The Toronto Maple Leafs polished off a sweep of their California road trip with a scrappy 2-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night, moving them into first place in the NHL standings through 20 games.

Your game in ten:

1.  The Leafs just completed a rare and difficult sweep of their California road swing — formerly a trip that almost always exposed just how far the Leafs had to go if they were to ever be a competitive NHL hockey club. And they did it without William Nylander and Auston Matthews, who the Leafs are now 6-3-0 without.

It’s interesting, the psychological effect that can take place when two of the four most offensively-skilled players on the roster are out of the lineup. Certainly, it can break teams without enough depth of talent, but for good organizations with enough quality depth, it produces an opportunity as much as it does a challenge. Players further down the depth chart feel more emboldened and are no longer waiting around for the big boys to get the job done. It also seems as though Babcock has been able to get full buy-in and has the team in a better place structurally than prior to Matthews’ absence. Provided Matthews comes back healthy from this and doesn’t battle lingering issues and assuming Nylander eventually is signed, we may look back at this as one of the more valuable experiences the team went through as it gears up for playoff time.

2.  The Leafs have gone from playing partial games and from relying on one or two lines for all of their offense to getting a lot of good team efforts in the last five or so games with a wide variety of contributors all pulling in the same direction. They’re playing fast, determined, and all of their lines look like they can check at the moment. It’s high-end hockey.

3.  That said, the high-end hockey didn’t last much longer than a period tonight from the Leafs for obvious reasons. This game mirrored the Boston game (without the best line in hockey going off this time) in that the Leafs played the night before, the opponent hadn’t, and they jumped fast out of the gates before fading a little bit with the long change in the second period. They scrapped it out through the third period in order to get the result, with some good goaltending from Garret Sparks to thank as well as some key/lucky shot blocks with empty nets in scrambly situations. There were also some chances at the other end for the Leafs, too, but this was always going to have to be an ugly one, and the Leafs again showed that they can win ugly.

4.  One indication of how a team is executing structurally and their level of commitment and attention to detail is whether their turnovers are “safe,” i.e. Is the team creating out-numbered situations all over the ice — defensively and offensively — and are they in a position to recover in transition on turnovers and errant passes? The Leafs’ game has come a long way in those respects lately.

They’re also creating layered options on the breakout for short, medium and longer passes and are breaking out in a more organized fashion in general. As a result, their speed through the neutral zone has been really good of late; in cases where they aren’t gaining the zone with control of the puck, they’re setting up their forecheck better for successful retrievals.

Good examples of the layers in both their breakout and in their support on the neutral zone puck recovery below.

5.  Once it got to OT, there was little doubt for me that the Leafs were, A) winning this game, B) Mitch Marner was going to be at the center of it. He almost scored twice within seconds of the initial OT faceoff and eventually set up the winner a few minutes later.

There were two examples on that shift of how Marner creates space so effectively with the puck on his stick. He trimmed off speed at the blue line to buy himself time and space in front of the defender while allowing Morgan Rielly time to catch up for the 2v1 pass on the goal. A little bit earlier in the shift, he used a similar change of pace with an S cut inside the blue line to create the time for a play to develop to Tavares down low (Tavares just lost the handle).

Also can’t leave this point without mentioning the incredible effort on the backcheck from John Tavares that set up the whole thing, or Morgan Rielly notching his ninth of the season, tying a career-high through just 20 games (!).

The Leafs are now 3-0 in overtime this season.

6.  I wanted to highlight some of Travis Dermott’s work in the neutral zone to break up opposition breakouts and feed the Leafs’ transition game. In addition to his proficiency with the poke check, he’s really good at trapping pucks with his feet, and of course, it’s his recovery ability (owing to his agility as a skater) that allows him to be so aggressive in these areas of the ice.

Thought Dermott should’ve played more than 17 minutes in this game.

7.  That was an important third period from Garret Sparks. While he faced 22 shots through two periods, the Leafs didn’t ask a ton of him over the first 40 minutes as far as the quality of chances given up and the goal he let in was stoppable. He needed some breaks in the third with some of the goal mouth scrambles and timely blocks/goalie saves from his defensemen (Zaitsev and Gardiner in particular) but it was a critical 15-save period for him in addition to a couple of key saves in overtime. It’s never reassuring watching him and there were issues with rebound control throughout, but he can take confidence away from the way he battled and closed out the win (38 saves) behind a tired team in a back-to-back situation.

8.  In addition to his line scoring the 1-0 goal and giving nothing up, Nazem Kadri controlled 56% of the on-ice shot attempts during his 11 minutes head to head with Ryan Getzlaf at 5v5 and won 77% of his face-offs on the night (he controlled 80% – 4-1 on shot attempts — in his three minutes versus Ryan Kesler). He didn’t draw the primary head to head matchup against Kopitar or Couture in the other two games — that was Tavares, who had a beast of a road trip himself — but he didn’t give up anything in his minutes on the ice against any of those four centers.

9.  Thought the Ducks weren’t up to much of anything until they gained momentum from shutting the Leafs PP down totally not long before the 1-1 goal in the second period. Zach Hyman drew the penalty, so the Marner and Tavares unit was on the ice at the time, necessitating PP#2 coming out to start. To their credit, PP #2 — while they haven’t scored in a while — has been executing well on their entries and overall puck movement of late. Both units just weren’t sharp breaking in — the Ducks did a good job, but simple passes were off the mark — and it turned the tide in the period. You realized while watching that bad power play just how rare it’s been for the Leafs not to set up the zone cleanly on the man advantage. They’ve basically been automatic.

10.  It’s a rare weekend off for the Leafs with no Saturday night game, but Leafs fans can hang their hats on the success of this trip and soak it all in for a few days. The Leafs now lead the league in points (14-6-0, 28 points), regulation and overtime wins (14), goal differential (+19) and road wins (9-1-0). They’re 8-0-0 when they score first and 10-0-0 when leading after two periods. They’re top-10 on the power play, the penalty kill, and — listen up — in goals against per game.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Anaheim Ducks

Condensed Game