Ho hum… Another Maple Leafs win with five or more goals scored, multi-point nights from Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews and John Tavares, and the Leafs power play clicking at 50%.

Your game in ten:

1.  After a not-so-great first couple of games to the season (which they still split 1-1-0), the Leafs are a loose team with a lot of swagger in their stride right now. Right from puck drop, Auston Matthews burst through the middle of the ice, took a Jake Gardiner pass, and whizzed one by the post seven seconds into the first period. I cackled alone to myself at that point. Watching the game, you felt complete confidence in the Leafs scoring four or five goals tonight and walking out with the two points.

2.  After some pressure from the Red Wings (at the time they were up 1-0 and carrying a slight edge in possession), Zach Hyman went out and put on an absolute forechecking clinic halfway through the first period that nearly led to John Tavares’ seventh of the year.


Ken Hitchcock had a great quote the other day about the NHL being a “third and fourth effort league,” adding that it takes some young players time to learn what’s required. Hyman’s had it in his DNA as a hockey player for so long it was already ingrained by the time he turned pro.

3.  Hyman didn’t get an assist there, but he did get one on Mitch Marner’s 2-1 goal in the second period after being in the right place in the right time to collect on a Niklas Kronwall giveaway behind the goal line.

Currently on a four-game assist streak, that gives Hyman 18 points in his last 23 games if we include the playoffs.

4.  The Red Wings actually did a pretty good job trying to kill the Leafs’ first power play of the game — miles better than the effort the Dallas Stars penalty kill managed on Tuesday. They surrendered the point, pressured the half walls tightly, and forced the Leafs to make plays quicker than they wanted to. The puck control of that top unit is so good, though, that they never coughed it up, and eventually, Auston Matthews got his look… and sniped short side from basically a standstill. Not fair.

5.  The Leafs power play unit then struck inside ten seconds of the start of the man advantage in the third period for Auston Matthews’ ninth of the year, with a nice little reminder there — for those that said the Leafs would miss JVR on the power play — that John Tavares, in addition to being a superior hockey player in just about every other facet of the game, is capable of cute between-the-leg bump passes across the crease as well.

6.  Amid the copious criticism that’s being lobbed Ron Hainsey’s way (a good amount of it deserved), seemingly the dirty little secret right now is that Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev’s numbers are continuing along the same pattern as previous years — not good — except worse early on this year.

This has been the only partnership Gardiner’s ever been a part of (with a significant sample size) where he’s consistently posted negative possession numbers. Individually, he’s currently at 43.6 CF% through five games and the pairing is at 44 CF% while getting outscored 5-3 at evens (they were on the ice for the second Nick Jensen goal tonight). Last year, they were sub 49 CF%, albeit they were on the ice for a couple more goals for (39) than against (36).

Gardiner has played a few minutes less with Tavares than Rielly has and a few minutes more with Matthews at 5v5. It’s true the Tavares line has been far and away the biggest possession-driving forward unit so far for the Leafs, but if you’re playing against second and third line competition with Auston Matthews on the ice quite often, it can’t be totally excused. Gardiner needs to be better and will/should get better, although this pairing maybe doesn’t get talked about enough for how underwhelming it’s been for a long time now.

7.  All that said, William Nylander coming back might help in a couple of ways.

Reading between the lines, Babcock seemed to be hinting in the post-game presser that Gardiner isn’t benefitting from the feel-good points Rielly is getting from his part on the super-unit on the power play, and that should hopefully turn around when William Nylander gets back to spearhead unit #2. It’s hard to account for the importance of the confidence/engagement factor and how much it’s dictated by offensive-minded players getting their points.

Secondly, the Matthews line’s 5v5 possession numbers have been poor in their own right. There have been brilliant moments where they’ve looked lethal in transition and created offence in a flash with the two speed demons on Matthews’ wing in Marleau + Kapanen, but this line absolutely does need Nylander, no matter what the media narratives might suggest based on the simple goals for and win/loss numbers.

Nylander’s talent for lugging the puck, weaving through neutral ice and setting up his line in the offensive zone has always been a major driver for his group (that’s not Marleau or Kapanen’s game). Nylander’s also a better forechecker than he gets credit for, in addition to his knack for puck thievery when tracking defensively. Matthews and Nylander controlled 52% of the shot attempts and 54% of the 5v5 scoring chances together last year, compared to Matthews’ 47% and 51.6% numbers apart from Nylander.

8.  A lot of debate online about the Tyler Bertuzzi goal that was allowed to stand, making it interesting late in the third at 4-3. The Red Wings broadcast rolled the replay forward a couple of frames, revealing it was indeed the right call:

9.  As exciting as this start has been — by all means, soak it in — from an evaluation standpoint, the Leafs just played five non-playoff teams from 2017-18 and emerged 4-1-0, scoring a ridiculous 25 goals but allowing 20 and sitting middle-of-the-pack-ish in their share of the shots, shot attempts, and scoring chances.

I’m really curious to see how this team deals with a stretch of schedule like the one they have coming up: WAS, LAK, PIT, STL, WPG, WPG again.

10.  You know it’s been a decent little start to the year when the @NHLPR account is working overtime (the last one went out at 12:42 am) trying to tweet out all the records the team is tying and breaking from 50+ years ago. Stuff like this just boggles the mind.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights