With only two games for the Toronto Maple Leafs this past week, I thought we would get right into the notes this week.
I’d also recommend giving our podcast a listen from last week – we’d welcome any feedback or suggestions you have for it.
– There’s one game left in October for the Leafs, but so far Frederik Andersen is 6-3-0 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average. Last October, he was 6-5-0 with a .896 save percentage and a 3.46 goals against average. In his first season with the Leafs, he was 2-2-3 with a .876 save percentage and a 3.67 goals against average in the opening month. He has been good every season at the end of the day, but it’s nice to see him come out of the gate strong and put his October struggles behind him. In particular, he had an excellent two games against the Jets.
– Through 11 games, Connor Brown has one empty-net goal and three assists. If we include his last 30 regular season games (bringing us to half a season), he had 10 points and 46 shots on net in those, bringing him to 14 points and 61 shots in his last 41 games. That’s low-end third line production or high-end fourth line production while playing alongside teammates like Nazem Kadri, JVR and Tyler Bozak. After a 20-goal rookie season, Brown had a lot of hype around Toronto, but he has regressed since then into a role of a third/fourth line penalty killer and checker.
– Not that he needs to be recognized – but two great plays by Mitch Marner to win battles below the goal line against the Jets in Toronto, leading directly to assists for him, and goals for the Leafs. The last few weeks we’ve talked about the Leafs needing to forecheck and diversify, and those are two great examples – again, you don’t have to be the biggest or toughest, but sometimes you have to dump a puck in and win a battle to create offense. That should actually open up more space in the neutral zone if they can do it consistently. Marner, by the way, leads all forwards on the Leafs in average time on ice per game.
– Time on ice note that surprised me: Patrick Marleau is fourth among forwards in average time on ice per game and third in even strength ice time per game among forwards (only six seconds behind Marner and Tavares who are tied for first). He has one goal through 11 games so far – the last time he scored under 20 goals in a full season was the 2014-15 season (of note, he had 57 points that season). I thought the game in Winnipeg was his best of the season so far – he had a few shots on net and played about 17 minutes, but it was his backchecking and pick plays, opening up space for Matthews to operate, that stood out.
– He’s had a great start to the year overall, but another player who will need to go on a run at some point to keep his totals up: Zach Hyman, who has yet to score this season. What’s troubling about that is he’s on pace for only 119 shots on net this season, which would be a significant step down from the 148 he put up last season or the 156 he put up the season before.
– The Leafs had an offensive zone faceoff after a commercial with around four minutes left against the Jets in Toronto and were trying to score. They put out Martin Marincin and Igor Ozhiganov. The Jets won the draw and iced it immediately, and the Leafs switched out Marincin for Morgan Rielly. Thought that was a weird sequence.
– Of note: Martin Marincin is averaging a little over two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game when he has been in the lineup. That helps save Ron Hainsey, who is at 2:48 per night so far this season. That’s a big drop from the 3:59 per game he was at last season and that will pay dividends as the season unfolds. Travis Dermott has also assumed a regular role on the penalty kill at 1:34 per game so far when he’s in.
– Over the two-game series against the Jets, the Leafs went 0/4 on the power play. The primary change the Jets made was they completely sold out on taking away the middle of the ice, trying to cut off cross-ice passes and at times daring Marner to shoot (which he often passed on). Marner will have to shoot to keep teams honest or try to hit Tavares with a down low pass in front of the net (as opposed to the Kadri high slot tip play or going cross ice). This is also where the Leafs lacking a defenseman with a bomb of a shot up top could come into play. It does make it easier for teams to collapse.
– To start the third period for the game in Toronto, it was 4v4 and the Leafs put out Gardiner – Nikita Zaitsev on defense, had possession of the puck, Gardiner passed it over to Zaitsev, who threw it away to the Jets. They then proceeded to hem the Leafs in their zone. In the podcast last week, we mentioned that in two straight games, Zaitsev’s first-shift touches were icings. We’ve highlighted his struggles often so it sounds like overkill, but so far he’s playing more than any player on the team not named Morgan Rielly.
– Kind of quietly, Kasperi Kapanen has 10 points in 11 games this season, including 25 shots on net. He has also maintained a regular spot on the Leafs penalty killing unit and looks like he might get a look with the top power-play unit while Matthews out – he was the replacement on Saturday once Matthews left, even though he hasn’t even played two minutes on the power play so far this season. Can’t ask for much more than that from Kapanen.
– Trevor Moore almost made the Leafs out of training camp and he’s started his AHL campaign with seven goals, 10 points, and 29 shots on net in eight games. That’s something to keep an eye on, particularly with the Matthews injury (depending on the severity). Also noteworthy is Carl Grundstrom starting with eight points in seven games after what I thought was an unimpressive preseason from him. Nice to see him bounce back and put himself back on the NHL radar.
– Really fortunate scheduling quirk for the Leafs that the Jets played the night before their game – they looked like they ran out of gas in the third after two strong periods. That came after playing nine games in 17 days to start the year, though, so it all evens out over a long season.
“I feel like we didn’t skip a beat. It was actually very nice. As soon as that line was put together, we came every shift. They’re great guys to play with.”
– Nazem Kadri on reuniting with Marner and Marleau
It was nice to see Nazem Kadri back with skilled linemates. The difference in his play was night and day. He’s had a slow start offensively and has been non-existent at times, but the reality is when they play him with good players, he’s good. When they don’t, you can’t expect much scoring out of him; very similar to when he used to play with Leo Komarov. What we’ve also seen here is Marner can drive lines really well and does not necessarily “need” Hyman’s forechecking abilities. Other lines do, though.
“Jake’s an elite, elite player. He has unreal hockey sense, makes great plays offensively, good defensively. Every once in a while you’ve got to give him a little tightening but other than that, he’s a real good player for us.”
– Mike Babcock on Jake Gardiner
I know Babcock likes him and all, but if they think he’s so elite, why don’t they play him at the end of games when protecting the lead? Every game – including the game against the Jets – that they have had a one-goal lead in the final minute, it has been Rielly – Hainsey on the ice. You can say he’s talking in hyperbole, but I’ve never heard of an elite defenseman that doesn’t close games.
“Teams are going to try and bully us and be physical with us … but I don’t think that really matters. I mean, they can be physical all they want … I think we handled it well today … Just stick to the structure.”
– Kasperi Kapanen on what looked like a Jets game plan to come out and play physical
This will definitely be the opposition’s game plan, in addition to clogging up the neutral zone to force dump-ins and avoiding penalties.
5 Things I Think I’d Do
1. I think I would keep that Marleau – Kadri – Marner line together as long as Matthews is out. We spoke about this on the podcast last week, but the Leafs haven’t had a truly dominant line this season and we already know this line can do well against the opponent’s top lines. Even though Tavares would not be playing with any of the Leafs top goal scorers, he would be freed up a bit to run roughshod against second and third lines.
2. I think this is a good opportunity to slide Par Lindholm back to center and see how he fares. There are not a lot of options on the Marlies who are banging on the door and are particularly worth trying over Lindholm at this time. Additionally, Nylander is still not signed (or else I’d say move him to center), and if they do move Marleau over as they did last season, their scoring on the wings is basically Mitch Marner and that’s about it. If nothing else, this is a good litmus test.
3. I also think this is a good opportunity for Andreas Johnsson to get back into the lineup and make a pitch for a regular roster spot. Tyler Ennis scored this week and has at least looked good on the power play, leading to an extended look there. The fourth line of Ennis – Gauthier – Leivo has been good in general. Johnsson has to take advantage of this and show he deserves to be in there as well.
4. The Leafs don’t play a back-to-back set until November 15 and 16, so I think if they are going to try to get Garret Sparks in there before that, either the game against Calgary this week, the game against Dallas, or the game against Vegas next week stand out as the best chances to do so. Otherwise, you’re just running with Andersen non-stop until then.
5. If Auston Matthews is out for any notable length of time – and the way he dropped his shoulder did not look good – I think this is what worries me the most: In three of his last four seasons (dating back to his draft year), he has missed an extended period of time. Yes, he played 82 games in his rookie season, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy.