Game #31 Review: Toronto Maple Leafs 4 vs. Carolina Hurricanes 1

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes
RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 11: Tyler Ennis #63 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during an NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes on December 11, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Memories of the November 21st first period (29 shots against) etched in their brains, the Toronto Maple Leafs got off to a much better start in Carolina and carried it through much of the 60 minutes in what was a complete team performance on Tuesday night.

Your game in ten:

1.  It was obvious this was William Nylander’s best showing so far as far as his shift-to-shift impact on the game. You can still see he’s feeling it late in shifts (and took a penalty late in one twice), but he’s coming along offensively and defensively.

He showed his strength on the puck coming out of the corner near the end of his shift to set up the Morgan Rielly goal — his first point of the season. He’s also such a smooth, calm, and patient player in odd-man opportunity situations — able to outwait defenders, get them to play their hand, and fit a puck through or over them, as we saw on the Patrick Marleau insurance goal. He could’ve sauced the puck over Calvin de Haan to Marleau earlier, but he waited him out, caught him turning, and slid a puck underneath his stick for Marleau at the back post for a routine finish.

Sample size be damned, who leads the Leafs in CF%? Nylander at 58+%.

2.  Interesting note by Mike Babcock after the game about the Leafs’ sports science team tracking when their players’ heart rates level out coming out of training camp. They clocked it at 12 games. For Nylander, his 12th game won’t be until January 3rd vs. Minnesota.

The takeaway here is that there is no substitute for real NHL games, and in Willy’s case, he has the handicap of starting his season later when his competition isn’t going through the same process as him because they’re already fully up to speed. You’ll take two points in three games knowing that, no questions asked.

3.  William Nylander and Nazem Kadri were a 68% CF tonight and outshot the opposition 11-3 at 5v5, to go along with the one goal for and none against. Against the Bruins on Saturday, they were an 83% CF (19 shot attempts for, 4 against), outshot the opposition 8-2, and weren’t on for any of the goals against.

The other point here is that it’s perhaps further evidence that Marleau is a better fit next to Kadri than Matthews, although it might be premature to conclude that given Nylander was just getting back when they all (Matthews, Nylander, Marleau) played together. Prior to, the combination of Matthews, Marleau and Kapanen made for some jerky play because Matthews isn’t dominating/carrying the puck much right now (since getting back from injury), Kapanen whacks the puck around out there a fair bit, and Marleau isn’t a natural puck carrier, either.

4.  Frederik Gauthier stepped back into the lineup with a bang — after a little chip and chase through the neutral zone, he forced the play down the wall by reaching in and disrupting with his big wingspan before going straight to the net on the sequence leading to the 1-0 goal in the first period. He then ripped a one-timer off the iron from the slot in the second period.

It’s never pretty, but the puck just seems to go in the right direction with him on the ice. He steers play effectively with his smarts, positioning and length out there. He’s also much quicker with his footspeed through the neutral zone now (something the development staff worked on with him on the Marlies), making him more effective retrieving or closing down space on the chip and chase. This is borne out in his possession numbers — something Kyle Dubas has alluded to as being very strong for The Goat at the AHL level even when the offensive production has been underwhelming.

Here’s another example below of Gauthier (ungracefully) getting the puck moving in the right direction up the ice:

5.  It was easy to tell that Morgan Rielly was going to have a big night right from puck drop. Tons of jump in his step, pushing the pace, skating pucks to safety, the early pull-up set up to Andreas Johnsson at the back post (deserving of a primary assist but was turned aside by Petr Mrazek), holding the line well… sure enough, he got his goal after jumping up to take a pass from Auston Matthews and sending the puck cross-crease for Andreas “Mango” Johnsson, which deflected in off of a Hurricane stick.

That’s now a career-high ten goals in just 31 games played. The breakout train is blazing full speed ahead and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

6.  John Tavares likely pictured this scenario as he was signing on the dotted line in the summer after watching Mitch Marner highlight packs in the Leafs’ video pitch. On a quiet Tuesday night for him individually in Carolina, Marner goes for a lap in the third period and sets him up for one of the easiest goals he’ll score all season. Offense was never so easy to come by on the Island.

7.  Finishing second behind William Nylander in CF% on the night was Tyler Ennis, who scored the 1-0 goal (corralled nicely off his skate), was all over the puck, engaged physically, and worked hard over 200 feet throughout the game.

You can see the potential for the second unit on the power play with Ennis and Nylander on opposite sides. Both are highly skilled puck handlers and passers who can thread the seam, and they’ve often got Nylander set up on his one-time side (he flubbed one on the second-period power play, but Nylander is the Leafs’ best bet that way). Nylander led a bunch of silky zone entries on the power play for that unit, too.

8.   While on the man advantage, Ennis drew the second third-period power play with a slick bank-off-the-back-of-the-net move, for those that missed it:

Ennis is really crafty in the semi-circle in tight on that side of the net.

9.   I’ve long thought that Nazem Kadri plays with more and more of an edge and finishes every check he can when he’s slumping offensively (one goal, three points in his last 12 coming in). He confirmed that last year when he said his dad, Sam, impressed it on him as a kid and he still lives by it (anyone who has played hockey can attest to the effectiveness of the approach if you’re in a slump). Kadri was banging bodies early and often and left the game with an assist, five shots on goal, a couple of penalty minutes, and a 63% on the face-off dot.

Also a possibility, based on his chippiness in the Boston game: He heard Babcock’s remarks about how the Leafs’ personnel means they play for power plays versus pushing back and took it personally because it’s not his style.

10.  We’re now 31 games into the season and the Maple Leafs have not lost more than two games in a row. That’s about as consistent as it gets in the modern NHL.

Fun test upcoming on Thursday in Tampa Bay between the league’s first- and second-placed teams. Can’t wait.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Carolina Hurricanes

Condensed Game