Coming off their first bit of adversity of the season after two lackluster losses to Pittsburgh and St. Louis on home ice, the Toronto Maple Leafs bounced back in a big way on Wednesday night — offensive contributions from all four forward lines paved the way for a good road win in Winnipeg.
Your game in ten:
1. There was a shaky three or four minutes in the first half of the opening period where the Leafs weren’t able to break the Jets cycle, but other than that, there was plenty to like about their opening 20 minutes on the road in a tough building.
The Leafs settled down and made some composed plays against an aggressive Jets forecheck, executing a handful of organized 3/4-man sequences with shorter passes on the breakout. At the other end, there were more second and third efforts on puck recoveries in the offensive third that extended zone time, forcing the Jets to do some dumping and changing and establishing some flow and momentum to the Leafs game.
It was a high-event period with good chances at both ends, to be sure, but the Leafs carried the edge in possession (28-25 shot attempts), shots (18-14) and high-danger scoring chances (10-6) through 20 and carried a deserved lead into the first intermission.
2. The Auston Matthews line, in particular, was going early, with their 1-0 goal a couple of shifts in the making. Matthews wouldn’t acknowledge it in the pregame interview, but he really does seem to elevate his game when the Laine vs. Matthews rivalry is in the air. Patrick Marleau was skating and tracking much better in this game than he has for much of his first nine and successfully turned a few pucks over that way; he also nearly scored himself but fired wide prior to the Kapanen goal.
Two good puck recoveries by Matthews on that shift (one off a Laine turnover) before the 1-0 goal followed by a good hop-screen on the Kapanen shot:
3. While on that Matthews point, he’s been taking some heat (including on our podcast yesterday) for how he’s performed in the marquee head-to-heads dating back to last season and playoffs, but tonight was a better effort up against Mark Scheifele — his line scored a goal that was largely his creation and he carried 64% of possession in that matchup. Natural Stat Trick has the high-danger scoring chance count at 5-0 Leafs in the eight minutes those two shared the ice (granted, the Scheifele line has been off to an uncharacteristic start to the year).
Of note here, though — Babcock chased the Scheiefele matchup with the Kadri line as much as he could but he was obviously limited without last change. Kadri played six minutes and change against the Jets top line, so that assignment was split somewhat.
4. That last part meant the ice time distribution was tightly packed within the Leafs top nine, while both Mike Babcock and Paul Maurice left their fourth line on the bench for most of the game. All of John Tavares, Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Auston Matthews, Patrick Marleau, Par Lindholm and Connor Brown were within 15:30-16:31 range in even-strength time on ice, with Tavares and Hyman leading the way at 16:31.
Just 36 seconds separated Par Lindholm and John Tavares’ 5v5 ice time in this game, with Lindholm playing nearly a minute more over all situations. Given John Tavares was the Leafs best player over 200 feet in this game — the best on either team — that grabs your attention. Lindholm definitely has a fan in Babcock.
5. Mike Babcock mentioned the need for Frederik Gauthier and his line to do their work “efficiently” in the limited ice time behind three lines centered by Matthews, Tavares and Kadri, and the 2-0 goal scored on one of their nine total shifts tonight was certainly that. Gauthier used his size and pinned his man up down low, forcing the play up the wall, where a pinching defenseman (Ozhiganov) contested the puck. It squirted free to Leivo, who was providing proper support in behind the pinching D, and Ennis positioned himself in front for the Leivo shot-for-tip. Well-executed fourth line goal.
6. In an ongoing MLHS series entitled, “How much better would Zach Hyman be on the right?” here’s him setting up John Tavares for what should’ve been the opening goal of the night.
He also ripped a pretty good one-timer on that side of the ice later in the game.
7. The first five minutes of the third period was a great demonstration of how the Leafs live and die by the flip out to the neutral zone to relieve pressure and their use of the stretch pass to the far blue line — it’s a high-wire act they walk offensively and defensively. In the buildup to the Nikolaj Ehlers 3-1 goal, the Leafs flipped the puck out to neutral ice or tried a low-percentage stretch pass for a turnover eight times in four and a half minutes, with three of those going for icings.
8. They scored that way as well (sort of), although that was a bit more of a calculated flip (vs. a panicked pressure reliever) by Igor Ozhiganov into a spot where the Leafs had numbers at the offensive blue line prior to the big 4-2 goal by John Tavares.
Babcock really hammered the point home after the game about closing out wins — “We’ve still got to learn how to win… It’s stopping in the right spots… It’s staying composed so you keep attacking instead of backing up.”
The Leafs squeaked out of Game 6 against Boston doing much the same thing, and we don’t need to retell the events of Game 7. At some point, the Leafs are going to have to learn how to close out good teams properly if they’re going to get to where they want to go.
9. Nazem Kadri scored four goals on his first 22 shots last season, and it took him 22 to get his first this year. That was a really nice shortside finish to buck the monkey off his back.
Full marks to Kadri for never getting down on himself and putting in consistently good efforts despite a downgrade in linemate quality, matchup responsibility (which he thrives on), and a slight reduction in ice time with the addition of Tavares down the middle. That’s not easy, but when Kadri said he just wants to win in the offseason, he clearly means it. He never really looked like he lost his confidence for making plays, driving the net, and putting shots on goal (he’s now hit two posts as well).
Nazem Kadri on potential role change with addition of John Tavares: “I just want to win. Every every single year I watch the Stanley Cup Finals… I just want that so bad for the city and the organization” https://t.co/OXCVXb7UzR via @leafsnews
— MLHS (@LeafsNews) July 3, 2018
Kadri remains a big part of the heart of this team. It’s also worth pointing out that there seems to be a lot of trust and understanding in the relationship between Kadri and Babcock, which has no doubt made a tough adjustment easier on him.
10. Ron Hainsey left the game with around 12 minutes left to play, and the only thing I could spot was a bit of a cross-check he took from Adam Lowry to the hip/lower back area on his final shift of the game (that could have nothing to do with it; it might’ve been a nagging issue that caused him to leave). Rielly played with Ozhiganov for a few shifts afterward before closing out the game alongside Zaitsev.
If Hainsey isn’t able to go (and Dermott is), I’d imagine we’ll see something like this on Saturday:
Rielly – Zaitsev
Gardiner – Ozhiganov
Dermott – Marincin
In the rematch, it will be interesting to see how the Leafs’ performance compares at home, where they need to get some momentum going. I can only assume Kadri sees quite a bit of the Scheifele matchup with the way Babcock has been managing the bench the last couple of games. It’s tough to beat a good team twice in a row, but the Jets will play a game in between and will be in a back-to-back situation. You’re hoping the Jets win on Friday and aren’t coming in angry if you’re the Leafs.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts