really stood out in this lineup; the slower cycle style made Leivo more effective, and Ennis played his best game of the regular season so far buzzing around on the cycle and picking pucks off the wall with his big-bodied linemates.

Every team needs shifts like that at certain times where it rags the puck; it can’t all be breakneck, end-to-end, high-pace rush stuff or fast, high-skill cycles from start to finish, particularly when trying to close out games. It’s possible at least two of the three will not be regulars when Nylander gets back and if Andreas Johnsson gets his season on track, but it’s definitely something Babcock took note of. 

9.  In two out of four games so far, Travis Dermott has seen more ice time than Ron Hainsey (at evens as well as overall). Slowly but surely, could it be happening?

10.  We’re four games in and the NHL scoring leaderboard looks like this:

That Connor Brown empty-netter poach at the end of the game was very much a, “I need this more than you Morgan,” situation, and looking at those numbers… fair enough, Brown Cow.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Game Highlights


Mike Babcock Post Game


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