The concern surrounding Auston Matthews’ injury will dominate the postgame discussion, but it was a spectacular three-goal, third-period comeback victory from the Toronto Maple Leafs to complete the two-game sweep over the Western Conference Finalist Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.
It certainly helped — and showed in the third period — that the Jets were in a back-to-back, three-games-in-four-nights situation, but the Leafs were full value for both victories this week over a very good opponent.
Your game in ten:
1. John Tortorella’s rant about the lack of hatred in the modern game drew mixed reactions, but I think there’s a legitimate point to be made about the lack of rivalry during the regular season. The league should be looking to foster it as much as possible, and the best way I can think to do it is to build more home-and-home sets and three-game series into the regular season schedule. This game was a good demonstration of the potential — and I’m not talking (nor was Tortorella, in his defense) about fighting because there wasn’t any in this game. There were more after-the-whistle scrums, chirping between the benches, and overall intensity in the first 10 minutes of this game than there were over the entire 60 minutes on Wednesday.
2. After Mike Babcock said in a presser earlier this week that the team has been too cute at home, partially explaining its 2-3-0 record entering the game, the Leafs went out and passed up a bunch of quality scoring chances in the first period as if to prove his point. I counted four opportunities where the Leafs’ shooter was in position A and tried to slide a pass to the back post for a tap-in to no avail (Matthews, Tavares, Brown, and one more I’m missing). It was maddening.
3. That said, while Leafs left the first period down 1-0 after the penalty-killing breakdown, they should’ve scored two or three goals at 5-on-5. There was a three or four shift sequence just before the Jets went up 1-0 that was maybe the Leafs best of the year as far as generating successive heavy offensive-zone shifts and bringing fresh legs into the cycle. They just didn’t capitalize, between the bad pass selections and some shots that were fired high or wide on prime looks.
The Leafs finished with 65% possession, 60% of the 5v5 shots, 75% of the scoring chances, and 80% of the high-danger chances in the opening 20. That’s how the first period on a Saturday night at the Scotiabank Arena should look. They just didn’t score.
4. There was a time last season when it seemed like a 2v1 against the Leafs was a free goal, but somewhere along the way, the Leafs defensemen seem to have figured out how to play these better. I’m noticing the Leafs D executing the sweep check much better where they’re laying out, angling off the shooter, and taking away the pass at the same time. We used to see the D either attack the puck carrier, time it wrong and give up the easy pass, just kind of stand there in the middle and let the pass go through them, or let the shooter cut in too far uncontested. Here is one example of Morgan Rielly doing a great job of executing perfectly tonight, but there have been a bunch of examples this year.
5. The game really felt like it was slipping away on the Leafs in the second half of the second period (their worst spell of the game). They had just lost Matthews to injury, looked out of ideas offensively, and were in desperate need of a spark. It would’ve been easy for the Leafs to let the game kind of peter out from there. The way the team — and Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman and Nazem Kadri in particular as the individual catalysts — stepped up in the third period was really impressive. What a luxury it is to have a center as good as Kadri available to step onto a top line when Matthews went down.
There is clearly a good amount of chemistry between Marleau, Kadri and Marner as well, which was a good in-game audible called by Babcock in the second intermission. That line was great in the third — six shots on goal and two goals. Pretty clear that’ll be the line on Monday vs. Calgary, with Kasperi Kapanen joining Tavares and Hyman, and Lindholm sliding to the 3C spot.
6. Lack of size doesn’t matter if you can forecheck as smartly and with as good of a technique as Mitch Marner did on the 2-1 goal that got the Leafs going. Marner got his stick in the lane for a potential reverse behind the net while simultaneously planting his foot between Josh Morrissey’s feet to prevent the puck from going up the wall. He swiveled his hips, stripped it clean and found his passing option before Morrissey knew what hit him.
That was an incredible third-period from Marner, who stepped up and was the difference maker for the Leafs.
7. Starting to think this Kasperi Kapanen guy might have a bit of a knack for scoring big goals.
8. Don’t look now but Frederik Gauthier was on the ice for 15 shot attempts for and 2 against in his eight minutes of ice time tonight, with five on-ice shots for and zero against in that time. He had a few really nice down-low shifts in the offensive zone in this game. He also won 60% of his draws.
Most thought Goat’s inclusion on the opening-day roster was just about the waiver consideration, and maybe it was — he also probably doesn’t get this chance if William Nylander is around and Lindholm is bumped down from L3 — but he’s taken advantage, no points aside. Ultimately, you need to chip in a little offense to play full time, but when it comes to this Ken Hitchcock quote from a few weeks ago:
“That is what you need if you expect to win on a long-term basis in the NHL: You’ve got to have that 1-2-3 punch down the middle, and then your fourth guy has got to be a defensive player but more from a forechecking standpoint than anything else.“
He’s definitely been that — through eight games, he’s sitting at 55+% CF with two goals for and zero against at 5v5.
9. Since the Blues and Penguins games, when they didn’t seem to want to fight through checks to get to the net, the Leafs have done a much better job of driving the hard areas of the ice. Compare the heat maps from tonight versus those two games (tonight’s is the last):
Fox Sports provided a cool look in at a video room session with Jeff Blashill before the Leafs game earlier this month in which the Red Wings head coach emphasized: “Where their offense is really good — they get people to the net and they shoot tons of pucks.”
The Leafs are top five in shot attempts for per 60 as well as high-danger chances per 60 through 11 games.
10. That Matthews hit was one where you knew quickly it wasn’t good. There was no “give”; his shoulder took a heavy impact there.
He played 14 games before being injured in St. Louis last year, believed to be a back injury. He ended up playing 62 games last season, 48 after that injury in between a December concussion and a shoulder injury in late February. He was playing in his 11th game tonight.
— Bill Comeau 🏒📊🇨🇦🎃 (@billius27) October 28, 2018
I also have my suspicions about how far off from 100% Matthews was in the Bruins series.
Hopefully this isn’t too serious. Babcock has pointed out multiple times that he thought a lot of Matthews struggles in the playoffs last year came down to the amount of time he missed during the year through injury.
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts