The Toronto Maple Leafs will head into the All-Star break on a high note after a well-earned victory over the defending-Stanley Cup champions on Wednesday night.

Your game in ten:

1.  With the standings picture looking rather tight all of a sudden and the losses to lesser opposition piling up, you were first and foremost looking for a sense of urgency in the Leafs‘ game against a Washington team that was slumping and in a back-to-back situation. This was the response the Leafs needed. While it was a tightly contested first period and the Leafs briefly fell behind late via Washington power play marker and again in the second period on an Alex Ovechkin snipe, they stuck with it, controlled shot attempts at 5v5 50-38 in the opening 40 minutes, and separated themselves over the 60 minutes against a tired Caps team.

2.  You couldn’t have drawn it up much better as far as settling some of the angst that was developing in the market heading into the break while giving a bunch of slumping players the offensive breakthroughs they needed to be feeling better about themselves. It’s a lot more difficult to truly take a break from hockey when things aren’t going well; as Mike Babcock often notes, it’s difficult to set it aside and it inevitably sticks with you outside of the rink.

The narratives that would’ve kicked off had the team lost eight of their last 11 going into the break, with the media needing 10 days of stories to fill, were going to be difficult to endure. Make no mistake, this was a big win at a key time in the season.

3.   It’s been easy to lose sight of it with the team mired in a bit of a collective slump offensively, but the Leafs are now ninth in Corsi For Percentage, second in Goals For Percentage, and eighth in Scoring Chances For Percentage at the All-Star Break, with those numbers trending significantly in the right direction since the return of William Nylander. The issue is that the Leafs‘ really hot sticks early in the season cooled off at a time when they actually started owning more of the puck. With this team’s offensive and shooting talent, if they can continue to control possession and scoring chance share at a top 10 rate, it bodes well down the stretch once the sticks heat up again. The hope is that it all comes together at the right time of year.

4.  Speaking of sticks heating up finally, Nazem Kadri scored his fifth career hat trick with three goals on four shots after shooting just 4% on his previous 75 shots on goal (three goals over 28 games). Kadri has been snakebitten offensively with a lot of his shots hitting or gracing the iron — he’s hit six posts and three crossbars this season, which is top five in the league if you combine the two. Taken in combination with struggling power play, the individual numbers make sense. In this game, he gets a couple of bounces and scores as many in one game as he scored in his previous 28. Hockey, eh?

It was all well-earned, as that line put in a workmanlike performance with all three players in Kadri, Nylander and Brown starving to get going offensively.

5.   No player on the team needed a solid performance going into the break more than William Nylander and he delivered with if not his best performance of the season, certainly his most productive. In addition to establishing a career-best performance assists-wise, he looked like the Nylander of old. Prior to the Nikita Zaitsev goal in the second period, Nylander made a great defensive play by denying Alex Ovechkin a scoring chance with a stick lift. If that play doesn’t happen, neither does the goal that Nylander sets up for Nikita Zaitsev, who had not found the back of the net in 53 regular season games. Nylander has always been underrated as far as his puck-tracking ability without the puck and his ability to turn that into offense at the other end, and that was on display throughout this game.

Just like that, Nylander has four points in his last two games.

6.  The biggest lineup change prior to puck-drop was the pairing together of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Mike Babcock has rarely had the two stars play together outside of the shift following penalty kills, but given the Leafs had only scored ten goals in the previous four games while averaging just 24.5 shots on goal, it was obvious a spark was needed. The general rule Babcock adheres to makes sense in that the Leafs are a deeper team overall if Marner and Matthews are both driving separate lines successfully, but this is something Babcock should have in his back pocket and be willing to go to more often than he has.

Both are elite offensive players who won’t need much time together to figure it out, but there is a benefit to breeding this kind of familiarity for when the going gets tough offensively for the team down the stretch and into the playoffs, as it inevitably will. It could be this combination that comes through with a huge goal at a key time in a big playoff game for the team.

They didn’t make a ton of noise at 5-on-5, but there were early signs of chemistry shown between the two, and Matthews seemed to have more jump. He was in an eight-game goalless drought going in and clearly wanted this one badly on the power play:

7.  Matthews’ power-play goal was an important one for the Leafs given their recent struggles on the man-advantage — yet another slump buster at the individual and team level. Over their past 10 games, Toronto was 1/18 on the power-play. Despite losing the initial draw, while the Capitals blew a couple of clearances, the Leafs looked appropriately desperate hunting down pucks and should’ve scored twice before Matthews finally buried. It’s probably unsurprising the goal came from that side of the ice; the Leafs should look to run it through Matthews’ flank more often than they have of late as the power play became awfully predictable with the Marner slap passes into the bumper/cross-seam.

8.  This marked the second straight game with Jake Gardiner out of the lineup with a back injury. Meaning, Travis Dermott was again given second-pairing minutes and put on a solid showing. His play in the first period was perhaps his best with this sequence below a prime example of how dangerous he can be when walking around forwards coming in off the blue line and sowing chaos in the offensive zone.

This play shares some similarities to the Andreas Johnsson goal against the Los Angeles Kings a few months ago. Had Tom Wilson not prevented Dermott from making a play, there’s a good chance he would have found Matthews with a pass in a high-percentage area.

Dermott’s progress — it’s not been perfectly linear and there have been highs and lows and gaffes along the way, but it’s headed in the right direction — plus the play of Martin Marincin when called on — he broke up a 2-on-1 early in the first period, picked up an assist, and has generally filled in capably when called on for the most part — plus Calle Rosen’s current play with the Marlies, the Leafs are really well set up as far as left side depth down the stretch and into the playoffs. You can’t say the same about the right, and that will surely be a focus of Kyle Dubas’ in the month leading up to the deadline.

9.  With Johnsson sidelined from this game due to a concussion he sustained against the Coyotes, the Leafs once again called on the services of Trevor Moore. While he ultimately didn’t get on the scoresheet in this one, Moore again made an impact with his speed and work rate, starting with the first line-four shift of the game, where he pushed the pace through the neutral zone and then got in on the cycle and protected the puck well on the wall. An underrated aspect of Moore’s game (perhaps because he’s not much of a physical specimen at first blush) is his ability to keep his feet moving and puck-protect on the cycle, helping to extend offensive-zone time.

While he was sent back to the Toronto Marlies after the game with the break coming up, don’t expect him to be down in the AHL for long. In his sporadic appearances in the lineup, Moore has proven that he belongs in the NHL as a mainstay bottom-six forward who can be effective over 200 feet of ice surface. He’s been a nice shot in the arm on line four.

10.  The 2019 NHL All-Star week will see Leafs represented by two players in Matthews and Tavares. The last time Toronto had multiple representatives attending the All-Star Game was in 2012, when Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and Dion Phaneuf were in attendance. While the absence of Marner and Morgan Rielly will still leave a sour taste in the mouths of some Leafs fans, the fact that as many as four Leafs were clearly fully deserving of a trip to San Jose is a testament to how far the team has come. Enjoy the weekend.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts


Condensed Game